As digital, multi-modal texts become more and more pervasive–not just in higher ed but across our daily discourse communities–the need to shift the focus of our teaching of reading processes to include the digital is real. While Scott Warnock, author of Teaching Writing Online, might be right that the book-length modality “is not dead,” it is likely that, for more and more of our students, the analog page could be (58).
My colleagues in the WritingwithMachines Certification Sequence at MiraCosta College posted to this blog in response to a bibliography of sources on mindful, digital reading habits. We then met in Zoom to exchange ideas about how to teach and support digital reading and discussions activities more effectively in the online and onsite classroom.
The format of our meeting is a model of one such social-annotation and inquiry-based reading activity. Enjoy.
On two separate days in February 2019, faculty from Letters as well as disciplines across the college collaborated to explore different ways technology can enhance knowledge building activities and active learning experiences. Starting with pedagogy (as Lisa Lane and all Program for Online Teaching veterans would insist), we look specifically at models for using devices in the classroom, wall monitors that facilitate small group collaboration, and Zoom for simulcasting (which turned into an adventure for us–by the way, sorry for the pops in the audio; I’ll figure this out one day).
Watch an archive of the discussion:
Questions and topics we explore:
What types of activities (in general) encourage students to generate knowledge in classroom settings?
How would technology enhance the active learning experience?
laptops/devices in the classroom?
active learning stations?
What other benefits or utility do google docs, access to devices, and active learning stations offer?
Our final meeting of the fall semester was mellow. Nothing to read or prepare beforehand. We simply used the first half of the meeting to share the highs and the lows of our experiences teaching online this semester, and then we dedicated the second half to looking ahead at the next semester, specifically on how to design community-oriented and relational activities during early on.
We enjoyed a rich exchange of cool ways to facilitate first week experiences.
Watch an archive of the discussion:
Questions and topics we explore:
Which of your core pedagogical values are expressed in Week 1 activities?
How do your Week 1 activities reach out to and equip
new online students?
new college students?
students of color?
students who might feel intimidated by English coursework?
How do your Week 1 activities introduce students to experiences with skills, concepts, technologies, routines, etc. that are important to your course?
Can you draw a direct line from the experiences your Week 1 activities offer to the outcomes you hope to see performed in your mid- to end-semester assignments?
In our October WritingwithMachines discussion on equity-minded teaching, Jade offered an analogy of a tree to illustrate her approach to “being intrusive, relevant, race-conscious, community-centric, and relational”: first, she designs activities around a solid and reliable trunk that then leads students out onto diverging, pliable branches.
In my attempt to design engaging online courses, I rely on a different but related analogy: first I build narrow corridors that then lead students into wide-open yet enclosed spaces. When I’ve talked with Chad about course design, he offers a balanced abstraction: it is essential to design defined space and it is essential to design space to be explored.
In our November discussion, Tony, Jason, Chad, Jim, Donna, and I explored further analogies, philosophies, and practical approaches that allow us to design interesting spaces where students find compelling reasons to engage–even play–with reading, writing, and thinking.
Watch the archive of the discussion:
Questions we explore:
How do we design our online courses so they are navigable yet surprising?
How do we encourage participation that is compelling and not compulsory?
Topics we discuss:
Defined navigation and instruction | Undefined navigation and instruction
Linear modules | Explorable spaces
Prescriptive assignments | Open assignments
Isolated spaces | Community-centric spaces
Required participation | Provoked participation
Podcasts we reference:
Nicholas A. Holt’s emphasis on play suggests we should increase the dialogic interactivity of our course design and bring students into greater degrees of contact with each other (maybe) and ourselves (definitely).
Laura Gibbs‘ digital storytelling course design sends students into individualized blog spaces initially and then equips them to share, exchange, and collaborate as a group later.
Early in the 2018 fall semester, I invited my colleagues who teach online composition courses at MiraCosta College to collaborate with me in a series of 4 discussions focused on pedagogy and practice. Our first discussion (which sadly, I did not record) focused on the learning experiences we design specifically for the 4th week of the semester, a week when it is important to infuse a little disruptive enthusiasm to encourage and motivate students who are starting to fade a little in the discussions and activities.
During that discussion, my colleagues raised several perennial topics: how to increase retention and foster an inclusive online community, how to re-imagine course design and student experiences with navigation, and how to build more interactive presentations and lectures. While I felt each of these topics deserved their own space to unpack, I initially saw a clear and intriguing intersection with Dr. J. Luke Wood’s keynote address to the 2018 Online Teaching Conference.
So, for our second WritingwithMachines Discussion (archived below), we focused on equity-minded practices. The arc of our discussion followed Dr. Luke Wood’s description of 5 equity-minded practices for reaching, retaining, and supporting underserved students and specifically students of color. After a quick discussion of how “equity” is defined, we responded by sharing what we currently do, what we felt inspired to do differently, and what questions about online course design or assignments are raised by each practice.
Here’s how Jade, Shelli, Jim, and I related each equity-minded practices to our online course design, communication with students, and composition assignments:
Scott Warnock’s chapters, “Readings: Lots of Online Options, But the Book Is Not Dead!” and “Conversation: Online, Course ‘Talk’ Can Become Writing,” present approaches that produce positive results (and pitfalls) in online teaching.
This week’s material has allowed me to reflect on the issue I was attempting to grapple two weeks ago: Am I providing too much feedback? Again, the answer that online professors suggest is that too much feedback can muffle students’ voices, and it makes sense. If a student always gets too much criticism (feedback), then why would he or she want to write a response? Hmm Shockingly, Gilly Salmon’s commenting guidelines are the following: “enough, but not to much, intervention” (qtd. in Warnock 76). Warnock then adds commenting “should be not more than one in four messages from you” (76). I do recognize now that I need to back off a bit since I assumed, prior to reading Warnock, that responding to all my students was part of the online teaching methodology.
I was surprised to learn Warnock provides extra credit to diligent and active members of conversations (81). I found that practice a bit troubling.
Shoudn’t all online students be treated equally? What message is being sent to students who do not meet Professor Warnock’s expectations?
On How to Produce Well-Crafted Responses
Warnock’s approach to grading in Teaching Writing Online will be morphing into my rubrics and prompts. I noticed the nonconducive pattern the author refers to occurred this last week in my online class. Warnock provides the following solution to avoid copycat posts: “My rules include posts should contribute to the overall conversation. If I post and opening prompt that asks a question, and seven students simply respond to it in similar fashion, by student seven I am giving 8s, even on otherwise good posts. This is one way students are building on the conversation” (88). My guidelines state that students must present at least five sentences (Recent change). From now on, I will specify “critical” sentences that do not simply repeat their classmates’ comments. I will consider a word count since “Me too!!!” (qut. in Warnock 80), of course, “does not qualify as an ‘official’ post” (80). And surprisingly, students do write these responses under time constraints. For instance, this this past we concluded Whole-class Workshops in my online class. A student wrote three sentences, and one of them was “Great work!” Sigh. (FYI: I overlapped the research paper due date with the last Whole-class Workshop. I will do my best not to replicate that issue.)
No-no in Online Teaching
My goal as an online instructor is for every activity to prepare students for their essays. I might even be crafting assignments that are to closely related to the class’s essay prompt. Because I want students to succeed, I include several application paragraphs for their last essay, since in my eyes, the material can be difficult to grasp. However, Warnock critiques this approach by warning, “If all posts are extended essays in response to my prompts, the message becomes a series of disconnected essays responding to the instructor’s questions than a conversation (82). I will revisit my online discussion forums and will see if my prompts need revisiting since I present rather complex prompts compared to Warnock’s message board one-sentence questions/prompts (86). To be honest, from a critical student’s perspective, I would expect a professor to write more than one sentence (As a student writer, I observed and appreciated my professors’ rhetorical approaches). As a college student, I never took online classes prior to teaching online, so unfortunately I do not know what most online English prompts look like.
Contemplating Synchronous Activities
Another topic Warnock shares in chapter 7 and 8 is an introduction to synchronous approaches even though he prefers asynchronous message boards, which I rely on in the online setting. In the next few weeks, before the start of my summer online class, I will be contemplating at least one synchronous activity I can repeat throughout the semester.
Lens Perspective Writing
For my online critical thinking and writing class for Mt. San Jacinto College, I have to teach five essays. For Essay #5, I present two prompts—one for students who are interested in analyzing a film and the other for students who are interested in writing about two texts. For Option I, students will apply WEB Du Bois’s the double consciousness/the veil to Jennifer Baszile’s The Black Girls Next Door. What follows is Option II lens perspective assignment:
NOTE: I will be returning to film in my f2f classes; that is why I selected this assignment.
Films through a Lens Perspective Discussion Board Forum in Preparation for Essay #4
For this activity, using Seger, Hagedorn, Omi, and/or St. John’s as a critical framework, analyze the representation of a specific character in a film of your choice. Be sure to include detailed observations and an intellectual analysis. That is, based on Seger, Hagedorn, Omi and/or St. John’s lens perspective, how does the director depict the character?What is the director’s purpose?How does the director’s representation of the character affect the viewer? Add a screenshot of a scene that includes the character you selected, so your classmates can follow your keen observations. Post your semiotic analysis by Saturday, April 28, 2018, at 10:30 PM, and reply to two of your fellow classmates’ posts by Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 10:30 PM. (10%)
Length: One paragraph (AXES)
Does your assertion include the name of the film and your argument?
Have you presented a vivid description of the character to support your claim?
Did you include a lens perspective?
Have you provided your rationale?
Does the paragraph follow a logical spatial order using prepositional phrases and/or transitions?
Have you carefully proofread your work, including spelling?
Does your bring the paragraph to a satisfactory close?
In academic writing, italicize the titles of films.
Refer to the director by her, his, or their last name.
NOTE: Summary is not critical thinking.
Discussion Forum Post Rubric
Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, well organized central supported idea, an abundance of telling details, apt word choice, sophisticated sentence structure, and mastery of grammar and usage conventions of standard English.
Two replies made prior to the due date. Both replies demonstrate thoughtful feedback.
Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, some organization and inadequate development, a general word choice, and some distracting errors in grammar and usage.
Two replies are made prior to the due date that reflect little to no effort to provide thoughtful feedback.
Missing an argument and a lens perspective, a lack of organization, inadequate development, a vocabulary that is too general, sentences without much subordination or parallelism, and serious errors in grammar and usage.
The following list of resources and annotations seeks to explore:
writing/reading assignments, activities, instruction, and assessments that promote equity, diversity, and inclusiveness
modes of content delivery–tools and apps–that activate cultural capital, foster class community, establish teacher presence, facilitate non-cognitive skill building, and invite and support multilingual discourse
pedagogy and theory, such as Laura Rendon discusses in Sentipensante, that allow us to imagine and practice student centeredness within the fully online classroom
Thank you to Tony Burman, Nery Chapeton-Lamas, and Jade Hidle for contributing!
Things to Listen to
“Equity in Learning Design” with Christian Friedrich. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, December 7, 2017. http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/equity-learning-design/
Friedrich offers an assessment of course design based on three principles of autonomy, competency, and relatedness, which, she argues, activate ones natural curiosity and motivate students to not only persist but engage within instructional experiences online. Her theory culminates in the following advice: “Examine your courses. Take the answers out. Put the challenges in.”
Students extract main points from Partalo’s argument about the relationship between advertising/marketing and her identity as a first-generation immigrant, then apply that point to a current ad campaign that reflect topical issues of cultural, ethnic, and/or racial identity.
Although this book isn’t focused specifically on the online environment, Rendon’s focus on a feeling/thinking pedagogy is wonderful, and many of her examples and discussions of content can easily work in the online environment.
Why it’s cool: Tony chose this piece because of the points the authors make about online course design. Specifically, I appreciate the discussion they present in Chapter 5: Four Phases of a Course:Themes and Happenings. In this discussion they address course beginnings(where they discuss presence, community, and clear expectations), early middle(best practices and principles), late middle (letting go of power), and the end (pruning, reflecting and wrapping up). Constructivism…learners create knowledge
Tony contributed this article because the author (1) examines academic writing as a ‘discourse’ informed by ideology, a nice departure from academic writing as correct writing, and (2) provides a number of examples of how the online writing space can allow students to write in a variety of different discourses and thereby see the value in their own writing/voice/etc. LeCourt argues that the online space can actually allow us to repoliticize writing in ways that focus on giving students power even if they aren’t experts in academic discourse(s).
The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) has a lot and they also sponsor a podcast that’s great. You can sign up for their newsletter and check out there podcast on the ACUE community page.
curry created this collaborative activity last semester to facilitate a discussion about a dense article that was integral to a major writing assignment.The activity merges “fessing up” group strategies with equity techniques that pre-position every student to participate. By assigning roles, managing space, and validating all forms of contributions, this activity increases the opportunities for each individual student to contribute to and benefit from the discussions, from the quietest student to those who did not read before class. Feel free to make a copy of the linked google doc, and treat the topics and questions to fit your discipline and outcome goals.
Warnock’s recommendation in the introduction to organize the class around “your teaching style and strategies (ix) resonated with me, and made the daunting task of setting up an online course seem more approachable. I started thinking about a few parts of my onsite classes that I like the best and I think are most helpful to students. They include:
Student-generated information on the elements of writing. Usually a few (or a lot) of students have prior knowledge about how an essay is organized, what goes into the intro, how to do an MLA in-text citation, etc. In my onsite classes I acknowledge this and have the students fill in the blanks during these discussions. For an online course, perhaps I could have a blank google doc that students can edit, filling in the info and providing suggestions to each other about some useful writing tools. We could have a day or so to fill in a bunch of information, and everyone could contribute at least one idea. Ideally it would help students gain confidence before they begin writing.
“Conversations” about the readings. This is my favorite part of the onsite course, and I’m not sure exactly how it would work online. In a f2f class, the initial questions I ask to generate discussions are merely a jumping off point, and students go off on tangents, relate it to themselves, and explore unanticipated areas of the text. I’d like to keep some of that flexibility, and some possible ways to do that might be to have students come up with these discussion questions, or different groups work on different questions, or lots of students responding their peers’ posts.
Feedback at all stages of writing process. In my class, we break the essay down into small chunks, and peers and I provide some type of feedback at every stage. In my onsite course we are limited by the number of times we meet each week, but online I could play with the due dates in a more effective way. I would like students to write about or submit some sort of brainstorm initially to get ideas flowing. Perhaps they could be in groups determined by the prompt they wish to answer. Then submitting and getting comments on an outline, a paragraph or two of the essay, then full rough draft. Perhaps the course could be organized by modules, then week 1-4 or whatever within each module. Each unit’s activities will follow a similar trajectory so the expectations and workload are consistent, as curry mentioned in his video.
I’m sure I could think of more, but perhaps it’s best to start small so I’M not overwhelmed, never mind the students!
Additionally, something that struck me in this week’s reading was the reminder that an online class, as Warnock points out, “by its very nature – requires students to learn to use writing to interact with others” as well as EVERY SINGLE OTHER TASK (xi) in order to complete the course. At the very least, students will get tons of writing practice in different venues online, whether casual or formal, with the instructor or other students.
Lastly, here is my video tour, and here’s the link to the original video I reference.
(After posting 5 times with the video embedded in my preview but not on the blog, I’ve used a hyperlink instead…I only have so much patience.)
I definitely want my students to collaborate. Two reasons, primarily: 1) I see this kind of interaction as a fundamental remedy for the distance in distance education, and 2) it’s also a key component of my on-the-ground courses.
In the spring I often inserted a caution into my discussions of online learning whenever the conversation drifted toward synchronous tasks/learning, and I think that the topic of collaboration certainly knocks on this door. The text, in part, discusses the topic with this in mind. And, my first reason above for wanting to integrate collaborative learning into the online environment — drawing down the distance between online learners — would certainly benefit from a little synchronicity. Yet, I feel like students sign up for online course to take advantage of the flexibility the courses offer, and that contract begins to erode when instructors establish time, day, and place requirements. I often have students in the military taking my online courses from distant time zones or on submarines, which really limits their ability to participate synchronously.
I like my on-the-ground group assignments. They rock the course outcomes. And they definitely need synchronicity — in their current form — to maximize their benefits. Small groups that can set their own schedule for synchronicity begin to address the issue I mention above, but they, too, make impossible demands on some of my online learners, which is why, in the past 10 years, I have assigned no synchronous work in my online courses. I have made some on-the-ground group assignments into individual assignments, but I have mostly scrapped the collaborative work that needs synchronicity in favor of other methods.
The collaborative assignment I’d most like to migrate is a group quiz I offer in my on-the-ground English 100 courses. The quiz is assigned to groups of three to four students and takes a full meeting to complete (1:50) if the students are diligent, know their stuff — and collaborate effectively. The students are presented with an article to read that articulates a position on an issue of the day, then the quiz requires that they demonstrate competence in critical reading, writing, researching, and MLA Style.
I know that in Canvas you can create quizzes and assign them to particular cohorts of students, so that is not difficult. However, in class (I just administered one of these today) the students delegate, huddle in pairs or triplets over computer screens then jump to another computer and compare, check each others work, teach each other, separate the pages on the quiz and pass them around, scribble, cross out, use scratch paper, reference multiple web sites — in other words, they collaborate, and they do it in a messy, real-world way that is hard to translate to the online environment. (I would say this parallels the issue I discussed two weeks ago with translating my written feedback to the online environment.)
To approximate this on-the-ground experience, I think they’d need a live video chat/conference, to be able to see each other’s screens, and to be able to all work off of the same live document (the quiz) — to start.
Oh, and they all need to be able to schedule a time to collaborate.
As an instructor who builds his class around group work, I am excited for the possibilities that the digital classroom opens. In my F2F class, I always have an activity that allows the students to put the idea we just discussed into action. We always follow these activities up with a discussion about how the idea came through in the activity. While this structure has worked well, I have always thought these group activities would benefit from a slower and longer application of the idea.
I think the main benefit in transferring these group activities online is time. For instance, in my class today, I had students work in groups to write a brief speech on any topic they wanted (I urged a light-hearted topic given the sad events of last night). The rules for this assignment were simple: write a professional speech you could deliver to fellow students and sneak in a few logical fallacies. While the groups had an amazing time trying to mask fallacies with professional language and logical support, the discussion and sharing portion of the assignment had to be trimmed due to time constraints. If this activity was translated for an OWC, groups could collaborate on a google doc and in chat; this collaboration technique would also afford agency to those students who often get steamrolled in group conversations. Not only could students spend more time incorporating logical support, but other groups could visit and see how their peers are approaching the activity. The discussion/decompression aspect of the assignment could also be developed and allow more time for students to reflect prior to responding. I imagine all the wonderful conversation that could arise in the class discussion of these speeches, but I also wonder if that hilarity I witnessed in the classroom today would still be there. With a creative activity like this, it is those rapid-fire conversations students have that make the activity so effective. If I desynchronize an activity that is supposed to be fun—by my definition of fun—will those funny moments where students wittily respond to and build upon each other disappear? It is difficult for me to know for sure until I actually implement this activity online, but I guess I could always require a synchronous meeting or Zoom for the brainstorming portion.
I am also intrigued with how peer review will translate into the OWC. I enjoy having a Q&A before each workshop, and I really enjoy hearing students have an honest “state of affairs” about their work. I know these conversations could be pushed into the digital space, but the synchronous nature of the F2F workshop is so appealing. I love hearing students give meaningful feedback; it feels like validation (they remembered my lecture!), so maybe this concern is more selfish. However, the one thing that I think will improve in this switch is the participation rate. I have noticed that my attendance seems to dip when it comes to workshops in my course. I imagine this is because students procrastinate and bail on class to avoid the guilt (even though I recommend they come regardless), but in the asynchronous online workshop, students could give feedback over the course a few days. This wider window could help those procrastinators catch up, and could facilitate a much higher participation rate. With how ubiquitous technology has become, and with so much of our daily communication happening in a digital space, it will be interesting to see how successful these conversations turn out to be.