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 March 1st, WritingwithMachines hosted a workshop on how to know and intervene for online composition students. Our goal was to consider the agency we have as instructors to increase access and equity for our students, and then share experiences and strategies for getting to know and intervening for specific student groups and individuals in our online classes.
Watch an archive of the discussion:
Some reflection from me:
In my own onsite classes, I set a goal to know every students’ name by the 3rd class meeting. Online, that’s harder (because sometimes, I never have a face to put with a name) or it’s way easier (because I always have a student’s name available and proximate to the work I’m responding to). To get a better sense of who my students are, I use an excel sheet to keep notes on names, pronunciation, pronouns, and personality traits. After attending the CUE Equity-minded Teaching Institute last summer, I added columns to track participation (engaged / distracted; talkative / quiet) based on gender and ethnicity. This allows me to really see who I’m responding to or calling on (or ignoring), who volunteers information (or doesn’t), and who participates differently based on small group dynamics. It’s been a game changer.
This excel sheet looks like this:
In my online composition classes, I use my first week, “introduce yourself to the class” assignment to collect information on each student. For students who describe themselves as busy or worried about English, or who submit a very short response, I set up a 10 minute Zoom meeting where I ask them about themselves, their past experiences online and in English, and their sense of the class so far. This is something Jim does with all his students in the first week. Again, a game changer.
After Week 1, I track the number of discussion responses each student contributes, and I track when I have featured a student’s work in a weekly announcement, lecture, or synchronous meeting. I try to feature every student at least once during the semester, and for students who seem less engaged or worried about the course, I try to feature their work early on.
When a student realizes their name is the answer to one of my announcement quiz questions about “whose amazing work is featured this week?” they’re stoked.
What do you do to identify, track, and actively get to know each of your online (or onsite) students by name, personality, and circumstance?
Within your ability to affect mindsets and create equitable conditions, who in your online writing class, specifically, is on your radar? Which specific student, by name, whom you feel you have an opportunity to intervene for and support this semester?
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:
I have to start by telling a story about one of the biggest challenges I have had teaching online thus far in my career. During my second year of teaching online coursework, I was notified that I had a student in my online class that was blind. I had a lot of support available to me to help this student such as getting him Microsoft Word Documents of all of our readings from our text-book and additional readings (his screen reader could only read from black and white MS Word Documents). I eventually solved a huge problem that was preventing him from joining our online discussion forums (I have pictures of modules for students to click on and while the picture was linked the text was not linked and so his screen reader could not pick up the link from the image. Screen readers need to read a text that is linked in order to pick it up and announce to the listener that there is indeed a link.) I e-mailed him MS Word files for the quizzes that were on our LMS Moodle.
Each week I had to carefully review all of my materials and make sure that he had access to everything in a format where he could listen to the lecture, have the reading in a Microsoft Word File, and access other student’s discussion forum responses in a timely manner in order to respond to them.
I e-mailed this student almost every day in the first 2 weeks of the course. An e-mail was one of the best sources of communication for us at that time since the student reported to me that he was having trouble with a phone line and Internet access at the time. I believe by week 5-6 the student dropped the course. I’d like to say that I did everything that I could have, but I’m sure I could have done more.
Long story short, that student got me thinking about how my online courses in English composition would need to get more simplistic looking in nature so that students are not navigating through modules with long lists of files, etc. I currently use texts from a variety of resources and books and the documents can really start to clutter each module. I have a very different looking online course in my teacher education program with Moodle, and each module has just four images to click on with tasks for each week. For my two sections of English 100 this semester, I definitely need to find a way to get rid of all the clutter. I do like how Curry has this course set up with just four pages on the left-hand side, and all of the materials needed for each with stored within the discussion post. What a great way to de-clutter any course in an LMS! Someone with a screen-reader would be able to navigate Curry’s course much more quickly than mine right now!
Ok, my response is getting long. I just want to talk about one more aspect from Wood’s presentation that I have been working on in my ENGL 100 courses this semester. Wood’s point about racially salient images was something that I have typically stayed away from. However, I have just recently noticed how many different racially and equitable images and materials I am utilizing in my coursework. To name a few, I use a short activity from Borcher’s Rhetorical Theory: An Introduction where students analyze part of Christopher Reeves speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. I have used this speech to help students get more comfortable with the task of analyzing the rhetorical situation in many different workshops and courses I have taught. But I was hesitant this semester to use it because I have one student who uses a wheelchair in my class. I wasn’t sure how this student would react to the short clip of the speech that we watched and the entire speech, which argued for more financial support for disabilities. Anyway, everything went over smoothly. It is always interesting to see who knows Christopher Reeves among my students, and who has ever listened to national convention speeches.
I also just recently brought in the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick and demonstrated my own rhetorical analysis of the ad for students before they worked on a practice activity with their own ads they brought in. Curry, since we were talking about that advertisement during the Accelerated Learning Program Conference a few weeks ago you sparked my interest! Racially salient images are more important than ever to utilize in our classes.
I’ll end here with one final anecdote. I recently had a student who came to me and said something like, “I just don’t feel like I am smart enough to be here. I’m ______ (race), and I have so much fear and anxiety every time I open my mouth in class. I just get so nervous when I have to talk to other people in class.” This student of mine has been having tremendous attendance issues to say the least, but I have been accommodating him after our chat this semester about his anxiety. What is so devastating to me is that I had no idea that this student was feeling so much anxiety about his race in the classroom. I have a very diverse class. He is in my ENGL 100 ML (Multilingual) section this semester. I never would have expected one of my students to come to me and say something to me about their race making them feel inferior to other students. I am so glad that he did come to me, and I was able to help set up a plan with him so that he is feeling more comfortable in the class. This recent experience has taught me how important it is for me to address my whiteness among my students, and how to talk about inadequacies that students might be feeling in my classes so that they feel more comfortable reaching out for support to me or other resources on campus.
“My concern is that, even in courses that deliberately design collaborative activities, like Alex’s group project, there appears to be a disconnect between instructor intentions and student experiences. One way to resolve that disconnect is to make collaborative learning an explicit goal that we discuss with our students in OWCs, and an explicit element of our scholarly discussions of Principle 11.”
This is a challenging topic for me, so I am really looking forward to hearing about some of your own examples with collaborative assignments in your writing courses.
Outside of the one example that Warnock shared about his students working on a team project to develop an argument website, he did not share any other group projects in the online classroom. I definitely believe in collaborative learning, but I have become much more wary about developing high-stakes collaborative writing assignments. I have colleagues who do awesome collaborative projects with Wikipedia Editing, and who have their students go through the online student training platform. I have even participated in such a collaborative writing endeavor on Wikipedia with colleagues. However, I am just not brave enough to go there yet in my classes! I largely remain skeptical about high-stakes group writing assignments because of the many students who often complain that one person does most of the work.
What I have encountered in the past with group papers or assignments is that students are not truly collaborating, and just end up dividing up their work. I am guilty of “the divide and conquer” phenomenon myself when writing with colleagues. I have more recently convinced my co-author of a few articles to start writing individual paragraphs and sentences alongside me in a Google Document instead of our old way of dividing and conquering (she took the lit review and I took the methodology section on some of our quantitative studies because I was the math person). What I found was that the pieces that we “divided and conquered” were not as powerful as compared to when we truly wrote more collaboratively. We worked much better discussing our writing more intimately in a face-to-face setting when we were sitting next to one another typing away and bouncing ideas off one another. I flew back to Macau one summer so that we could finish writing a project together in-person.
Developing collaborative assignments is a complex process. It requires much more than just asking students to jump on a Google Doc and write collaboratively or to respond to their classmates’ ideas in a peer review or discussion forum response. Research supports collaborative learning, but applying it in practice is a challenge!
It’s not surprising that I have been influenced by one of my graduate professor’s research on “Cognitive Presence in FYC: Collaborative Learning that Supports Individual Authoring.” Stewart (2018) found that knowledge construction that resulted from collaborative activities in online FYC courses only took place when the instructor emphasized the value of engaging with multiple perspectives. I continue to value Stewart’s recommendations that group cohesion can be better facilitated when instructors “create activities that invite students to work together toward a common goal instead of co-existing in an online space where they work toward individual goals” (Community Building and Collaborative Learning in OWI). Again, creating that activity with the concept of a “common goal” and “engaging with multiple perspectives” is much easier said than done!
Thus, I would like to second Stewart’s recommendation that students in OW courses and all online courses for that matter discuss the topic of collaborative learning as part of a specific course goal.
Ok, so now I’ll get into the application part of this response! Something that I always do in my on-site courses is a debate related to a reading or topic we are discussing or analyzing. I typically keep the debate as an informal class activity, and I give students plenty of time to prepare for it in class. Students take a position on a topic and move to one side of the classroom to collaborate pieces of evidence from our readings or outside readings that support that position. I typically divide the classroom up into smaller groups of two or three within their position side so that they can have more intimate discussions. Then I ask everyone to stand up and move to opposite sides of the classroom to defend that position. Students can only speak once for their group, and I typically only allow them to speak for thirty seconds to one minute. This goes on for about ten minutes back and forth from each group. Typically, I have students write a response directly after the debate addressing a counterclaim that they heard about during the debate. That piece of writing serves as some type of initial scaffolding for their larger writing assignment (depending on the assignment that they are working on, I’m speaking broadly here—I do this kind of activity in most all of my writing courses regardless of level).
If I were to put this in-class activity online, I think it would work nicely as a low-stakes writing assignment for students. I could ask students to present their initial position or analysis via small groups of 4-5 on one side and 4-5 on another side. That way the discussion forum becomes more manageable. Then I can create a second task where students are required to explicitly use another student’s piece of writing within their response. Warnock suggests that if students are working on a critique that they “account for previous posts in their critiques” (p. 149). The same idea holds true for discussion forum responses in my proposed debate task. Students should build on previous posts by actually acknowledging other classmate’s propositions by writing their classmate’s names, and then building upon their ideas.
I can’t tell you how many teachers (novice and experienced) struggle with responding to their peer’s ideas my online TESOL education courses. In the first weeks of class, I provide heavy attention and examples of how to integrate a classmate’s ideas into a discussion forum response where students are replying directly to one another. If a student is not using their peer’s names in their response, I almost always send them an e-mail to discuss with them why it is important to include names and why it is important that we collaborate and build on one another’s ideas. I will get students who reply to another peer without writing their classmates name, and who just go on to write about whatever they want to without acknowledging the ideas they are actually responding to. Responding to classmates’ ideas on a forum and extending or adding novel ideas is a process that needs to be taught, modeled, and emphasized within any online course.
What I am learning from my reading adventures this week is that collaborative learning is a topic that should be explicitly addressed with students in any online course, and is a concept that should be addressed early on in a course.
Finally, I’m a musician, and so much about OWI reminds me of the community of practice that most all musicians are exposed to in some form or another. In my own training, I had to regularly attend and perform in masterclasses. I think the masterclass is a great way to envision the community of practice that I imagine my students interacting in.
As a class this semester, we explored various topics including tools for online teaching, the gamification of online classes, the migration process and modalities, best practices for discussion forums and grading, and even shared lens perspective assignments and approaches to keeping students engaged and learning/reading in the online setting. English Professors, John Warnock, curry mitchell, Jim Sullivan, and Tony Burman, facilitated these discussions, laying the groundwork for future online teaching. After completing this Spring 2016 sequence, I am inspired us to explore synchronous activities and, perhaps, to resuscitate my online avatar (I used a couple years when I was teaching online introductory composition). Most importantly, I discovered I did not have to comment on ALL my students posts and replies. (I am still feeling nervous about the latter one.)
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.