Do Online Students Learn? READ? WRITE? Yep!
S. Gutiérrez

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)

Check-Off List:

  • 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?

Writer’s Tips:

NOTE: Summary is not critical thinking.

        Discussion Forum Post Rubric

Full credit

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.

                    Replies

 

Two replies made prior to the due date. Both replies demonstrate thoughtful feedback.

 

Partial credit 

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.

 

Not passing

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.

 

0 points

No replies are posted.

 

 

Feedback with a face
Feedback with a face avatar

It is ironic that feedback is the discussion topic for this week as I am using this discussion to take a much needed break from grading. I had a very difficult time with grading my submissions through Canvas as I did not know I could still grade through Turnitin’s feedback center (where my comment bank lives), so I had to type out all of my comments in canvas and did not realize my mistake until half way through my second class, but it was too late. However, one of the positives of this mess up is that it did allow me to rethink my comment bank.

I was part of an online feedback learning community at CSUSM a few years ago, so I have a comment bank I have been using for a while. While that has seemed to serve me well the last couple years, I do worry about the comments not being…. Legitimate? I am blanking on a good word to choose here, but “cookie cutter” comes to mind as well. A comment bank is obviously extremely helpful for in-text comments, but I do worry that a student could see those cut and paste comments as laziness on my end. I give a decent end of paper summary/response/justification which tends to be more personal and specific, but there is also the issue of managing time. What good is a page of feedback if a student is not getting it back in time to use on his/her next paper? So I can see how the comment bank is good, but I worry about how impersonal it may sound.  Honestly, I would prefer to grade all of my papers by hand as I love to use symbols/shorthand to help speed the process along, but the logistics of managing/handling 100+ physical papers make me nauseous.

If, or when, I transfer into the OWCourse, I definitely foresee using the video/voice comment tools. I love discussing a student’s paper face to face during office hours, and while a video comment section won’t necessarily be synchronous, I imagine it could produce a more authentic discussion on my end. My voice/face in conjunction with those dangerous, bordering on cookie cutter, comments/annotations could fix my worry about sounding lackadaisical. I think it would be helpful to reinforce the idea of reading/responding to a paper out loud as opposed to just skimming it. Students could hear their errors, and would hopefully see the benefit of breaking away from the screen for the revision process.

I am also very intrigued with the peer-review section Warnock discussed as online peer feedback is something I am trying in my f2f course this semester (with the help of Google docs). While I would love to eventually cobble together something like Chad’s video response activity for peer feedback, I am fascinated to see how taking the peer review discussion online is going to pan out.

In the end, I think the concept I am most excited for when it comes to feedback is to make the process less digital and incorporate more of my lovely face into the mix (with the help of the best webcam money can buy).

Without my illegible handwriting, how will they learn anything?
J. Williams

I’m going to open with — I like my illegible handwriting in the margins of student papers.  I find it difficult to capture the same kind of flourish in the online environment.  And, I have, through years of repetitive thinking, convinced myself that my students find the scribbles endearing.

That said, I really do prefer to scratch it out on a physical surface.  I find that I can leave a more dynamic comment that way, literally drawing connections between disparate parts of a paper by … drawing.  I am also faster at leaving feedback in this format — at least, at this time I am — which our author brought up as a legitimate concern just in case some of us have a hundred or more students making similar mistakes in their writing.

To this end, I have been eyeing the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, thinking that I might be able to approximate the physical grading in the electronic environment by using a stylus to write on the electronic copies students send.  I have been teaching online for 10 years, and I have spent a lot of time waiting for this moment when technology would finally catch up and allow me to return to a pre-technology form of grading.  Yet, last spring, during the first leg of this prep, we spent some time considering whether we should be trying to force our on-the-ground practices into the online environment unchanged or whether what we are really talking about is a translation of those practices.  In other words, we should be taking our best practices from our years of on-the-ground teaching and re-imagining them in the online environment.

So, I should be asking myself, How does my handwritten feedback translate to the electronic grading environment?

And, I think the answer is — it doesn’t.  What does translate is my commitment to substantive feedback.  So, what tools are available in the online environment that might not only facilitate the communication of feedback to students but enhance it?

One strategy I will use will be to reduce the amount of time I spend on low-end, repeated comments through macros.  If I can auto-fill the comments I make a million times across student papers, like those associated with punctuation and in-text citation formatting, I can spend more time on high-end feedback.  I have resisted this move because it has always felt like, well, cheating.  However, if I am writing the same comment fifty times in a single grading session, what’s the difference between my repeated handwritten note and the one that the computer fills in automatically?

Legibility.

Another tool that I plan to make use of is combining typed comments with voice comments.  The opportunity for this has existed for a while, but not the ease of it.  I trained in Canvas in the spring, and I am teaching my first two courses in this CMS this fall, and including voice comments while grading is integrated into this system and easy to use.  I like the opportunity to explain a comment I make with a quick verbal elaboration, rather than getting into typing out a lengthy response.  It’s what I would do if a student approached me in class to go over a bit of feedback he or she received.  I can also see using this feature for my global, end comments on papers.  Video feedback is also pretty easy to use through Canvas, but I am not convinced that it will provide something essential that I can’t accomplish with a combination of typed and voice feedback.

I don’t know that these strategies really affect my philosophy about providing feedback so much as begin to satisfy my concerns that feedback in the online environment has the potential to be less than the student needs.

Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment
Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment avatar

This is such a big question, curry!  Feedback happens everywhere!! My current primary tools for providing instructive feedback are rubrics and the Suggesting feature in Google Docs, but this post will focus only on rubrics since Google docs seems pretty straight-forward to me. I do offer other types of feedback on low-stakes writing—reading responses and reflection activities, for example—but my intent in this feedback is to be encouraging, supportive, or just to let the students know that I am reading every word they write 🙂 . I think this type of feedback might fall into what Warnock refers to as response–when he distinguishes between response and grading. When/if I am able to teach online, I imagine that I will heavily use Canvas’s recording feature in addition to these tools–both to improve the variety of feedback students receive and to help personalize the online environment.

I saved samples of papers I’ve graded over the years. These are the papers that never got returned because students dropped the class or because they disappeared at somepoint during the semester. Writing this blog post, I became curious about how my comments have changed, so I reread my comments on some of these essays. I was struck by how much of my marginalia (Y E S ! I’ve always wanted to use that word in earnest!), focused on the specific assignment in my early years of teaching. Over the past dozen years, though, I see a shift, and my comments are largely about specific skills. I attribute this shift to when I started to hone my rubrics.

My philosophy with rubrics is that they are teaching tools. I believe students should learn from them not about not only their performance on the specific task but also how to improve specific writing skills. I break the rubric down into critical thinking, structure, evidence, sentences, grammar, vocabulary, and documentation. Here’s what my current English 100 rubric looks like for argumentative essays (I have a different rubric for a rhetorical analysis essay assignment and for our new lens essay assignment): http://www.writingteachertools.com/english-100-grading-rubric/

All this might be (actually, I’m sure it is) a long way to get to my focus of this post: optimizing the rubric tool in Canvas to improve not only my feedback but also students’ understanding of my feedback in onsight classes and (hopefully) in online classes.

I remember during our fall certification sequence somebody sharing research about how infrequently students actually read our comments—not much 🙁 —and have thought about why this might be ever since. One reason might be that students don’t understand what we mean by the comments. For example, if the comment is that the paragraph lacks development or focus or unity or coherence, I can imagine some of my students not knowing what the heck I am talking about—despite the fact that I feel like I’ve explained these concepts—in overwrought detail—a zillion times.

So . . . here’s my idea for using the rubrics tool in Canvas. I’m considering using them to maximize both peer- and self-evaluations at various drafting stages in order to reinforce student understanding of basic compositional concepts and/or their understanding of specific critical thinking skills. In f2f classes, I’ve been doing versions of the types of evaluations I’m imagining, but with pen and paper and perhaps with not as much clarity of instruction or accountability as might be possible with Canvas. My intent is that these peer- and self-evaluations promote deeper understanding of what sometimes seem to be amorphous concepts like development and unity.

One of the resources I found in curry’s annotated bibliography discussed various types of rubrics in Canvas: Single Point, Analytic, Primary Trait, Holistic (here’s a direct link to the PPT, if you want to check it out:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/10UnK0-9i-OaU7RGl66sukfCaHsIOBizK710xenlcuYg/edit#slide=id.p

I mocked up a few of these rubrics to concretize how I might use each of these rubric types.

Single Point – Use to improve thesis
Analytic – Use to improve Level One Unity* 
Primary Trait – Use to improve Level Two Unity*
Holistic – My final grading rubric

(No mock-up here!  I ran out of time!)

*These are teaching tools I created to help explain the concept of unity to students. You can check them out here and here.

Canvas Questions:  To implement these evaluations, I’m guessing that I create an Assignment that requires peer reviews and then attach the corresponding rubric. Does anyone know if this right, or am I missing something?

Also, does Canvas have a way for the instructor to grade a student’s comments on a peer review? I tell students that I consider peer reviews as a type of test, an open-book, OK-to-ask-me-questions-during-type-of-test, for which they receive grades based on the quality of their comments and demonstration of understanding the assignment requirements. I know where I can see the student’s peer comments, but I couldn’t figure out if I can grade that student’s comments.