Post June 16, 2014
A Quick Look at Chs. 1-4 of Scott Warnock’s Teaching Writing Online
Ch. 1 “Getting Started: Developing Your Online Personality”:
Are you interested in teaching writing online? If you are afraid of trying it think again. Help is available. One big help is Scott Warnock’s book Teaching Writing Online. In Ch. 1, Warnock advises us that “With an enjoyment of and competence in writing, this same sort of enthusiasm can be conveyed online, not only through your choice of words, but also through your responsiveness to your students.” I would like to compliment Melissa and Krista’s first blogs for conveying the enthusiasm of which Warnock speaks, yet which also maintain a highly professional writing style without the “chumminess” that can lead to future problems with students. In contrast, I worry a little that my own writing voice, while usually clear, may paint me as somewhat stiff or blunt. However, as Warnock points out later in Ch. 1, an instructor’s choice of an icebreaker and the instructor’s responsiveness to all student responses and the word choice of those responses is just as important as the style of the words on the instructor’s blog or home page or assignments (7-8).
Ch. 2 “Online or Hybrid”:
In Ch. 2, Warnock discusses some of the differences between online and hybrid writing courses. Below is a list of some of the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Online Class Advantages:
“The evidence is persuasive that student learning is unaffected by online or hybrid modalities…” (Warnock 12). Long distance learners may be better served online. Student may work online at times they prefer. They may work in a stop/start/stop/start fashion as their schedules allow. They may engage in asynchronous communications with instructor and peers. Students may benefit more from online classes than from crowded lecture halls in overfilled freshman classes. Colleges with limited classroom space may continue to expand course offerings.
Online Class Disadvantages:
Some students are not ready for online classes. They may take online classes to avoid going to classes. They may have the technology or know enough about it to take an online course. Since online classes often show a higher drop-out rate than f2f classes, some colleges have decided to prevent first-year students from taking fully online courses (Warnock 13),
As Krista pointed out in her first blog, teacher personality seems to play a significant part in f2f classes. In the past, I too felt that my teacher persona figured largely in the success of my classes. However, in more recent years, I have begun to notice fewer students establishing eye contact with me and more students whose minds seems distracted by the technology they hide in their pockets. More students seem to have the attitude “just hurry up and give me what I need to do and let me get on with my work.” Perhaps the online classroom is the key to help students maintain their focus. Many instructors, however, are afraid to try to teach fully online classes and the number of online technology tools available to instructors may seem overpowering, Warnock tells us about many of those possible tools, but he also warns us that online classes require a higher degree of instructor organization. It seems true that online course syllabi need to include more items, such as schedule, grading, policies, and initial instructor training in various desired technologies is sometimes necessary. As a result, some argue that online classes require an extensive amount of time to prepare for and to teach, and some studies may support this idea (Warnock 15-16).
Hybrid Class Advantages:
A 2008 study “found that students appear to learn as well in hybrid courses as in f2f courses” (Warnock 12). Hybrid classes combine face to face (f2f) instruction classes with online assignments, often in a 50/50 ratio. They allow students to ask questions during the face-to-face class meetings. They allow the instructor to remind students of upcoming assignments during f2f meetings. Students post assignments online by specific dates for their online “class meetings.” However, student drop rates may rise, especially at first, until students get more adjusted to hybrid (or online) classes (Warnock .
Instructors who hesitate to teach fully online classes are more often willing to try hybrid courses. They do not feel as much pressure to be fully organized at the beginning of hybrid courses. Instructors can learn various technology methods and modalities more slowly. They can develop a consistent plan, such as the following: class meets f2f the first day of the week and then does online assignments for the second meeting of the week. Instructors can conduct at least half the grading as they normally would.
Hybrid Class Disadvantages:
Long-distance learners cannot easily fulfill the f2f portion of the hybrid class. Classroom space for f2f meetings may be limited. It would seem to me that students who want online classes would want them totally online instead of their classes being split half online and half of them f2f.
Ch. 3 “Tech Tools: Use Only What You Need”:
When teaching your first online class, “Don’t be any more complicated than you have to be” (Warnock 19). This advice will benefit both the instructor and the students. “Make sure that all participants [including you, the instructor] have the necessary skill level with the communication tools that will be used during the course” (Warnock 19).
Email is an easy way for instructors to communicate with students and allows instructors to give reminders and to be mentors. Students and instructors alike are already familiar with it, which is a big advantage for first-time online instructors.
At first, your campus CMS can help you keep things simple (Warnock 22). Blackboard and Moodle are two CMS programs that colleges in our area frequently use. With campus CMS programs, the instructor can get support through the IT department. Since I had used Blackboard in several college f2f courses before I tried teaching an online course, I felt comfortable enough with Blackboard to use it as the main component in my first online class. I could upload files, power points, web-links, and quizzes into Blackboard and could let Blackboard score multiple-choice quizzes for instant feedback to students, which they appreciated. However, I did not feel brave enough to start my own blog or to try an audio or a webcam presentation or to create a virtual world, but many tech programs exist that the more experienced online instructor may be willing to try.
Online student essay grading programs, such as Accuplacer, exist, but so far, they seem to have shortcomings in grading student essays correctly and should probably not be used for scoring major essays (Warnock 26). Some community colleges use Accuplacer to decide if college students must take developmental writing courses before they can take freshman composition for college credit. When I taught a few community college sectoins of developmental writing, I thought that Accuplacer had graded some of my students more harshly than I would have thought. Perhaps it was their imperfect mechanics that caused them to have to take developmental writing classes before they could take freshman composition classes. I think I noticed, however, that Accuplacer failed to give some talented student writers enough credit for their great ideas, good organization, and higher-level sentence structure. Their strengths seem to have been overshadowed by their lack of correct use of mechanics. Some of these students seem to have attended high schools that did not emphasize mechanics instruction enough to help students pass the Accuplacer test so that they could avoid spending time and money on developmental writing classes.
Some online instructors may be tempted to use online essay grading programs, thinking that they can ease their grading load. However, Warnock suggests that essay grading programs are probably better for grading short, fact-based writings (26). Students, however, may benefit from an essay-grading program to evaluate their rough drafts for revision before they submit their final essays. Students often pay closer attention to revising their rough drafts when an impartial outside source, such as an online grading program, has pointed out some possibly serious errors. Then, when students email the instructor for help with their rough drafts, the instructor can tune in to some elements of writing that the student seems ready and willing to try to improve.
Ch. 4 “Course Lessons and Content: Translating Teaching Styles to the OW Course”
Warnock suggests that instructors chunk course materials to be learned into short learning segments so that students do not feel overpowered by how much they have to read and do (30-31). He suggests weekly work folders as an easy organizational tool that also chunks material. I tried organizing assignments and tests in weekly work folders in my online class and found it worked well for simplicity and clarity. In order to avoid confusion and students working too soon on upcoming work before they completed their required work for this week, I opened up the next week’s folder of online lessons, online quizzes, and online assignments as soon as the deadlines for the current week’s assignments had passed. Although some students wanted to work way ahead and would ask me to open up future weeks’ work extra early, I felt that other students would feel overpowered if they saw all the work in the various weeks too soon. I made the decision not to open future weeks before the Friday morning of the week preceding. Although various organizational methods are possible, the online instructor needs to be aware of and careful about organizing material, perhaps more than the f2f instructor needs to be.
In order to “talk” with students and have students “talk” with each other, some online instructors use the message board, but email, chats, listservs, blogs, and wikis can also work. However, chats can be difficult to handle unless the class is very small (Warnock 33).
Warnock suggests using a Socratic Method of instruction by posing a simple, direct question at first via a message board, blog, or wiki to which students respond. As weeks pass, the Socratic questions can become more complex, geared toward important course learning goals.
Group assignments can pose problems in any class, online or f2f, but, according to Warnock (and my own observations), that making groups get together physically or online to produce a group project can have problems if/when a member of the group bails out in one way or another (34). Peer review groups are easier to handle in an online class. They require written communication, which helps to encourage more student writing–a big plus in a writing course. Games and simulations might be the wave of the future in online composition courses as various instructors try their hands at creating effective ways of teaching composition through a gaming environment. I look forward to seeing some of their creations.
Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How & Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2009. Print