Response to Chs. 5-6 Teaching Writing Online by Scott Warnock

Ch. 5: “The Writing Course Syllabus: What’s Different in Online Instruction?”

Ch. 6 “Organization: Redundancy, and Helping Students–and You–Keep Things Straight”:

In Chapters 5 and 6, author Scott Warnock gives online instructors some excellent advice about how to save the online lives of their students and themselves. His wise words indicate that instructors should be smart, clear, consistent, and organized. See below.

Be Smart: In Ch. 5 Warnock emphasizes the importance of including more in the online class syllabus:

  • Contact Information (preferred contact times, preferred contact methods, such as CMS email or email just for teaching purposes) Keep it simple–the more contact methods you give students, the more places you will have to check frequently (41)
  • Course Description and Course Goals
  • Textbook Info. (ie: ISBN number and textbook locations)
  • Add/Drop Dates
  • Chronological list of dates due (ie: readings, assignments, activities)
  • Evaluation Methods (ie: assignment weights and grading rubrics)
  • Class Policies (ie: rules for late or incomplete assignments)
  • Support Services Contact Info. (ie: IT Help Desk or Disabilities Dept.)

Be Clear: Teach students to be clear in their emails.

Although students tend to expect online instructors to always be “on” (Warnock 41), instructors may wish to include in their syllabi some email rules, such as those I created below, to help students avoid confusing and ill-timed (3:00am) emails.

  • Course Name: Section (ie: WRIT 510:23 or Eng. 3 H) should be first in each email’s subject line
  • Last name, First Name should also appear in subject lines (ie: WRIT 510:23 MurdockM)
  • First Sentence = short, simple question (ie: Can my textbook be one of my sources for Essay 4?)
  • Bullet your list of questions if you have more than one question.
  • Type your name at the bottom of each email to make sure the instructor knows who you are and to develop good habits for future jobs.
  • Response Time: I will usually respond within a few hours, but may take up to 24 hours.
  • Do NOT attach a new email to an old topic. (ie: When your instructor sends the class a “Syllabus Attached” email, do not send this email back to the instructor, saying Essay 4.*

Be Consistent: Warnock suggests that online instructors stay consistent in everything they do, for instance, in how they name their files and file folders. The name of the course (ie: WRIT 510) probably should appear first, then key words that both the students and instructor can instantly understand.

Be Organized: Lists, simple, clean, clear lists. Not paragraphs. Nicolas Carr in his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” published in The Atlantic in July 2008, pointed out that many students struggle to maintain concentration when they read anything online (Carr). Thus, it seems logical to me that online instructors might do better to rely on shortened sentences and bulleted lists to help online students focus on the main points.

In its article “Create an Online Course: Five Tips, ” The Center for Teaching and Learning recommends a “chunking” content and “follow consistent patterns for each chunk (ie: Chapter 1: Reading, Video, Assignment, Practice Quiz, Test; Chapter 2: Reading, Video, Assignment, Practice Quiz, Test.)Warnock recommends that online instructors organize course materials and links into weekly folders and try to have certain types of assignments always due at certain dates/times of the week (45).

Wise words. I have tried the weekly folder method online successfully and have received complimentary feedback from online students who appreciated the fact that they could count on the weekly folders to have everything they needed for the week in one spot. Stress reduction for students is beneficial and teachers alike because teachers do not feel pressured to have future weekly folders completed way ahead of time and students can relax a little when one week’s work is completed.

Works Cited

Carr, Nicolas  “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, N.P., n pag. 1 July 2008. Web. 24 June, 2014.

“Create an Online Course: Five Tips, ” The Center for Teaching and Learning University of Texas at Austin, n pag. Web. 24 June, 2014.

Warnock, Scott W. “The Writing Course Syllabus: What’s Different in Online Instruction. Teaching Writing Online. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. 38-47. Print.

Warnock, Scott W. “Organization: Redundancy, and Helping Students–and You–Keep Things Straight.” Teaching Writing Online. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. 48-57. Print.

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Respond to Research: “Five Top Technology Tools for the English Classroom”

Too, Too, Too: Too many, too much, too fast. Teachers today can feel overpowered by the too’s–too many new tech tools, too much to learn to do on each tool, and too fast each technology tool changes, teachers to have to adapt to revised programs that computer geeks, in their all wisdom, have made “even better.” What’s an old gal like me supposed to do? Simplify if possible. Pick the best and forget the rest. The best can really help you get organized in some pretty cool ways.

So what are some of the best technology tools available to the classroom teacher?

Google Drive (docs.google.com) is my number one pick for organizing. It is also one of the top five techie tools that British author Sarah Findlater, a coordinator for English and head of languages and communications, recommends. Why? Students can save their documents in Google’s main server Cloud with the wonderful advantage of being able to get to their saved docs anytime on any technology device. No more need for students or teachers to carry around and possibly lose small, rather fragile USB devices with their work saved. Google’s main server Cloud can store it all. Plus, students can share their work with others. (I haven’t asked students yet to collaborate on a project using Google Drive, but hope to do so this coming year.) Students can allow me to view their work or edit it, which is easier than my old method of carrying home stacks of papers that I might misplace. I

Edmodo is supposed to be a free social learning platform for students, teachers and parents, sort of like Facebook, except better. The teacher can set assignments, students can hand in assignments and teachers can make comments. It allows teachers to upload quizzes and polls and offers a grade book. It allows students to interact with each other on assignments. Some fellow teachers are trying it out, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say about it.

Screencasting: I think we will be using program this summer to create a voice-over for an assignment. There a loads of tools out there that capture your computer or device screen and allow you to record your voice while you do so. ScreenR is free to use. Use this program to create a voice-over to your powerpoints and organize your powerpoints in your CMS program as great tools for substitute teachers to use or for absent students to view or for flipped classroom use.

 

You Tube: Start a YouTube channel and upload your podcasts at your very own YouTube home page –organize videos by topics or weeks and allow students to find them easily. Create your own videos to upload or create a list of videos already available on the topic you are studying. Your department can also create lists

Blogging: In our WRIT 510 class, we have all had to create a blog, using the free sources WordPress or Google’s Blogger or some other free blogging program. Although there are many blogging platforms around but the two that are most popular are WordPress and Blogger. Although Blogger from Google is supposedly easier to use, WordPress is supposedly better at allowing the creation of  tabs, along the top of the page , which can allow for improved organization.

I hope to use more of these tools in my teaching this coming year.

Work Cited

Findlater, Sarah. “Five Top Technology Tools for the English Classroom.” Inspiring Teaching: The Teacher Network. The Guardian. n.pag. 19 February 2014. Web. 24 June, 2014.

June 16, 2014 Response to Chs. 1-4 Teaching Writing Online by Scott Warnock

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.

Reference:

Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How & Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2009. Print

Response to Robert Talbert’s article “Three Issues with the Case for Banning Laptops”

Robert Talbert’s article, written June 13, 2014, disagrees with an earlier article byDan Rockmore, “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom,” published in the New Yorker.

First, Talbert disagrees when Rockmore says that learning is negatively affected by the combination of technology with a lecture pedagogy.Talbert pointedly asks why Rockmore doesn’t ask for lectures to be banned instead of laptops, especially since Rockmore goes on to say that technology can serve to multiply, rather than divide, student learning in pedagogies other than the lecture. Point well taken. Rockmore sounds somewhat foolish.Talbert saysRockmore’s “Laptop and the Lecture” study is really about students trying to multitask in his classroom during his lectures rather than being simply about the presence of laptops. Talbert believes that more engaging pedagogy can help focus students so that their attempts to multitask in the classroom become less of an issue. I agree with Talbert that more engaging pedagogy can help focus students, but, of course, how to be more engaging is an ongoing battle that all instructors must face daily. How about a compromise? Instructors can place in their syllabus the class policy that students in f2f classes must have laptops closed unless instructor directs otherwise. Of course, how to enforce the class policy is a good question. Some local public high schools block Internet service and cell service in school buildings in an attempt to help students avoid multi-tasking. Blocked service does help in high school classrooms, but colleges have not seemed willing to take this more drastic approach.

Second, although Talbert agrees with Rockmore that studentsapproach technology devices as games and chat machines, rather than as learning machines, Talbertbelievestechnology can be made into a tool for learning. Talbert believes that using technology as a tool for self-regulated learning can and should be a stated goal in higher education. Good point, Talbert.

Finally, Talbert disagrees with Rockmore for quoting a study that “shows” how taking notes on a laptop is not as effective as taking notes by hand. The study distinguishes only between typed and handwritten notes. If Rockmore wishes to ban laptops, how does he feel about students using an ipad with a stylus? Some dysgraphic students may benefit tremendously from a ipad with a stylus. Talbert points out that using a stylus and Notability on iPad can sync easily to Evernote, I assume to create a typed product. Most instructors would agree that typed notes are a boon in any subject area.

One responder to Talbert’s article believes that cell phones distract students in his highly interactive classes just as much or more as laptops distract students in lectures because cell phones keep students from participating in the most important aspect of interactive learning, talking to each other. Therefore, digital devices interfere with more than just lecture pedagogies. I agree wholeheartedly. From my experience, students use their laptops to shop or play games, etc. just as often in a writing lab class as they do in a lecture class. Perhaps the answer lies ien the penalty given to students who are “caught” on websites that ar not approved.  Any penalties would have to be outlined clearly, however, in the syllabus.

Laptops are not a new trend–the vast majority of all undergraduate students in the US own them. Laptops are not going away. If we want to have more student attention, Talbert says banning technology is a dead end. I agree with him. Let’s reduce lecture in the classroom and think about different pedagogies instead.

Reference:

Talbot, Robert. “Three Issues with the Case for Banning Laptops.” The Chronicle.  The Chronicle of Higher Education. 13 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014  retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2014/06/13/three-issues-with-the-case-for-banning-laptops/ .

June 12, 2014 Post

Marsha’s blog post for June 12, 2014: Teaching writing online seems to be such a complicated task! I hope I am tech-savvy enough to learn how! As you can probably tell, I am a little nervous about this course. I am always a little nervous concerning IT because I came into the computer age rather late in life. Sometimes I feel as though all the computer options that teachers can use is simply overpowering! I know that many of my students have tech skills superior to my own. Some educators, like me, are interested in teaching online courses but afraid to try it.  Instead of getting excited, I get a little nervous when I hear about yet another computer program that can liven up the classroom using blogs, wikis, message boards, dropboxes, voice technologies, virtual classrooms, etc. It can make one’s head spin! I was glad to read in Scott Warnock’s “Introduction” to Teaching Writing Online that he recommends teachers new to online to try a prepackaged Computer Management System (CMS)  to “lower the technology barrier as much as you can” (xviii). Whew! I feel a little better!

I would like to explore whether online English instruction for high school students can be as effective as face to face instruction. Many students in the high school where I currently teach English took some of their classes last fall through SC’s Connections, which offers free online high-school classes. Students complained loudly all fall that they were doing poorly in their online classes. The school’s computer lab monitor (a school staff member) said that some of the students wasted computer class time. She reported that many of the students would not do any work at home. The computer monitor told me that many students and parents complained that some online class instructors seemed unresponsive to questions and that some of the online classes had had as many as three different teachers for a class during the course of one semester. For spring semester, 2014, my high school eliminated online classes and made all high school classes face to face. Can English teachers make online classes as effective as face to face classes?  What are some key tactics that online instructors should employ to help ensure a high level of English instruction effectiveness?

I look forward to reading future chapters in Warnock’s Teaching Writing Online to see what he means when he states  in his introduction “Think about what you do well, and then think about how you can use various resources to translate those skills to the Online Writing course (xvii). I have taught some face to face community college writing classes. In those classes, too often I heard college students say that they had tried some other online classes, thinking online classes would give them the chance to move at an accelerated pace geared around their work schedules. Many students told me, however, that they had found out the hard way that they lacked the self-discipline necessary to complete their assignments and that they learned best when they could hear the teacher and ask questions face to face. I taught only one college class online; however, I was lucky. The course’s textbook offered great teacher resources such as power-points and chapter tests that were rather easy to download to a class management system. Most of my online students were very successful and  seemed very appreciative. A handful of students, however, seemed to lack the self-discipline necessary to succeed. That handful of students sent me more emails than all the other students’ emails combined. I felt that I received too many emails stating “Internet was down at 11:55pm last night” or “Turnitin wouldn’t let me upload my essay” or ” I uploaded the wrong essay last night. Here’s the right one.” Those emails often came in the middle of the night. What are some good survival tactics for online instructors to use to help improve student email etiquette?  Funny thing–I hope that I don’t breach email etiquette myself in this course.

As a face-to-face teacher, I like to watch students when they read or write in the classroom to try to evaluate their attitude, work ethic, their reading level, and their key distractions. I believe non-honors high school students are the ones most at risk in online classes. Non-honors students often need extra simplification and extra support, so in my instruction, I try to simplify, give clear examples, and create relationships from their reading to the real world. Students heavily on the teacher’s body language to decide if they like the class or not. A simple body language tool such as eye contact can help them get back on task. A teacher’s laugh or smile can lighten their day. The computer does not seem to have beneficial body language. Instead, it seems to call them loudly to jump to other “more fun” websites.  The computer seems to teach them to let their eyes jump all over the screen instead of reading systematically from left to right, from top to bottom. In short, I worry that an online English class may encourage students’ eyes to flit all over the screen in random fashion instead of reading systematically.

Warnock says in his “Introduction” that “‘Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their … text messages as writing’” (xxii). Some of my students tell me that they send an average of 13,000 texts per month, but it seems that only their friends and they can understand each other. Is texting causing students to have more trouble with spelling and sentence structure? I find that students are willing to ask Google any question they want, but then they too often believe what they read at their first search result . They don’t seem to wonder which Internet sources are the most reliable. How do I teach online students how to conduct effective research? Currently, I rely on classroom instruction examples of good sources and how we can find them. How can I teach online students how to find good sources? The flipped classroom intrigues me because my school has asked its teachers to consider trying it in at least one class next year. At this point, I would be more willing to try it in an honors classes because honors students are usually more responsible about getting assignments done at home, allowing the teacher to develop classroom lesson plans that encourage interpretation, critical thinking, and creativity. I worry that the flipped classroom might not work as well in non-honors classes. I might like to do a project evaluating the effectiveness of the flipped classroom in classrooms with more at-risk students. I hope this course will give me great strategies for teaching English and writing online. I wish to know more about how to conduct peer reviews. Warnock’s “Introduction” says that he will cover this topic. I look forward to reading more about it. I also wish to know how to provide effective feedback on student online papers without overworking myself. So many questions!

Since I worry that online classes may discourage students from learning social skills they will need for success in the work force after college, I also wish to learn strategies to help students develop a sense of online community. I hope this class will offer ideas I can use to help students develop more self-discipline when they take online classes. Golly, I was long-winded! I hope I wasn’t too boring!

About Myself

I graduated from Winthrop University with a BA and an MAT in English.

Currently, I am an English Instructor with 30+ years experience teaching high school English in York County, SC.

I have also taught a number of Freshman Composition classes at Winthrop University and a variety of English classes at Central Piedmont Community College.