Thursday, January 30, 2014
Friday, November 29, 2013
Writing MOOCs -- what are they good for?
If you follow higher education even a little, you know about MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. These courses – a look at early MOOCs is here – have been promoted for all sorts of reasons. I’m not against MOOCs, but, like others who are wondering if this trend will run its course, I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.
First off, these courses represent, by and large, technologically-facilitated ways to deliver lots of content to lots of people. And why not? Schools have been looking for ways to streamline content delivery for a long time, including the well-entrenched giant lecture hall experience. Shifts to distribution-of-knowledge have always been viewed with skepticism. I mean, the book, writing itself, was once seen as a threat to traditional oral knowledge distribution systems, yet we now live in a time when sitting alone reading a book is a mark of erudition. Things change.
But a MOOC to learn statistics or history or poetry or game theory is one thing. Bring on that slick, video content! Learning the skill of writing in such an environment is different. Several institutions are offering writing MOOCs for thousands of students. Some are being run by quality, experienced writing faculty. I had personal experience with one of these courses, and while I remain underwhelmed by these efforts, I believe MOOC-like thinking might yet drive some ideas for writing instruction:
1) Improving the online writing group. If I'm working on a high-stakes writing project and you are working on a high-stakes writing project, we could get together, even by email, and work together quite productively to help one another, yes? MOOCs might help us develop new tech platforms and logistics for facilitating such interactions. Maybe, even better, we will break through with new approaches, pedagogies, and philosophies about peer review.
2) Parallel/"piggyback" writing experiences. I'm putting "experiences" in Italics for a reason -- I'm not thinking of courses. MOOCs are helping us think deeply about how students are educated. Many disciplines lament their students' writing, yet how to fix it within a curriculum? Adding courses is not an option in many cases. Students at Drexel, for instance, are already faced with a tight curriculum. But what if you created an online writing experience -- again, not a course -- that students could encounter in parallel with their other courses? Students could "unlock" progressive components while working on documents and writing skills integral to their success in their particular program. This wouldn't be Massive. It wouldn't be Open. But it could provide students with a structured way to help students write. I have been working with Drexel's School of Ed on exploring something like this for graduate education programs.
3) Rethinking gateways and competencies. Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions has been using what some have been calling, somewhat unfortunately, "mini-MOOCs." (Forget the mini-massive contradiction; the idea is good.) Students can enroll in a small cohort for a kind of free gateway course. I'm oversimplifying, but if students succeed in the course and then enroll in the program, they can then be awarded credit for the experience. Lots of students want equivalency credits for writing, and I think this is a potential way to address this problem, which I found nettlesome during my time as Drexel's Director of First-Year Writing. If students can enroll in an open course, they can demonstrate proficiency in ways that could later be counted/certified.
4) Providing highly focused writing instructional experiences. I don't think much of a composition course let alone an entire writing curriculum as a MOOC, but what about running an ongoing four-week course in creating job documents (e.g., cover letter, resume, thank you letter -- very focused)? This course could use the power of peer review productively (and perhaps its development could even be backed/supported by an online resume company). You could design similar courses for highly focused writing contexts.
5) Assessment of student learning. We still have a lot to learn about how teaching is connected with student improvement in writing. Some folks in composition are looking at this very question, based on the early writing MOOCs. The MOOC delivery model may open new avenues of inquiry for us.
Many ideas and technologies are fueling "massification." We, writing teachers, should be working to develop ways of using these concepts and tools, because, if we don't, without a doubt, ideas not of our own will be imposed upon us.
Monday, September 30, 2013
If we're going to teach a hybrid -- then do it!
In the midst of all the macro trends in educational technology, hybrids continue to gather traction, often in ways we don't even think of as hybrid, such as the flipped classroom. (I like this little infographic about flipping from Knewton.)
As I wrote, geez, about three years ago, I think we teachers in general are continuing to seek optimal ways to use the hybrid learning model, finding the best integrations of the in-the-room and out-of-the-room parts of the education experience.
In embracing this quest, we have to be creative in how we do everything in a hybrid course, from how we handle readings to how we manage student conversations to how we administer assessments. Sometimes, I think when we conceptualize flipping, hybridization, or blending we focus too much on making the most of that precious time we are all together in that room at the expense of thinking how we might make the most of that precious solo contemplative time writers spend inventing, composing, and reviewing away from that room.
Also, a "hybrid" does not have to be a solely digital model. Instead a hybrid could involve providing students with time for other kinds of out-of-class exploration. Myself, I think of a lot of service learning initiatives as hybrids. At Drexel, we had a first-year program we called English Alive that framed the city of Philadelphia as a living classroom, museums and all. Of course, now students in these types of exploration-type hybrid writing courses, with the portable hardware and software they have, can do lots of composing in the moment during these experiences.
I know I continue to struggle (as of this term with my 75-25 kind-of hybrid course) to think about what I can do so students are engaging in substantive activities that maximize the time and interface of each environment. Say you want to give a quiz. Is it worth it to give a quick online quiz? Or is there some pedagogical benefit to administering the quiz right there in class (as I think there is)? In OWI, of course, we want our students to write. Should writing always be an out-of-class experience? What could you learn from writing together? (And how about reading collectively?) Is a class discussion better in the onsite give-and-take or in the contemplative message board space?
These are fundamental teaching strategy questions. But they lead us to deeper reflection about things like how to maximize teacher persona for the different environments or of investigating how to make the most of students' "on" times. How, in essence, do we achieve a true blending of experiences?
Again, a lot of this sounds like "flipping," and that's fine, because the original call and challenge of flipping emerged from a desire to make the most of our teaching time. If you are teaching or better yet preparing a hybrid, reflect on what students do best where. I feel we have never been better positioned through our technologies and our pedagogies than now to meet them there.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I’ve had many opportunities over the past year to talk in depth with colleagues from around the country about teaching writing online, and it's made me realize that there’s a good question for the online writing teacher to return to: Why are you teaching writing in these digital environments?
What is driving your teaching of writing online? Are you doing it because you want to? Because you have to? Is this a step in your professional development? Curiosity? Finances?
While self-reflection itself is a good thing, this is not just an effort to know thyself. The answers to these questions can inform what we do in the classroom – and they may help us to uncover in ourselves what I think of as an under appreciated aspect of teaching: teacher satisfaction and, well, happiness. (And our institutions should help us; see OWI Principle 12: "Institutions should foster teacher satisfaction in online writing courses as rigorously as they do for student and programmatic success.")
These questions about our own motivation can also lead to similar queries about programmatic OWI initiatives. In the midst of the mad rush to, ah, I have to say it, explore MOOCs, schools themselves might engage in some productive conversations about origins and goals. Why have schools and their programs explored OWI? What is to be gained for their students? What is to be gained for their faculty? How might OWI shift programmatic and institutional identity?
I believe that understanding who you are as a teacher comes first in your migration to teaching writing online, and part of that understanding is your motivation. Do you love writing? Do you love working closely with students? Are you are seeking the fame and fortune associated with first-year writing instruction? Schools can grapple with the same type of issues for their programs.
As we work through the details first of learning to teach online and then refining our pedagogy, it is worth pausing and asking that core question: Why am I doing this? The answer, carefully considered, perhaps on a slow summer day, will I believe help us do what we do more effectively for ourselves and our students.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Talking on Higher Ed Talk Radio about NCTE OWI Position Statement
Larry helps us think about the goals of the Statement, its descriptive nature, similarities and differences between teaching writing online and onsite, and some of the advantages for students of OWI.
If you want to listen to an archived version, check it out here.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Publication of CCCC Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for OWI
This is the product of six years of hard work by the CCCC Committee on Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction, a group I co-chair with my colleague Beth Hewett. You can find more about the committee, including its full lists of members, here: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees/owi
I hope this position statement help support those who administer and teach online writing courses -- and their students.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Tales of OWI
It was a busy CCCCs for our committee.
First and foremost, the practices and effective principles document that this group has developed, six years in the making, was approved by the CCCC Executive Committee. This is big news we hope not only for us but for the world of writing instruction, and the document will be on the National Council of Teachers of English site very soon. Our committee conducted a panel introducing and discussing the principles, a special interest group meeting (a SIG, in CCCCs parlance) to discuss ways of using the principles, and an open session to talk about technologies to help build conversation around them. We also had a three-hour committee meeting.
Throughout these events, we had lots of conversations with people who teach writing online. As the week went on, I was struck by not only how varied the stories are out there about people's OWI experiences but how eager they are to relate those narratives. People want to share these stories.
I guess this will not come as a surprise to anyone who teaches anything anywhere, but the differences in teaching environments and situations for online writing teachers are staggering. Of course, we have distinct pedagogies, philosophies,and strategies. Of course our institutions are different, as are our students. But I listened to people, I was struck by the vast diversity of reasons behind why they teach online and how varied their institutional and professional experiences are. And then I thought about how illuminating it might be if we could somehow capture their answers to questions like these:
- Why is your program/unit/school offering online writing courses?
- Why do you teach writing online? What got you started?
- What do you like about teaching writing online? What don't you like?
- What kind of support do you have: Technologically? Pedagogically? Administratively? Philosophically?
- What kinds of technology do you use in your courses?
- How well are you paid?
- Can you characterize the kind of students who mostly take your online courses?
- What is your teaching reality like? How are your courses assessed? Where is your office?
- Who develops your course materials?
I'm going to close on an enigmatic note, because my thoughts aren't fully formed, but I'm wondering if there's a grand project here, one that tries to capture some of these narratives and share them. Stay tuned.