Friday, May 29, 2020

Students paying it forward

How will students know what to expect in your online writing course (OWC)? How will they know what they have to do to succeed?

Let them hear from students past.

While I have many activities and instructions early in the term to help my students understand what they need to do to do well in our course, I began to realize that perhaps the best way for them to understand what the class would be like would be to hear from those who had already done it! (1)

So, at the end of the term, I offer students this discussion board extra credit opportunity:

SUBJ: Advice for extra credit
Hi all,
Some of you have asked about a little extra credit. There's so much work--and so many grades!--in the course, plus you get extra credit for high-level participation on the Discussions--which many of you have earned--that I'm always reluctant to give other extra credit.

However, in the spirit of the final week, let's do this: If you can write a succinct, one-sentence piece of advice that you would provide to a student in a future iteration of Prof. Warnock's online English 102 course, I will provide you with a little extra credit.
Curious to see these,

In response, they give smart, focused advice to future students.

For instance, they provide specific information about the so-important discussions:
  • The amount of thought and originality you put into discussion boards posts will equal the amount you enjoy the class. 
  • The path to success in this class relies on a personal decision to be proactive on the discussion boards, and a strong drive to gain from other views. 
  • My advice would be to take the discussion posts pretty seriously because they're a major part in this class and they make the writer think before writing. There are many posts that are designed to help you become a better writer and also learn from other students. 
  • My advice would be: Be early and active in the discussions.
  • A big part of the discussions that Prof Warnock likes (but many forget) is citing sources and using them in order to support your claim.
  • Don't treat discussion board posts as homework, treat them as actual discussions, try and get involved in actual discussions. (It goes by much quicker when you do that) 
  • The key to earning a good grade in this online course is to stay on top of the course discussions, they are responsible for the majority of your grade and all it takes is to log in once a day and share your thoughts. 
They have some thoughts about time management:
  • Also, start doing your work as soon as possible instead of doing it all at once. 
  • My advice would be to stay up-to-date on reading and writing discussion posts and to reach out for help in the early stages of projects and assignments if needed.
  • If you came into an online class expecting to do less work then a traditional class, you are greatly mistaken.
  • Do not wait until the very last moment to start your posts for the week because you will forget about the deadlines and miss them.  
They give some ideas about reading:
  •  Read the homework readings closely and carefully, this will help you on quizzes and discussion boards but will also truly benefit your writing overall. 
  • My advice would be to read everything -- your classmates can be your biggest asset. 
The even offer general advice about writing in a first-year course:
  • Try to develop a passion for what you are writing about because it will certainly help you with writing a paper and it will make the final product better… 
  • My advice would be to not let yourself get intimidated when it comes to writing, you'll get more out of the course if you start off just letting yourself write freely. 
I offer a curated version of this ever-growing list to students at the beginning of the term. I feel that while of course I hope they listen to me as I prepare them for the weeks ahead, there's no better way for them to set some expectations than to hear from those who have been down that virtual road already.

(1) This was the thinking that drove Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course, which I co-authored with former student Diana Gasiewski.


Monday, March 30, 2020

GSOLE crisis support for remote writing instruction

Many of you have experienced the recent upheaval of having to convert/migrate your courses into remote formats.

A few weeks ago the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) began building resources and support for teachers and schools faced with sudden CoVID-19-related campus closures. Little did we know that that would soon mean almost everyone.

GSOLE now has available a robust set of materials to help:
  • The Just In Time Hub is a gateway to our various resources, including those below as well as excellent written materials to help you think through course conversion/migration. This material has continued to be updated:
  • Just Ask GSOLE provides a direct link to discussion forums moderated by GSOLE online writing/literacy instruction experts who can answer your specific questions:
  • Walk-In Webinars is a direct link to live Zoom sessions hosted by GSOLE members. Every week, the schedule of facilitators is listed there along with specific topics:
Specific questions can be directed to You can also follow GSOLE on Twitter @gsoleducators for updates on GSOLE's efforts and visit our general website at for other material and information.
We have been chugging away for about three weeks with this project, and it is important that I share with you the names of the people behind this effort. Following are the primary contributors, including their role in GSOLE and institutional affiliations:
  • Amanda Bemer, Webmaster, Southwest Minnesota State University, is facilitating our interfaces and communications.
  • Collin Bjork, Member, Massey University-New Zealand, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Amy Cicchino, Executive Board At-Large Member and Affiliates Chair, Auburn, is coordinating and curating many of the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Jenae Druckman Cohn, Webinar Co-Chair, Stanford, talked with me about the initial ideas for our response and is helping coordinate the Walk-in Webinars.
  • Jennifer Cunningham, Member, Kent State, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Kevin DePew, Certification Committee Co-Chair, Old Dominion, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Miranda Egger, Executive Board At-Large Member, University of Colorado Denver, is coordinating and moderating the JustAskGSOLE email and message board questions.
  • Tess Evans, Secretary, Miami University of Ohio, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Brendan Hawkins, Florida State University, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Lyra Hilliard, Member, University of Maryland, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Cat Mahaffey, Treasurer, University of North Carolina Charlotte, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Kim Fahle Peck, Communications and Membership Chair, York College of Pennsylvania, is coordinating the social media communications for this effort.
  • Dan Seward, Vice President, Ohio State, developed the Just-in-Time web presence and interface and is the point person for maintaining it.
  • Jason Snart, Online Literacies Open Resource Editor, College of DuPage, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars and has helped with our communications.
  • Mary Stewart, Webinar Co-Chair, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has created the schedule and plans for the Walk-in Webinars is facilitating Webinars
  • Natalie Stillman-Webb, Member, University of Utah, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Jessi Ulmer, Executive Board At-Large Member, Texas Tech University, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
I’m really glad that the resources and support that this group has provided have been useful to members of our professional communities, and we're going to build on these materials as we  continue what for all of us are untrodden educational paths.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

GSOLE's annual online conference this week!

This Friday, January 31, the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) will be hosting our third annual fully online conference, "Visions and Sites of Online Literacy Education."

This event brings together a range of professionals interested in online literacy education (OLI). The conference portal is ready to go, which includes the conference program, the Virtual Poster Hall, and a short welcome video message by the GSOLE president, yours truly. These links will provide you with plenty of helpful information about how to participate in the conference and get the most out of the experience.

There's still time to register, and you can purchase an individual or institutional registration here. Individual registrations include a year membership to GSOLE, and $150 institutional registrations include:
  • One-year GSOLE membership for the institutional point person (the individual making the purchase through the Cart feature).
  • Local meeting-room access (single room) for onsite colleagues through the point person's login (allows participation in one session at a time).
  • Free remote conference access for all other GSOLE members at the institution (a list of member usernames must be provided).
  • Five individual remote conference logins for non-GSOLE members at the institution (names and contact information must be provided prior to the conference date to allow login setup.)
We're especially grateful to PowerNotes for sponsoring this year's conference, and I hope attendees take a moment to check them out.

The conference has several new-and-improved elements that I describe in the welcome message, and we're looking forward to connecting this Friday.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

VEXT: An application for idea generation and academic integrity

VEXT is an application designed for use by administrators, teachers, and students (and others) to change approaches to academic integrity as well as to help see source and idea relationships in documents. According to its website, "VEXT offers an ethical approach to idea generation, data visualization, and plagiarism checking."

On the student side, VEXT provides a visually attractive way of approaching source usage and idea relationships. From the faculty/admin site, it offers ways to manage information from a cohort and deal with academic integrity.

At its "heart" is what VEXT calls a "paper fingerprint" (see the site), a rectangular, strip-like image consisting of thin, vertical bars that helps students visualize data so they can recognize "themes, patterns, and sentiment" in their writing: This "code bar" provides, essentially, a map of their ideas and how they are using sources in their writing.

VEXT, in some ways, was born of frustration with contemporary plagiarism software paradigms, which can place faculty and students in adversarial roles. VEXT's site urges users to "Evolve from Plagiarism Detection to Data Driven Insights," and one of the blog posts on the VEXT site declares that "The old paradigm of plagiarism detection is dead."

The app promises to offer a different approach. Using machine learning algorithms, it instead helps users visualize "the DNA' of your papers and pedagogy."

For faculty, the app has a dashboard (1) to help spot data trends in assignments while also allowing for "crowdsourced plagiarism detection"--seeing those trends in certain contexts. For administration, there is a broader dashboard that helps administrators make decisions and see analytics to determine the effectiveness of curriculum across a swath of instructors; this includes an open, searchable database so administrators can access knowledge being created across an institution.

1) I have been interacting with the company since the summer, and they are fast at work improving the back-end dashboard tools.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Annotate PRO for responding to student message board posts

Annotate PRO is a tool, developed by 11trees, that helps teachers streamline response to student writing by providing a library of common comments that they can easily insert into writing projects.

The Annotate PRO site asks teachers, "Do you ever feel like you say the same thing over and over again to students?" While acknowledging that of course teaching often involves repetition, the site asks what would happen if teachers could streamline that process when responding to student writing, thus putting more energy into deeper feedback and teaching. A series of screenshots show how to use Annotate PRO:
  • Once downloaded as a Chrome Extension, Annotate PRO appears as a sidebar.
  • Users simply click anywhere that feedback can be provided within a browser: "Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, Schoology, Gmail – just about anywhere you can type feedback into a webpage."
  • From there, users add a comment.
  • Groups of comments can be saved to create personal, program, or even institutional libraries.
Annotate PRO allows for "smart automation." Teachers can use it to reduce repetitive keystrokes, but they can customize it using a "Free Form Comment" function that pops up in sidebar when using the tool.

Annotate PRO has great functionality for helping teachers respond to digital papers, and, I suppose, such is still the traditional framework of teacher writing feedback: A teacher giving feedback to a student essay/report/paper. 11trees provides a video description of this core use here.

However, I want to focus on another aspect of Annotate PRO: Its use in developing a library of responses for electronic forums like discussion boards.

As I have written about numerous times, a large component of student writing, and not just in OWCs, involves short, informal writing on electronic platforms. In many courses, students compose most of their words in these environments.

Teachers want to encourage this, but how do they respond/moderate in ways that are helpful for student learning? I've come across and written about a number of strategies--a favorite source is the book Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators by George Collison, Bonnie Elbaum, Sarah Haavind, and Robert Tinker--and I think Annotate PRO is a smart tool that offers another possibility.

With Annotate PRO, after installation, I simply opened a Discussion in Blackboard Learn (my LMS) and clicked in a message. Voila! I could instantly drop in a comment that had been stored in a library.

It was impressive and powerful in its simplicity, and I saw immediately how Annotate PRO reduces the literal keystrokes and would free up time for for more substantive teaching. Library comments could help me with the frequent encouragement and questioning posts while I used "Free Form Comments" for more specific moderating and commenting posts.

A common--and, at times, legitimate--complaint from students is that they feel no presence from their teachers on discussions. Teachers are seeking strategies and pedagogies to work more fully and carefully with students in discussion environments. (The Community of Inquiry framework [1] offers a way to think about teacher presence.) Annotate PRO provides them with a technology to help them do that.

1) As described by Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher educationmodel. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ed tech to help writers and readers: PowerNotes

I've always been interested in how teachers can use the many available apps and digital tools to help teach writing more effectively, and in my roles both as the Director of Drexel's University Writing Program as well as President of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators, I've been exploring several particular tools in depth lately.

This time, I'll talk about PowerNotes. I've had multiple conversations with PowerNotes representatives, and through those conversations and my explorations, I have seen how this platform can help writers, as PowerNotes says in a YouTube video, "gather, track, and organize your research."

Like many apps, PowerNotes operates from inside a browser, in this case specifically via a Chrome Extension. Once installed, PowerNotes helps writers organize notes and develop annotations from digital sources. Working directly within Chrome, the writer
  • Opens up a webpage or article (PowerNotes works on html text and PDFs, as long as the PDFs are opened in Chrome)
  • Highlights text as they read
  • Creates "topics"--a process built into PowerNotes--through which to organize those highlights
  • Writes annotations (of any length)
  • Edits and organizes these topics and highlights
  • Develops an outline through a fjunction somewhat like "digital notecards"
  • Creates citations based on these texts
    The writer can also track their progress and download the material they've saved.

    You can see graphics and screencaptures on the PowerNotes pages linked above, but I'll say here that the functionality is pretty slick, with shortcut features to allow writers to streamline their annotating and note-taking--all the while possibly changing the way writers go about such activities.

    As you work, you end up building a kind of outline. Even for those who aren't outliners, as I'm not, I could immediately see how the organizational structure enabled by the app could help with writing structure. For instance, I'm working on a big project right now: A book. I'm reading a series of different articles about mobile technologies, and instead of creating clunky headings and entries in a Word or Google doc--a long-standing approach that I've used--I have the organization created basically as I clip quotes and annotate.

    Aside from the specific advantages of this platform, I want to say that generally I believe those of us not just in OWI but comp/rhet should cultivate our relationships with technology innovators more fully. Smart people are developing tools that can help our students read and write as well as assist our many colleagues who teach writing in WID and WAC environments. We have things to learn from these tools, and technological determinism aside, these students and colleagues could be big beneficiaries from our informed explorations.

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    Thursday, May 30, 2019

    Propose a GSOLE Webinar for next year!

    The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) has released the call for proposals for its 2019-20 webinar series.

    GSOLE webinars have covered numerous topics (see the cfp below) of interest to those invested in online writing and literacy instruction. Each webinar has featured expert presenters, and the webinars bring together a robust community of professionals to learn about and discuss these topics.

    These professional development offerings are coordinated by our two excellent GSOLE Webinar Co-Chairs, Jenae Druckman Cohn and Mary Stewart. You can see more here: The text of the call is below as well:

    2019-2020 Webinars:
    Call for Presenters

    Do you want to present your research and pedagogical innovations to a wide-reaching live virtual audience of online literacy educators? Consider submitting a proposal to the 2019-2020 webinar series for The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators, an organization dedicated to supporting hybrid and online teacher-scholars. GSOLE's webinars are designed to spark conversation, provide professional development, share ideas, and build community. Typically, these webinars reach an audience of 30-35 attendees, and webinar recordings are made available to GSOLE members in an online archive. Webinar leaders are also encouraged to transform their webinar topics into ROLE or OLOR publications. We welcome proposals that include a single weinbar leader, or a group of 2-3 leaders.

    Submit your proposal via email to by Friday, August 2, 2019.

    These hour-long webinars are designed to bring literacy educators together for conversations about a range of issues, including, but not limited to:
    • Accessibility in online literacy instruction (related to teaching, learning, and/or researching)
    • Collaborative learning & writing in technology-mediated spaces
    • Ethical practices for online literacy instruction (related to teaching, learning, and/or researching)
    • Embodiment in the online literacy classes
    • Globalization of online learning;
    • Hybrid course design
    • Innovative technologies for online literacy learning (e.g., virtual reality, building OERs, using AI chatbots, adaptive learning)
    • Issues of labor related to hybrid and online literacy instruction
    • Programmatic integration of online or hybrid learning (e.g., curriculumdevelopment, program assessment of these types of courses, faculty development processes)
    • Methods & methodologies for hybrid and online literacy research
    The 2019-2020 series will include four webinars, held in September, November, February, and April.

    In your proposal, please include the following:
    - Webinar Title
    - Webinar Leader(s) name, institutional affiliation, contact information, and brief bio
    - The preferred month(s) in which you would like to hold your webinar (e.g. offer a ranked list or indicate if one month(s) is not possible)
    - A 500-word description that includes:
    - What topics the webinar will cover
    - Ways in which the webinar will be interactive
    - How this webinar will benefit online literacy educators

    To review past webinar topics, please visit the GSOLE website.

    Upon acceptance, you will work with the co-chairs to schedule your webinar. You will meet (virtually) with the co-chairs one month in advance of your webinar, and then again a few days prior to the webinar, to coordinate logistics. The co-chairs also provide technical support and are happy to help you prepare for the webinar.

    If you have questions about the proposal process, please contact us at
    The GSOLE Webinar Co-Chairs, Jenae Cohn & Mary Stewart