Tuesday, January 31, 2012

OWI as a way into institutional politics

I'm gearing up to visit a couple schools this spring to talk about OWI initiatives, and thinking about these visits led me to reflect again on the great potential I think OWI can represent for WPAs and compositionists.

Institutions rarely move to hybrid and online writing (mainly first-year) courses for reasons that are intrinsic to the writing program or English Department in which those courses reside. Instead, external pressure, as I described in the article “And Then There Were Two: The Growing Pains of an Online Writing Course Faculty Training Initiative" (1), pushes/forces programs to offer their courses online. Classroom space. Efforts to recruit students beyond the immediate geographic area. Cost savings. These factors drive, and pedagogy, if you are lucky or very hard working, jumps in the back seat and gets to offer some direction.

This can understandably breed resistance, but I'm reminding us that OWI can allow us to make arguments about what we do, to make us visible in new ways that can help the entire writing instructional mission. (To be fair, I should point out that there's a premise or better yet an assumption at work here, which is this: Online and hybrid writing courses are as good or better than onsite writing courses.) If you are moving to online courses, you don't want department in-fighting to detract from a unified focus on what is ultimately inevitable; you will waste time, energy, and good will and you may lose the ability to create these courses with the scaffolding and support so they will help you in the bigger sphere.

You don't want any of that, because the benefits for the classically disenfranchised comp program could be tangible. Let's take classroom space. If your institution is going digital because it's crunched for classrooms, keep track of exactly how many classrooms you have saved each term. Do a simple calculation: How much did that cost? Now, when conversations about resources arise, remind people of the contribution the writing program has made to this institutional problem. Is faculty training an issue? You could use administration-mandated online courses as a way to pay for more faculty training offerings (and, since pedagogy and technology should always be linked, this training can cover all areas). You may find ways to improve your part-time-full-time ratio, arguing for a commitment to the technology that a full-time faculty would better meet.

You could also use these new courses modalities to create conversation and energy about what is happening in the writing program. People get excited about new technologies, and these courses could be a tangible, visible way of opening the door for probably long-overdue campus-wide conversations about the teaching of writing and the role of writing courses in general.

WPAs want better working conditions, and we wish the hard work of our programs was self-evident. But, as Ed White points out, "... all administration deals in power; power games demand aggressive players; assert that you have power (even if you don't) and you can often wield it" (2). Technology-facilitated courses can open a door for WPAs, providing us with new ways to argue for the good of our programs -- and for the good of all of those teachers who really need us.

1) “And Then There Were Two: The Growing Pains of an Online Writing Course Faculty Training Initiative,” published in the Proceedings of the Distance Learning Administration 2007 Conference.
2) In "Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA" in Ward and Carpenter's The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators.


Blogger deanna said...

Thanks Scott for all of these posts. I teach online graduate literacy courses so am enjoying reading about how you teach online. I will return to your blog to read all of your posts. Thanks!

5:30 AM  
Blogger Scott Warnock said...

Thanks, Deanna. Feel free to contact me as well. Scott

2:12 AM  

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