Friday, March 29, 2013

Tales of OWI

I just returned from this year's Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) (in Vegas). My friend and colleague Beth Hewett and I are co-chairs of the CCCC Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction (a group that will likely be re-named to replace the word "Best" with "Effective").
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?
Our principles are designed to help teachers, administrators, and institutions to address these questions. But what could we do with these stories? There are narratives out there, but most teachers and administrators aren't lucky enough to get to go to CCCCs to hear them. Like many writing teachers, they work diligently but in an often sealed world, having parallel experiences to what others are doing -- but not realizing it.

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.

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