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.