Wednesday, November 26, 2014

OWI: Opportunities in medium, genre, volume

I have another blogging life, and this month those lives weirdly intersect, as I'm building here on my post for my blog Virtual Children (which I've been keeping on the Website When Falls the Coliseum, for several years). I posted there about another blog article written by a friend of mine on the Website 11trees; his smart post describes how much he writes in a work day, what he called just an average writing day for a "knowledge worker." In a one-day diary, he calculates he wrote about 2,500 words, saying, "We write more words every day than many college or high school students write in an entire term." 

His post is so smart for many reasons, particularly because it spurs great conversations about genre, medium, and writing volume. In his log, the writer describes all kinds of writing he did during his "writing day." At 5 am he's emailing; he works on PowerPoints and text messages; he drafts notes and other materials in/through word processing programs and different collaboration software. He's composing collaboratively with people around the world, planning, drafting, and putting on finishing touches.

If you teach writing, you have probably thought a lot about how and how much people write. I think the generation we’re educating now interacts with each other through writing more than any generation ever
But our teaching to prepare students for their writing lives often doesn’t account for the rhetorical complexity, the varied genres, and the sheer volume of the writing they will do. In fact, in many cases, writing instruction looks pretty similar to the way it looked many decades ago.
I remember in my earliest moments of interest in OWI that I felt that digital instructional settings opened new avenues for teaching and learning writing. In OWCs, students compose in multi-audience environments that are close to writing they will do in their professional lives -- and these environments are simply inherent parts of the course. Also, it was evident that electronic writing spaces allow teachers to assign lots of informal and exploratory writing, providing many opportunities for students to engage in meta-reflection about their composing processes. 

To me, ed tech tools are not exclusive to online instruction -- I mean, you can use digital tools with any type of course -- but the digital environment of OWI does seem to lead teachers to explore tech tools, so they will find new ways to interact with and even assess student writing that make the whole process more productive. For instance, 11trees is a great example of a tool that makes it easier for teachers to respond to student writing.
As I’ve described before, a brief analysis of my own 10-week, quarter-system classes showed  students were writing some 15,000 words through message boards and electronic journals. I was proud when I found that out and still am; I feel they had a challenging writing experience. But if you think about that number in comparison with the 2,500 daily words of a "knowledge worker,” you realize I might need to significantly up the workload yet if I'm going to responsibly teach writing that prepares students for what they’ll face at the next stage.
By the way, I'm not advocating a kind of mindless kowtowing to the “real world.” I don't want us to dispense of genres/modes like the exploratory essay or writing to learn. But the limitations of "school writing" get exposed in productive ways in online writing courses. The only game in town need not be "papers" that don't resemble the short, high-stakes writing that they do. We can put them in posting and sharing situations that allow us to better teach them what they will do -- and are doing -- in other parts of their lives.
This is a major component of the promise I see of OWI. Perhaps we need to do more in our research to understand not just the kinds but the amount of writing that take place in various professions.

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