Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is OWI fun?

I am sometimes invited to visit -- mostly virtually -- graduate classes focusing on OWI pedagogy. The students ask me questions about teaching OWCs, questions that often only people just embarking on teaching careers can think to ask.

One question I get is a form of this: "Is OWI fun?" It’s a great question. I think teaching itself should be gratifying. How can you dedicate decades of your life to working with students if you're not intrinsically engaged and satisfied?

“Fun” is a special word, though, isn't it? I was hooked on teaching from my first substitute gigs at Eastern High School in the early 90s. When I began teaching composition as a TA at Rutgers Camden in 1993 (after severe initial nervousness), I realized teaching writing was for me, and that feeling strengthened at Temple during my PhD work in the late 90s and early aughts through Penn State Lehigh Valley and now at Drexel.

I think, though, it wasn't until I taught online that I began to understand why.

I always liked the conversations, debates, and dialogues that made up the core of my classes, and I enjoyed coaching student writers and loved seeing their writing evolve. When I first encountered online writing tools, at Temple, I discovered, unaware at the time of course, that those two things I liked so much, the dialogues and writing process, converged brilliantly with ed tech.

Modality of course altered the nature of the dialogue (the technology always changes things), but it was just that: Different, not better or worse. And in OWI, it was all writing. I discovered that cracking open a discussion board was, well, fun for me.

I tell inquisitive graduate students, though, that I do have the benefit of favorable material conditions. For one, reading on a screen is no problem for me, access or otherwise. Also, I type pretty fast. I just took a one-minute typing test at and while I’m not a “pro,” I’m the next category, "fast." Enjoying screen reading and typing fast together mean that the experience interface-wise isn’t onerous for me.

So, having a positive material experience combined with really loving the intellectual journey might equal fun. I tell in-training teachers that it may well be that they only find onsite courses enjoyable. I get it. If you only like being in the room with the students, regardless of the reasons why, then OWI may not appeal to you.

And you should figure that out for yourself. I think a profession like teaching should have not just an element of  satisfaction but play and fun too. Teaching writing is difficult, and it won’t all be giggles. But following students' thinking trajectory across written discussions through bigger written projects? Sounds like fun to me.

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