Sunday, July 30, 2017

Digital tools for WPA work

I returned last week from the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) conference in Knoxville. During that typically friendly gathering, Colleagues Traci Gardner and Patti Poblete and I (we're all members of the Digital WPA Committee) facilitated a session about digital tools for WPAs.
Based on the number of attendees and their conversational energy, we have a lot of interesting paths to explore in thinking about how WPAs might use educational technology in their work.
Indeed, much of the dialogue about technologies for writing instructional work, even in this blog, is focused on classroom teaching. Of course, that’s appropriate: We do want to focus on how digital tools can help us in our core classroom mission of working with students.
But during our session, when I asked the assembled group about tools for administering programs, they had a lot to say: How might we, the WPAs, the writing experts on campus, use tools to manage our programs and to help in our work, writing across the curriculum (WAC) style, with other faculty?
It strikes me that writing centers are one way of thinking about this, and centers do have a range of tools they use to 1) manage the workflow of writing center work and 2) facilitate online tutoring sessions. The ongoing conversations on the Wcenter listerv show this.
But in other kinds of WPA work, such as our management of programs and, particularly, WAC-type work we do, we might investigate and talk more about tools and the approaches that accompany them.
In Knoxville, one topic we discussed was that similar to how we use the many, many available tools in our teaching (the list that was generated in our session was somewhat staggering [we're still processing the notes]), could we generate more practice and scholarship with tools that come to the forefront in our work with other faculty?
Sure, there are always-present concerns that accompany such cross-campus work. For instance, we could position ourselves well as tech experts in a WAC/WID sense, but then we could see our roles as WPAs morph into instructional designers or tech support people. 
I think if you get into faculty development, it's not a negative to have some instructional design flavor to your work (much like the best instructional designers I've encountered have teacher "blood" in them).
But how many of us have a good mastery of digital tools that we can recommend specific ones to colleagues to help them improve their use of writing in their courses? How many of us even have enough fluency in our own local LMS systems to the degree that we can help faculty use these sometimes-cantankerous-writing-wise systems to teach writing more effectively?
These are all good questions about how WPAs might work, as my colleague Jessie Borgman puts it, as OWPAs, or Online WPAs (1). It appears there is a thread of conversation here that many people are eager to take part in, and we might do more to cultivate it.
1) See "The Online Writing Program Administrator (OWPA): Maintaining a Brand in the Age of MOOCs." Writing and Composing in the Age of MOOCs. Edited by Elizabeth Monske and Kris Blair, 2017.

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