Friday, March 30, 2018

In a hybrid, which conversations should happen in which modality?

Drexel's winter term has just concluded, and I finished up teaching my hybrid first-year writing course. Conversation has always been a cornerstone of my teaching, and I am constantly thinking about the best ways to help students have the conversations that drive my courses.

For hybrids, that thinking often revolves around which conversations work best onsite and which work best online.

This term, for some reason, my thinking about this topic crystallized. Influenced by my heavily writing-about-writing/writing studies-influenced pedagogy (1), I was really able to look at which conversations should happen in which modality.

For instance, the many meta conversations we had, conversations in which students analyzed and talked about their own writing and their own writing processes, worked especially well in online, asynchronous message board conversations. I have long seen that students can have stimulating conversations online about topics that might not seem so scintillating in a f2f room, and this term showed that well, as students had great message board dialogues about topics such as organization in writing and citing and documentation practices. These topics might even seem mundane to discuss f2f, but students again pounced on them on our discussions!

Of course, having students converse in writing means they can draw on these conversations in writing instructional ways that don't happen in spoken dialogue: They can go back and revise posts, choose "favorite" posts of other students, etc.

Synchronous, onsite conversations work better for conversations that I might describe loosely as learning about new material, such as when we learned a bit about genre this term in preparation for one of our major projects. Also, onsite works well for kind of free-flowing conversations about assignments and general course matters.

For some types of posts, of course, it all depends. For example, conversations about major writing project topic proposals can be successful in either modality for different reasons. There's a good energy in the room when students call out topics and respond to each other. But asynchronously online, they first have to think closely about their topic to write it out and then respond to each other. Online, I can also leverage my responses to the whole group, and, of course, the conversation is preserved for the rest of the term.

Conversations about readings? It depends on the topic. I think those kinds of conversations can often serve as good "bridge" conversations, perhaps starting online and then moving into the onsite part of the course. Students can be asked to help make explicit connections to facilitate this movement.

In some ways, for a hybrid writing course, especially a first-year course, finding the ideal articulation between online and onsite is the golden ring. Thinking that through in terms of student dialogue and interaction is a key component of that quest.

1) Drawn from Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle's “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’” College Composition and Communication 58.4 (2007): 552–84.

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