Reviewed by Carie S. Tucker King, The University of Texas at Dallas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Elif Demirel, Karadeniz Technical University
Speakers: Heidi Harris, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, “When OWI Meets QM: Online and Graduate Student Response to Principles-Based Course Design”
Kelli Cargile Cook, Texas Tech University, “Developing an OWI Infrastructure to Support Novice Instructors”
Kevin Eric DePew, Old Dominion University, “Why Tiaras Matter in OWI: Using Experiential Instructional Delivery to Prepare Online Writing Instructors”
S. David Grover, Texas Tech University, “How and How Much? Results of a Nationwide Survey on the Development of OWI Preparation Programs”
At my university, we are considering a transition of some of our freshman rhetoric courses to hybrid courses, and I have recently shifted a traditionally face-to-face technical communication course to a hybrid format to expand our offerings. Thus, I was eager to attend this panel and hear what other instructors are doing to successfully train graduate students. I was surprised at the small size of the audience, but the panel presented on Saturday morning at 9:30 A.M. I am glad I stayed in town for this panel’s presentation!
S. David Grover, from Texas Tech University, began by talking about the importance of online-writing instruction (OWI). He stated that online education is growing 15% while colleges are only growing 2%. Teaching assistants are an important part of this growth, but we need to begin educating instructors now. (He referenced “Report of the State of the Art of OWI,” Hewett et al., 2011.) Instructors need training, collaborative opportunities, and brainstorming opportunities. They can take advantage of tools that include listservs, conferences, and published research; however, currently, no OWI body of literature exists, and research is lacking.
Grover suggested methods of education to include role playing, class observations, teaching journals, reflective practice, research and publishing, and writing program administration training. He also suggested that online writing instructors-in-training create teaching journals and portfolios to reflect what they are learning and doing in their classes. (As a result of this suggestion, I began to journal my experiences in my own hybrid courses.)
Heidi Harris then shared what the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is doing for OWI. The school has created a graduate certificate (15 hours of coursework) in OWI. She (ironically) stated that OWI certificate courses must reflect the OWI principles that the instructors are learning to use as teachers, and UALR is doing this. She shared information about the certificate course, while addressing the student population, the growth of the program, and the methods and tools the OWI program is using. She listed the following resources and I made this list to take back and apply to my own program. Resources include:
- Access to online and mobile
- Watch videos
- Limit content overload
- Instructor interaction
- More practice
- Design on accessibility
- Design on free and available software, including Google Hangouts, GoogleDocs, Flip Grid, *Weebly, and Blackboard
- Interaction in the discussion board through assignments
Kelli Cargile Cook, faculty at Texas Tech University, discussed the program that she began when she was previously a faculty member at Utah State University. She began the program for OWI in 2004, and she published her experiences as the program administrator in “Immersion in a Digital Pool” (2007). She shared that training needs to provide OWI trainees as students, instructors (share failures), observers (learn from master instructors), and as course designers.
She talked about the class she teaches and how she instructs her students in OWI. They teach Technical Writing (ENGL 2311) at Texas Tech and use a common syllabus, meet synchronously and asynchronously through the course, include individual and group assignments, and use multiple technologies. Those technologies include Google, Blackboard, Skype, Lync, GoToMeeting, and Adobe Connect.
She said she has her instructors tell students, “This is not a correspondence course; you must be present to succeed!” Instructors email their students three weeks, two weeks, and one week before the course begins to prepare the students to interact and to take the course seriously. These emails create scaffolding to help prepare students and also to model interaction by encouraging them to begin to interact and to consider tools that they could use to interact; for example, students can use the chat feature in Skype to send backchannel (non-video) information to other students or the class. Instructors must model this behavior with immediate feedback to push students forward.
Cargile Cook then gave the following actions that her OWI students practice:
- Assure access to everyone. Caption videos, work with real-time, and ensure that all students can access the information.
- Adapt to new technologies: e.g., use a headset with a microphone to cut background noise.
- Capitalize on technological affordances, but discuss and work around constraints that those tools might create.
- Prevent isolation. For example, when teaching via Skype or some other video technology, look at the students rather than at the screen. Consider how to interact with your students effectively.
- Build community with collaboration and interaction.
- Manage time well. OWI takes more time to prepare. OWI in class takes more time also. Plan ahead and prepare.
- Use support resources, because online-writing instructors can drown. Take advantage of technology support, brainstorm together, schedule expert and novice consultations, and observe others.
She said, “Just as students in their first online writing courses need scaffolding and support, so do novice online writing instructors.”
Kevin DePew then shared his experiences at Old Dominion University as an online writing instructor. He is teaching instructors who are external to ODU—“Teaching Writing from a Distance.” His course assignments include an instructional tool review, and he encourages his OWI students to think creatively. One student suggested Pinterest to teach visual rhetoric; he also referenced Sound Cloud for podcast hosting, and Blackboard for course portal. He also suggested Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect (WebX), and Second Life.
He said to ask OWI students the following questions:
- What are affordances?
- How do students use these tools? Do you want them to use the tools that way in class?
- How accessible is the technology you are considering? What is the learning curve?
DePew also said to consider challenges in class as real-life problems and use them as teaching opportunities. He asks his students to assess how they use technology and reflect on if the tool provides what they want students to use and how the tools facilitate their course objectives.
For the final project, he has his students present a pedagogical project to the course. Then he encourages the students to assess; he asks them to complete a feedback survey for OWI on the course, and he also asks students to conduct self-assessment. He shared some of his students’ feedback to reiterate the value of the assignments.
This panel was one of the most valuable I attended during the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). The instructors shared their own experiences with successes and failures, while providing diverse perspectives and experiences. They gave usable advice with suggestions on technology, assignments, assessment methods, and other creative ideas for instructing graduate students in OWI.
Cargile Cook, Kelli. (2007). Immersion in a digital pool: Training prospective online instructors in online environments. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(1), 55–82. doi:10.1080/10572250709336577
Hewett, Beth L.; Minter, Deborah; Gibson, Keith; Meloncon, Lisa; Oswal, Scott; Olsen, Lisa; Warnock, Scott; et al. (2011). Initial report of the CCCC Committee for best practice in Online Writing Instruction (OWI): The state-of-the-art of OWI. Conference on College Composition and Communication. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/Committees/OWI_State-of-Art_Report_April_2011.pdf