After reading Warnock’s Teaching Writing Online: How & Why, I ponder the traditional experience of a writing classroom where the only instructor generated writing students see are either directive instructions in the form of their class syllabus or writing prompts or the short criticism, compliments, or commentary on paper feedback. Neither of which place the instructor in the role of co-learner or writing model. And, I strongly believe that modeling writing should be a primary task for writing instructors.
I know some instructors here at SFSU do model writing. Joan Wong bravely sits in front of her class with an overhead projector and illustrates the messy, struggling process of writing that very first draft to the writing prompt. And I have heard that Mark Roberge writes papers to his own writing prompts, participating in the writing process alongside his student writers. Both of these give students a first hand experience into how their instructors write. But, this is limited to the essay and draft-writing.
The message board Warnock gushes over, gives a wonderful opportunity for instructors to model the kind of written brainstorming/dialogue that’s preparatory to any critically thoughtful writing.
I realize instructors are already modeling this type of brainstorming / dialogue in f2f classes. But, in migrating these brainstorming / dialogues into online environments, instructor generated commentary on class discussions is now modeled in a written form. Students get to witness and participate, in writing, how instructors investigate threads of thought, question themselves and the students in teasing out the validity of various perspectives, providing the points of thought that will eventually (hopefully) end up in final drafts.
Basically, migrating those f2f brainstorming / dialogue discussions into written communications in OWcourses moves the social aspect inherent in collaborative learning into written communications from the beginning rather than having students verbally exchange ideas only to require they go home and translate those verbal ideas into writing. And, I can’t help but believe that the written dialogue provides a more democratic consumption of the ideas posted where instructors, even as they’re modeling clear and coherent writing, are also participating as co-learners as the written word has a more equalizing effect than a primary authoritarian figure leading a class discussion.
As resistant as I am to replacing f2f, human-to-human interaction with web-based interactions, I must concede that the primary goal of writing instructors – teaching students to communicate in writing – is much better served in online environments. As Warnock’s argument states, “[t]he “OWcourse forces an environment that is not just writing intensive but also often writing exclusive” – why would we not migrate?