On Teaching Writing Online: How and Why

About Teaching Writing Online


First, I was very excited to find that Scott Warnock has a blog.


I am sold on the idea of teaching writing online and have become enthusiastic about it (or at least less ambivalent) through our class discussions and readings.  Yet looming questions remain.  After reading Teaching Writing Online I am wondering how many of you agree with one of the basic tenets of this book, i.e. that many of the qualities of teaching-as-practiced are persistent whatever the mode of delivery.  In other words, a basic premise in Warnock’s migration metaphor is that what you do well in you f2f teaching you can do well on-line.  Do you all agree with this?  Are you all okay with what Warnock left out of this conversation? What do you think is missing in argument for why we should teach writing online?

He also says teaching writing online is indeed better?  More progressive?  Do we agree with this?  Is writing more necessarily better? Is the fact that everything the student does in the course is through writing better?

In the introduction to the book Warnock writes “I will simply state here that the OWcourse allows us to refocus our teaching efforts on the core element of the FYW course: written work our students create.”  I am wondering if you all think there is indeed one core element in FYW and if so is this it?

In responding to these questions myself, I am thinking of Gee and his work on literacy; his ideas about how literacy and thinking are primarily social achievements.  So if it is true that what determines how you read and think about some particular text is “your own experiences in interacting with other people who are members” in that ongoing conversation, then what happens when you take the f2f interaction out of the experience?  Another way to ask this is what is lost when we take away the f2f interaction if indeed literacy and thinking are social achievements?


4 comments on “On Teaching Writing Online: How and Why

  1. Yolanda: You ask what Warnock has left out of his book on teaching writing online–good question. I have noticed two things. One: the size and make-up of the classroom. Managing and responding to 33 students at a community college must be a different experience from doing the same for, say, 20 students in a four-year college. Two: he assumes a writing course focuses on readings. Thus in the cornerstone of his approach, the discussion forums, students respond to the instructor’s questions about the readings. Expressivists like Elbow, however, explicitly reject readings as the basis of FYC, focusing instead largely on learning and mastering the processes of writing. Warnock says little about how such a course could be designed for online teaching.

  2. The more I think about it, the more I am sold on the idea of an entirely digital writing classroom. After doing all my thinking about women and transgender students in the classroom, and even considering the burden placed on male students to behave certain ways, the more I think that classrooms tend really not to be safe contact zones. My students are still shackled by a lot of misguided and closed-minded immaturity, and so when I talk to them about certain things, they giggle or close down. They certainly have no interest in considering alternative points of view, and I don’t really blame them- neither did I when I was eighteen. But if we let students use pseudonyms and engage in conversation online, they can voice and test opinions they aren’t able to in a classroom. I am also convinced that quiet or shy students will be more inclined to join the conversation this way.

    Furthermore, I often wonder about the amount we value discussion in comp classes. I like a good idea-generating talk in class, but they hate it (and again, I don’t blame them. I think there’s some serious age and social baggage-related issues going on with freshmen in college). Also, we aren’t asking them to learn how to convey their ideas in a spoken sense; we are asking them to learn to convey their ideas in a written format. How better can we do that than to ask them to even engage in online, writte discussion forums instead of in open verbal classroom talk? I seriously think we should consider making freshmen comp an online only kind of gig, maybe with some one-on-one face-to-face teacher conferences sprinkled throughout…

  3. Although I am still unsure how I feel about entirely online classes (specifically for composition – I’ve taken quite a few online classes for other subjects and loved them) I really do agree with Warnock’s assertion that more writing leads to better writing. I am convinced that a lot of my conversational skills and sense of humor were fostered by years of instant messaging… On the other hand, I have always been relatively shy in person, and now I wonder if technology could be a factor. Basically I think it is important to expose first year writing students to a lot of writing opportunities, but maintain some face-to-face dialogue as well to keep them well rounded in their communication skills.
    Caitlin – I like your idea of having students use pseudonyms in their online writing. That may be a good introduction to the authority students need as long as it is contained to their first year writing class and they are forced at some point to take responsibility for their words being pinned to their identities. Hmm…

  4. I find the topic of teaching writing online fascinating. What we need to take into consideration is that writing online is not only limited to online classes. We are doing a lot of our collaboration online for our OFFLINE classes. For example, for classes that meet face to face, we have Google Docs and Wikipedia. Would you then consider every type of class to involve writing online in some way? How do each of these platforms affect our writing? I will examine google docs and Wikipedia–and perhaps it will help you consider what TYPE of platform enables better online student writing:

    In my opinion–Wikipedia is better than google docs for collaborative means because Wikipedia looks more linear to me than a series of links emailed to me in google docs. Wikipedia gives everyone ownership and self-regulates sabotage while entertaining the needs of a global audience. Google docs is a good task finisher–but its changelogs reveal those that don’t do their part in the project. Wikis are designed for permanent, but ever edited content while google docs are for short term projects with a final, terminable goal. Those who use google docs want speed and efficiency. This means they do not want to meet face to face to discuss matters. This means there is a limit to discovery and thought. Wikipedia allows people in the internet world to see the PROCESS of creation and jump in to help while google docs is behind the scenes and product oriented.

    Each type of platform enables a specific type of writing and I think Wikipedia may have a better product because it is ever edited.

    I think it would be worthwhile to consider what type of platform to teach online writing with.

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