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The following entry from the 2012-2013 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Michaella Hammond, Assistant Director for Instructional Design, Saint Louis University.

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Teaching writing online may seem intuitive for many faculty given all of the writing that actually happens in online courses – discussion boards, peer-review projects, research papers, and more. However, using the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing report (http://wpacouncil.org/framework/) as an intellectual and pedagogical springboard for invigorating and improving online writing instruction can be especially helpful for instructors who teach content areas that promote inquiry through writing, online or otherwise.

The Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project worked together to research the report’s eight “habits of the mind” for student writers. The eight habits are values most, if not all, educators embrace and strive to nurture in students and writers:

  • Curiosity
  • Openness
  • Engagement
  • Creativity
  • Persistence
  • Responsibility
  • Flexibility
  • Metacognition

So, how might one go about encouraging these values online, especially for writing communities who work exclusively or partially online? Here are a few suggested resources that embrace the multifaceted nature of writing beyond the discussion board:

CuriosityWebQuests – learner-created or faculty-crafted – embrace inquiry-centered, collaborative lessons for team learning in addition to visual resources such as the cloud-based graphic organizer creation site, bubbl.us. Sites like Quadrivial Quandary also prompt students to revel in (and practice) word play, pure and simple.

Openness – Building community and praxis through low-stakes, weekly writing opportunities such as Twitter (mini-writing labs that focus on thesis statements or ways to curate timely research) and blogs such as Blogger or WordPress help students write for authentic audiences (in addition to receiving and responding to peer review comments along the way).

Engagement – Online writing conferences between student and professor and/or peer groups can be incredibly instructive. Decide first if the conferences you hold will be asynchronous, for instance, back-and-forth email or a self-paced Google Document, or synchronous, real-time web conferences via programs like Adobe Connect, Google chat, Skype, and others. Beth Hewett’s terrific book, The Online Writing Conference: A Guide for Teachers and Tutors (2010), highlights how inviting students to set agendas for writing conferences invests students in the learning process.

Creativity – Finding one’s voice, especially in writing, can sometimes be difficult. Depending on the conventions and styles you want students to write in, consider inspiring them with some of these clever finds:

Persistence – The online environment is, in many respects, ideal for the ever-evolving writing lab and student! Help students take stock of where they’re at in the writing process by providing personalized feedback through screencasting programs such as Jing and Screenr or embedded audio comments in Microsoft Word. To learn more, I highly recommend reading a recent Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy article, “Talking with Students through Screencasting: Experimentations with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning” (Thompson & Lee, 2012).

Responsibility – To foster student ownership in the writing process, online writing projects should include:

  • A clearly written assignment sheet
  • A timeline that incorporates the writing process and describes how students will receive feedback from peers and the instructor, when applicable
  • A rubric that establishes how the final essay or project will be graded
  • A reminder that students should speak up if something is confusing or vexing and not to wait until the last minute to post writing online (Murphy’s law is real)

Flexibility

  • Whenever possible, give students options and choices within writing tasks.
  • Understand that students are learning new technologies too; they may need a boost and/or explicit instruction in learning how to use the Learning Management System, web conferencing tool, etc.

Metacognition

  • Self-evaluation is essential to building reflective students. VoiceThread works well for this purpose. Furthermore, a sample student self-evaluation may include questions like these (Cully, 2002).
  • Consider having students create online revision portfolios, where earlier work is improved and a reflective letter or analysis explains how and why these revisions were made towards the end of the semester.

For more information about online writing instruction, consider the following useful and timely texts:

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