Writing for Cyberspace

Spring 2013

Catalog Description for ENG 3080 [3 credits]

Explores emerging theories and practices for writing for the Internet and other new electronic media. Studies effects of new media on the conceptualization of literacy, writing process, and products.

Reflecting on My Practice

This course was a new experience for me in multiple ways.  First of all, I’d never taught undergraduate students before this class began.  Additionally, it had been some time since I’d taught a course face to face and moreover, the first time I’d taught on site “alone” — my prior “in person” teaching experience was co-facilitating a graduate level course back in the summer of 2008 (see Graduate Writing Workshop for more details).  That said, as nervous as I may have been, I was equally excited to “see” my students in person two times a week!  I’ve been teaching online for so many semesters that I’d forgotten how wonderful live discussion with students can be!  In line with my technology background, I was able to introduce my students to a number of Web 2.0 tools that they’d never heard of before.  Though I heard the occasional gripe about some of the tools we tested in (and out) of class, my students told me time and time again how much they enjoyed our twice weekly meetings.  I’m inclined to say I was lucky enough to work with a terrific bunch of students, but it was more than that.  Those students will forever hold a special place in my heart as my first undergraduate teaching experience.  This group had no problem giving me instantaneous feedback if they were pleased or frustrated with some of the pedagogical choices I’d made over the course of our 15 weeks together.  I encouraged them to let me know their true thoughts and feelings as we went along each week, because it was important to me to know how they were feeling, if they felt that the class was moving too fast, too slow, etc.  This experience will stay with me as I prepare for my next undergraduate teaching engagement (Literacy Studies, Fall 2013) and thereafter.  Though it is my “responsibility” to impart knowledge to my students about the subject area I’m teaching, I always stress to them how much I learn when they share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and suggestions with me.  This sentiment echoes in my online course preparation/presentation as well; I am constantly reminding my students that I learn from each of them as they do from my facilitation of the course.  As I state in my teaching philosophy, I believe in the power of the “teacher as facilitator” model.  When my students express an interest in a particular area, project, or passion of theirs that can be situated within our course discussion and/or assignments, than I am more than happy to assist them with their lines of inquiry in any way that I can.  Ultimately, I feel it is my job as an educator to impart the knowledge of how it would be best for my students to identify their personal passions, strengths, areas of improvement, etc. for the purposes of developing their own learning expertise.

Teaching Methodology

I have polled my online students each time the semester begins, asking them what form of class experience do they prefer the most: face-to-face, online, or hybrid (where the semester is comprised of a number of face-to-face class meetings and online class meetings/assignments).  Every semester to date, the majority of my students have stated that they prefer hybrid courses over the traditional or strictly online course formats.  As a course instructor, I too, prefer the flexibility of a hybrid course format.  With this in mind, I held a number of courses over the spring 2013 semester online.  My students liked being able to get work done at home for the night (or week, if we had back to back online course sessions), knowing they could contact me via email at any time if they had any questions about the online tasks they were to finish in lieu of class.  This way, they also had additional time to complete their work if they needed more than an hour and twenty minute course meeting to complete a given task.

Most of my graduate level online only students realize that they are going to work even harder than a “traditional” student, because of the fact that class participation is determined solely by the completion of their discussion thread posts, blog posts, and project posts.  If they do not complete their assignments for the week, then it’s as if they have not participated in class at all; unless there is a special circumstance in which I’ve granted permission to submit work late, students will fail my course if they do not complete their assignments (and in a timely fashion).

When you’re in a class with twenty students staring at you, there are usually a few talkers in the bunch who will take the pressure over those who are less inclined to raise their hand and share their perspective.  When you’re in an online course, there is no option as to whether or not to raise your hand.  You are required to do so — everyone must respond to the readings, type out their responses, think critically about the material they’re being presented with, etc.

The students I had in class this semester face-to-face for the majority of the time, found that their out of class hybrid assignments took significantly longer to complete than a typical face-to-face discussion.  For this reason, I think as much as they liked “having the night ‘off'” they preferred meeting in person because if they did not have their readings completed for one reason or another, they knew who the diligent students were, and who would do the most talking, which took the pressure off.

One of the ways I attempted to encourage thorough readings and note-taking was with some good old positive reinforcement.  Essentially, I strongly recommended that they take notes per the prescribed outlines I’d given them (a model from Harvard University’s library staff that is given to their incoming freshman each year).  When they came into class two evenings later, I went around to each student asking them to show me their written notes.  I gave one ticket to each student who had completed their notes as requested (reading is required, notes are strongly encouraged, but however they choose to engage with/absorb the material is their prerogative).  The students were confused at first, not sure whether or not receiving a ticket was a good thing.  I assured those that had received tickets that all was well.  At the end of class I conducted a raffle — the student whose ticket I had selected received a guitar-shaped flash drive.   Once the raffle was complete, I reviewed the required readings for the following class and once again, I asked for written notes.  This time around, most of the class came in “prepared”.  Unfortunately for their expectation levels, I did not conduct a raffle.  I conducted one more raffle before the semester ended, but each time I said “you never know” when they asked if there would be another one, the hope that there may be something “more” in it for them than the learning itself (the highest prize in an instructor’s mind!) kept them slightly more engaged with the note-taking process than they otherwise might have been.

I also brought my students in cupcakes one night.  They were so excited they insisted on taking pictures of me holding their home-made treats.  One of my students asked me if he could post it on Twitter with our course’s hashtag (#eng3080).  Though I was inclined to object (because no matter how much students like you, it is important to have common sense and realize that they could also say something that might misrepresent you in some way), when he said “But you told us that you wanted us to use more social media tools, and to respond to things that are pertinent to class!” (I’m paraphrasing here) there was no way I could say no!  I, the teacher, had been schooled by her own students…I couldn’t have been more proud!  This was probably the ultimate in teachable moments, something Education majors across the globe can relate to and are encouraged by!

Here is a link to one of the most cherished pedagogical moments in my brief history as an instructor: February 2013.

Selected Course Resources

Course content can be found by clicking on the following links below:

  • Course Website
  • Syllabus
  • Project Document

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *