Online Teaching Materials
I dedicate a section of my portfolio to Online Writing Instruction not as a move to bifurcate face-to-face and online pedagogy, but instead, to acknowledge that each space has unique challenges and strategies as a response to their differing affordances; therefore, while my overall theory of teaching composition oversees my universal approaches to teaching writing, I include a statement for online pedagogy to further display how this overarching theory applies online.
When I approach Online Writing Instruction (OWI)—in my design of both hybrid and fully online courses—I understand OWI as a “unique setting,” a setting that is not a “variant” or “deficit model” of a traditional face-to-face course, but instead, a space that requires new pedagogical approaches (Snart 94). This is not to say elements of my face-to-face teaching do not inform my OWI; in fact, when designing an online course, I often consider what might transfer between settings. That said, I see online courses through their inherent relationship with and mediation through technology, as spaces that are vastly multimodal in ways that differ from face-to-face courses. Thus, my OWI pedagogy values community-building, accessibility, and flexibility. While these values are important in my face-to-face coursework, too, OWI settings—due to their unique context—demand that I reconsider and reevaluate them, building a reciprocal and recursive network between settings, spaces, modes, and more. As such, and building off of my feminist orientation in the instruction of writing, I work to ensure that my online courses remain collaborative as a means to focus on community; additionally, I privilege accessibility as a means to recognize my students’ complex identities; further, and specific to the writing goals I set for my students, I use my online course as a unique opportunity to especially explore the dynamics between public and private writing and digital literacies.
Flexibility & Student Experience
Elements of my face-to-face and OWI pedagogies are complementary, yet in flux, because they exist in kairotic spaces; spaces that Margaret Price says are “characterized by all or most of these criteria:
Real-time unfolding of events
Impromptu communication required or encouraged
Participants are tele/present
Strong social element
High stakes” (“Defining Kairotic Space” Price).
In other words, every space that I teach in, whether present or telepresent, will have immense amounts of variability, impromptu communication, social dynamics, and material constraints. Because of this, I understand that while I might try to anticipate the needs of my students, I will always fall short. Although this is a sobering reality, I know that, as an instructor, I should link my teaching to students’ material, lived experience—be it racialized experiences, queer experiences, disability experiences, and so on—as best as I can. Because I will have new students with new, unique experiences every semester, I understand universal course design as a place to start and always changing. There is no exhaustive checklist that will create the perfect, accessible course for every student that I will ever encounter; however, as I continue to engage with scholarship, test my course materials for accessibility, and dialogue with my students, I can try to close as many gaps as possible.
Some of the ways I respond to these gaps include, as mentioned, a focus on the dynamics between private and public writing. Because my students are not in a classroom with me, but instead, occupying a virtual space, I have journals (private) and discussion boards (public in the context of our course) throughout the class that allow for metadiscourse about the course itself; that is, I consistently seek out feedback from my students to ensure the course, as I have built it, is functional and accessible for them specifically. I believe this approach gives students a vocabulary and metacognition that allows them to determine their own writing practices in relation to my course; additionally, this approach allows me to constantly revise each section of my course, ensuring that I am not delivering the same modular content each semester.
Due to the nature of online coursework, OWI will lack a physical classroom for a portion of, to the entirety of, the course. Because my students and I will be telepresent for at least a portion of the course, I find it important to build community.
One of the ways in which I build community is through my Introductory Assignment, using it as a space to discuss genre, multimodality, audience, and more. My assignment is structured to avoid a normative, “Hi, my name is…” discussion board post. Instead, I ask that students choose a specific genre, considering its constraints and audience expectations. Then, I ask them to consider what their fellow students might want to know from them. Once these two elements are decided, students are to compose and upload their text to a community discussion board so that we might engage with each unique text as it is uploaded. This way, students might identify their own strengths as it comes to multimodal composition, apply them, engage with several theoretical frameworks guiding the course, and, most importantly, get to know one another. Further, I participate in this assignment myself, using my own post not only as a model, but so students might also get to see me, their instructor, outside of the context of the stuffy, “Welcome to the Course!” introductory video. This assignment allows me to build the foundation of a community from the beginning of my course, a foundation I build upon throughout the semester. For example, in the interest of public writing and self-expression, I include e-portfolios in my digital classrooms, giving students the expressive freedom to: first, shape their identity online for a public audience; and second, occupy a space that belongs to them in the course. E-portfolios also align with my own approach to writing pedagogy; that is, I value the process of students collecting their work, selecting which work appears on their websites, and finally, reflecting on that work to make their growth as a writer known and the application of our course content to future writing situations more obvious.
Accessibility & Accessible Design
I ground my pedagogy in scholarship warning of the dangers of retrofitting and accommodation as it comes to course design, in both online and face-to-face settings (Price; Kerschbaum; Yergeau; Wyatt; Dolmage). As Margaret Price writes, “We do not need help participating. We need ethical infrastructures” (“Toward and Ethical Infrastructure”). Further, Melanie Yergeau writes, “To accommodate is to retrofit; it is to assume normative bodies as default and to build spaces and infrastructures around those normative default bodies…. Accommodation, I'd suggest, presumes that disabled people do not exist unless they reveal themselves—at which point, they need able-bodied people to help them assimilate” (“Reason”; “Rehabilitation ≠ to What We Do”).
Thus, my courses are not designed around the technology that supports it; instead, I design my courses around the anticipated needs of my students, understanding that while I may not always get it right, there are many places to start.
To make my coursework more accessible, I ensure all of my course materials, like syllabi, assignment descriptions, and more, are produced in a variety of modes. The documents themselves are uploaded as screen-readable PDFs, formatted in Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility Setup Assistant and checked with screen-reading software. Further, my document design follows the recommendations found in Anne-Marie Womack's "Teaching is Accommodation: Universally Designing Syllabi and Composition Classrooms," published in CCC's in February of 2017. I am guided not only by Womack’s essay, but also Jay Dolmage’s “Universal Design: Places to Start.” I use many of his recommendations—redundancy, flexibility, delivery, translation, and more—in order to guide the choices that I make. For example, I contextualize course documents through explanatory text on Canvas, my institution’s Learning Management System, and I create captioned, procedural and information videos videos to further explain the document. When used, external online resources are checked in the WAVE Accessibility Tool to ensure navigability; if resources are not easy to navigate, I create an alternative resource to use instead for the entire student body, or, find a better resource. Additionally, I accept assignments in a variety of formats; although I have institutional constraints (for example, a 6,000 polished word count), I allow students to use voice dictation software and other tools that might make the composition of an essay easier to achieve.
While these are the moves I might make in my online courses, this is by no means a comprehensive list; again, these are places to start. In a way, as I remember CCCC’s OWI Principle 15—“OWI/OWL administrators and teachers/tutors should be committed to ongoing research into their programs and courses as well as the very principles in this document.”—this philosophy itself is a place to start. Accessible course design, online or face-to-face, is not about a certain destination; it’s a process, a journey.
“A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction
(OWI).” Conference on College Composition & Communication. https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/owiprinciples/.
Dolmage, Jay. “Universal Design: Places to Start.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, 2015.
Snart, Jason. “Hybrid and Fully Online OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction, edited
by Beth L. Hewitt and Kevin Eric DePaw. The WAC Clearinghouse, 2015, pp. 93-128
Womack, Anne-Marie. “Teaching Is Accommodation: Universally Designing Composition
Classrooms and Syllabi.” CCC, vol. 68, no. 3, 2017, pp. 494-525. NCTE, https://secure-ncte-org.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0683-feb2017/CCCC0683Teaching.pdf.
Yergrau, Melanie et al. “Multimodality in Motion: Disability & Kairotic Spaces.” Kairos, vol. 18, no.
1, Fall 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/18.1/coverweb/yergeau-et-al/.
Sample Online Course Policy Sheets
In his chapter of Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction, Jason Snart contends that online courses, whether hybrid or fully online, are unique spaces requiring their own pedagogies and course development. He argues that they’re not just “variant” models of a “traditional” face-to-face course, but, instead, a space that contain synchronous and asynchronous elements, a space with access issues, issues that require new lenses and ideas in order to properly address them (94). It is this piece, and others (Cummings et al.; Yergeau et al.; Dolmage; Womack; and more), then, that inform my OWI practices.