The following is a written summary with key points included of the work referenced above and cited below.
Scott Warnock is a Professor of English and Director of the University Writing Program at Drexel University. Warnock teaches first-year writing and courses such as Writing in Cyberspace, The Literature of Business, Language Puzzles and Word Games: Issues in Modern Grammar, and The Peer Reader in Context. In 2020, Warnock was awarded Drexel’s Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.
In "Teaching the OWI Course," Warnock opens his chapter with a question that applies to any pedagogy-specific principles, How do instructors teach writing online well? Guided by that question, Warnock's chapter considers five OWI principles focused on pedagogy in online instruction including teacher presence, strategies for building and encouraging conversation, responding to student writing, class management, class organization, course evaluation, assessment and technologies. Teachers should aim to be true to themselves and sometimes, teaching in a mode they're unfamiliar with can challenge their ability to be authentically themselves and comfortably enacting their teaching philosophies.
Instead of getting caught up by the technology itself or getting stuck as the IT consultant for first-year students, OWI needs to focus on writing above all else. How do you build an online class that feels like a writing class instead of allowing students to get caught up by the environment? First-year instructors are often at the front line of new students interactions with syllabus, campus, technology, etc. To prevent first year writing instructors from transforming into IT specialists, they require multi-level support from their institution. The institution should provide clear, easy to access help through their IT department and communicative help desks.
Thinking about mediating technology concerns, online writing instructors should also have alternate lesson plans in place if technology they wanted to use fails and can't be fixed. In order to decide whether they want to use a new digital technology or not, David Jonassen suggests using a risk-benefit-type analysis structure. This risk assessment essentially asks of us: does the benefit of using this new tech outweigh the risk it won't work? That said, teachers should get in the habit of having back up plans.
In general, planning well helps to maintain course focus and not get distracted by other issues that may arise. If a teacher has adequate time to plan their course, build their structure, and troubleshoot new technology: they will do better teaching an online course than if they receive pressure to get things done quickly. Overall, teachers should strive to maintain an environment that is inclusive for all. Planning while being mindful of accessibility concerns and mediating those concerns before the class begins is ideal for online teaching and learning.
OWI courses are writing courses. That said, teaching writing digitally can open up opportunities if teachers control the technology instead of allowing the technology to control them. Teachers should be able to adapt and move between online and face-to-face teaching well and simultaneously maintain their teaching philosophies. Warnock suggests we look closely at our "teaching selves." Teachers must also think about digital technologies comprehensively before using them in the classroom which returns to how teachers conceptualize themselves. Teachers should consider 1) what they want to accomplish 2) how technology complements those goals and 3) they should reflect frequently.
Online teaching requires excellent communication. Because so much of online learning requires text communication (emails, announcements, assignments, feedback, etc), teachers must be extremely specific with language, undeniably clear, straightforward, and concise. Teachers must also proofread intentionally, revise for clarity, and appropriately repeat instructions. In addition, OWC's need ground rules: rules for how we communication with each other, rules for discussion, etc.
In order for students to succeed in asynchronous online courses, teacher's presence needs to be felt. As the reading and writing load increases, so should the need for clarity and teacher modeling. Many OWI's are text-centric; teachers should consider how much time their students are spending and how much time they must spend to provide appropriate feedback in return.
Using audio/video technology can enhance the online classroom experience. "Thinking digitally" should mean finding ways to widen communication opportunities and being open about what that could look like. Introducing multi-media content can be one way to achieve this. That said, it is also important teachers consider accessibility issues that come with multi-media content (image descriptions, captions or transcripts for audio, etc.)
Teaching online may require teachers to consider their responses to student writing differently. Giving feedback on student writing is incredibly important to student's learning. As teachers craft these responses, we should also consider our purpose, audience, and context when we write to students and be incredibly direct. "As Hewett (2015a) indicated, such a problem-centered approach could include asking open-ended questions; demonstrating; illustrating; and, again, modeling (specifically modeling at the level 'being required of the student'). Teachers cannot assume that the ambiguity inherent in open-ended questions is appropriate for all learners....Teachers need to think about the clarity of writing vocabulary and other instructional terms" (Hewett, 2011, p.12).
Moderation is important to online learning environments. Facilitating space for discussion peer-to-peer is beneficial for various reasons, however, teachers need to moderate conversations that occur in the digital space. This can be a challenge. Online discussions are not linear in the same way that in-person class discussions often are. The online space may also remove some shyness from students. As a teacher moderates the less formal online discussions, they should consider any accessibility issues, define ground rules ahead of time, and challenge students to ask critical questions and prod beyond what's on the surface.
Low-stakes writing assignments are important for self-reflection, collaborative proofing, engaging students in process, and preparing students better for major assignments. It is important that teachers respond to student work. It is also time-sensitive.
Teachers should ask themselves what they do best and what they value most. Then, they should do those things in the online space. This is what Warnock describes as the "migration of pedagogy." In other words, we're not reinventing the wheel. We should be using technology to thoughtfully build assignments, to organize the course clearly, and to facilitate dialogue that will go beyond the four walls of the classroom or in this case, digital walls.
Teaching may not be ours to control fully. It is not recommended practice to use someone else's course materials. It is not effective to copy and paste someone else's content. We must personalize our courses, even if we do use elements that are borrowed. Personalization is incredibly important to good pedagogy. That said, a template may be incredible helpful. Using templates or core's can be productive for building out course content and making it easy to navigate for students.
Good teaching requires great communication and flexibility. Teaching must be wiling to adapt in order to provide quality classes. Teachers should be prepared to provide accommodations. Considering this, institutions should also be providing support for their instructors. "A culture of reasonable control and flexibility gives an OWI program the best chance of doing what it is there to do: teach students to write more effectively" (Warnock, 2015, p. 174).
Teachers should be willing to motivate students to learn, not only transmit knowledge into their heads. These courses and structures used in OWI should be highly personalized, thoughtfully built, and created by writing instructors, not administrators. The classes must be consistent with the teachers pedagogy of philosophy as well as the program they are in.
One weak point in WPA/OWI and other writing programs is the assessment and evaluation of online writing instructors. We need more for assessment of online instructors as the current evaluations are often extremely critical, ineffective or measuring the wrong things. Assessment would help courses adapt and improve. Unfortunately, useful teacher evaluation is a pedagogy problem not exclusive to online teaching.
This chapter written by Scott Warnock focused on the principles of OWI. There is no one way to be successful. Experimental teaching provides new paths forward and accessible, inclusive paths forward. OWI practice is exciting and takes advantage of digital tools. Online writing instructors should still primarily be writing instructors, should maintain their teaching practices and philosophies, be extremely flexible, be supported by their institutions in their flexibility and teachers cannot abandon effective practices for a technology: OWCs maintain core effective teaching practices.
I wanted to call attention to some strange uses of language in Warnock’s chapter that felt like co-opting. In the chapter, there was more than one instance where Warnock or a quoted person utilized language/phrasing that is taken from marginalized people in very different situations and applied to less vulnerable populations in an academic situation.
One prominent example of this is on page 167 in the section under OWI Principle 4, as Warnock discusses the “migration of pedagogy.” He quotes a senior faculty member who “expressed that he felt colonized by teaching technologies.” Warnock goes on to add, “I think it is important not just for teachers but also for those involved with faculty development and instructional design to understand this thread of colonization.” Our world is still actively feeling the impacts of colonization, and although we study post-colonialism, we aren’t really beyond colonialism in our world. Globalization, imperialism, forced assimilation, and even modern Christian missionaries still enact colonial principles and oppress marginalized folks in active ways both here in the U.S. and abroad. It doesn’t feel appropriate to equate the violence and oppression of various peoples to a teacher feeling overwhelmed by new technology.
Another example is when Warnock quotes Susan Lowers (2008) on page 156, “Much like immigrants who leave the cultural comfort of their home societies and move to places with very different cultures and social practices, those who teach online leave the familiarity of face-to-face classroom for the uncharted terrain of the online environment.” This chapter was published in 2015, not 2021. However, we were already aware of the many challenges immigrants face and the difficulties of being undocumented in the U.S. in 2015. We were aware of ICE, and the violence immigrants face in North America. It feels cruel to compare an immigrant's experience, especially with the climate and hostility toward immigrants that existed in 2015 and still exists today, to teachers learning to teach online classes. From a rhetorical point of view, I'm not sure what Warnock hoped to accomplish through this misuse of language.