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Teaching Writing Online: A Quick Start Guide for WIM Instructors

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As you move to teach your Writing in the Major course online, be assured that much of what you already do will translate, but you will need to make some adjustments to suit the digital interface. On this page, we’ve gathered tips for making feedback, peer review, writing activities, and student presentations more successful. 

NOTE: This resource adapted from Jenae Cohn's and Beth Seltzer's “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption”

A Few Principles

  • Continue to reverse engineer your course. Think: what do I want students to be able to do by the end of the quarter? Then: what smaller writing and speaking assignments over the course of the quarter will get them there?
  • Continue to build in interim deadlines that take students from reading and brainstorming to note-taking, drafting, and polishing; continue to build in time for feedback and revision.
  • Less is more. Pare back your readings and small writing assignments to the essentials. A minimalist approach will help students navigate the distance and technology.
  • Consider what’s best achieved asynchronously. What reading about writing, e.g., discipline-specific writing guides or model texts, might students complete outside of class? What might they discuss in writing before they come to “class” to converse aloud?  Conversely, what are the priority issues that need to be addressed face-to-face?

Giving Feedback 

  • Commenting best practices won’t change online. Your comments should still be aligned with the grading rubric, limited to three to four key points, and prioritized into higher and lower order concerns (i.e., address genre, argument, and organization before you address sentence-level concerns). 
  • You will likely need to discuss your students’ writing during virtual office hours. Set up a “room” on Canvas as your virtual office, and coach your students to share their screens when you meet.

Peer Review

Synchronous Recommended Tool: Google Docs & Zoom

Asynchronous Recommended Tool: Canvas Peer Review or Google Docs

  • Peer review can be a particularly useful tool for facilitating revision when teaching writing online.
  • Write out clear and specific instructions about the expectations for peer review. This means specifying the qualities of writing that students may want to look for in each other’s work. Distributing guiding questions or a worksheet that students can fill out as they review their peer’s work can be a valuable supplement to guide students’ virtual reading. 
  • If you are introducing peer review synchronously (via Zoom or another teleconferencing platform) and having students work in real time in Google Docs, consider:
    • Having students use the chat box feature to share ideas about what makes for effective peer review or using a polling tool, like PollEverywhere or Google Forms, to collect ideas about students’ impressions of and expectations for peer review
  • If you are introducing peer review asynchronously, consider:
    • Opening up a discussion forum with a prompt that invites students to share their past experiences with peer review. What worked? What didn’t? What are their goals this time? Aggregate student responses to create a document that outlines the class expectations and understandings of effective peer review experiences. 
    • Ask students to include questions for their peer reviewers at the top of their document so that their reviewers can have a sense of what the author would like them to focus on.
  • Include links to technical documentation and support so that students can troubleshoot if they are not able to access peers’ documents.

Some In-Class Writing Activities over Zoom

  • Using the discussion feature in Canvas and before they come to class, have students discuss in writing a key reading for the class. Provide them with prompts that ask them to reflect on the reading’s form and content. In class, then  identify points of consensus and disagreement. 

  • Have students rhetorically analyze a discipline-specific exemplar in small Zoom break-out groups. One student can share the screen and annotate the text with rhetorical strategies identified by the group.

  • Have students reverse outline a number of discipline-specific models before coming to class. In class, discuss ways arguments are organized in your discourse community. You could do a similar exercise related to evidence in your discipline: what counts as evidence? How is it presented?

  • In a google doc, have students share their best writing productivity strategies before you meet as a group to discuss the challenges of isolation and procrastination, among others. 

  • Choose a particular writing practice or rhetorical feature that you want students to focus on--such as research questions or literature reviews--and have students examine several short samples from discipline specific texts. In Zoom groups or in Canvas chat, have them identify the commonalities and key rhetorical features across the samples.

  • For the first part of class, over zoom, present students with a “pick your own revision adventure,” providing them with a number of ways into their revisions (e.g., a reverse outlining or nut-shelling activity). Then give them an hour to try out one of the adventures on their own. Finally, reconvene class over Zoom for a group reflection: what did they  learn about their arguments-in-progress? About revision?

Student Presentations

If students are sharing their presentations asynchronously: 

  • Ask students to record themselves at their screen, using a web camera, the built-in microphone on their computer, and screen sharing software combined to capture both their faces/persons as well as the slides on the screen. 

    • ZoomJing, and Screencast-o-matic can be used for audio/video recording in this capacity, as can Quicktime (on Mac only). 

      • If students want to use presenter notes while recording in Zoom in particular, they can follow the instructions to use two monitors with screen sharing. If students do not have access to two monitors, they can also use the screen sharing function in Google Slides  by selecting to share only the window with the final slidedeck and NOT to share the window that pops up with the presenter notes. (i.e. "squish" both windows so they could appear side-by-side).

    • Voiceover narration in slidedeck creation software can also be used via Keynote (Mac), PowerPoint (Mac or PC), or Quicktime (Mac).

    • Students can save their final recording file and upload it to 1. Canvas via Assignments or Discussionsor 2. Stanford Box

      • If students submit the recording via Canvas Assignments, the file will only be visible to the instructor. If students submit the recording via Canvas Discussions, the file will be visible to the full class community. 

        • If using Discussions, students can use an audio-video recording tool built directly into Canvasto record audio-video content. Note that with this tool, only the students’ web camera content will be recorded and saved, not the students’ screen (or their slidedeck). Given this constraint, a short reflection or oral presentation without slides or visuals would be most appropriate for recording with Canvas’ recording tool.

      • If students submit the recording via Stanford Box, make sure the appropriate share settings have been enabled for students to upload their own files to a Box folder that you have created. See Folder and Account Sharing Settings in Box for more details.

    • If students do not have access to a laptop computer or webcam, they can also use the voice memo feature on a phone to record audio, save audio files, and upload the audio files to either Canvas or Stanford Box. Invite students to share their slidedecks and audio/video files separately if necessary.

If students are sharing their presentations synchronously: 

Resources for Online Writing Instruction

  1. Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (book); edited by Beth Hewett and Kevin DePew, 2015. Here are a few chapter highlights: 

  2. Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors(book): Jessie Borgman and Casey McArdle, 2019

  3. Annotated Bibliography of Online Writing Instruction research (compiled by Heidi Harris, 2019)