The first thing I did when I sat down to brainstorm about designing an online/hybrid comp course was to revisit my Comp 101 teaching journal. I was curious to see what kind of challenges I had experienced in my face-to-face teaching, and I wondered if the opportunity to re-design the course from scratch and offer it on a new platform might be a good chance to address some of those problems in new ways. Here’s a list of some of the recurring issues I wrote about when I was teaching comp F2F:
1. Planning and Pacing—having too little or too much content for the class period
2. Participation in discussion—encouraging the wallflowers to engage; also preventing the outspoken students from dominating
3. Making the best use of the classroom space—I had crappy rooms in the basement of Robinson B that made arranging desks for group-work somewhat difficult
4. Transparency of learning goals—I wasn’t always sure my students understood the connection between my in-class activities and the class learning goals
5. Students not reading—Quizzes on the reading material revealed that students either didn’t read, or didn’t understand, the assignments.
6. Workload (my own)—I constantly felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to plan my classes and give excellent feedback to my students
I wrote about other challenges, too, but I mention these six here because it seems that the online environment might be a great place to address these particular issues in new ways:
1. Planning and Pacing—because the online space is unconstrained by the time limits of a traditional classroom, there’s an opportunity to design lessons in modular chunks (say, a 10-minute activity on audience for example) that can be consumed on a flexible schedule and without the awkward transitions that suck precious minutes out of a F2F class period. Ben and I saw a few really interesting presentations at ITL last Friday that have interesting implications for the pedagogy, as well: One study reported students are more engaged in online lectures than they are in traditional F2F lectures; another reported that students are more successful in self-paced learning than traditionally paced semesters. And in general, hybrid courses seem well-positioned for successful flipping. An online or hybrid comp class could potentially use these findings to advantage.
2. Participation in discussion—giving up F2F class discussions feels like a blow, but the upside is that online conversations could end up being *more* democratic than in-class discussions. For one thing, participation can be required and monitored in a way that it can’t be in F2F classrooms. For another, the social dynamics—including personality and gender—that influence F2F group discussions wield less power in a virtual forum.
3. Making the best use of classroom space—Online group discussions have their issues, but this ain’t one of them.
4. Transparency of learning goals—This is something I’m especially excited about. When we design and package content for online consumption, we name it and tag each content bundle with a bunch of keywords. Could we use this to our pedagogical advantage? The step of identifying and repeating (in writing) the name of the skill associated with a particular lesson could help students draw crucial connections between activities and learning goals.
5. Reading—If we want students to “do the reading” more consistently, the searchable, skimmable nature of online reading might actually be an advantage to students in a comp course—particularly if we’re willing to adjust our expectations that they read every single word all the way through. (More on that in Janine Morris’s article “A Genre-Based Approach to Digital Reading” for Pedagogy.)
6. Workload—This one could go either way. Designing an online class will be demanding on the front end, and monitoring is, by all accounts, more time consuming online. But there are some time-saving advantages to digital—replication, content sharing, and data collection among them. There may be ways to save time online that we haven’t yet thought of.
I’m sure there are more elements of teaching comp F2F that might actually be improved online—perhaps they’re different for each of us. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what might work better online than in your F2F classes in the comments.-KF