Below are a list of various resources to help faculty plan for online instruction, as well as for general pedagogical practices that revolve around online writing instruction (OWI). While some of these resources do not address OWI specifically, much of the material here provides faculty with ways of thinking about incorporating writing more effectively in their online courses.
Articles about Teaching Online
Cathy Davidson, “The Single Most Essential Requirement in Designing a Fall Online Course”
Flower Darby, “How to Be a Better Online Teacher: Advice Guide”
- Most importantly, as Cathy Davis puts it, “think about what it means to be a student.” Put yourself in the shoes of a student. This should be done before forming a syllabus.
Start by thinking what your students need now. Simply ask them what they need. You can provide them everything from study tips and resources, to simple empathy. “We need to be human first, professor second.” Keep in mind, too, that what a student will need in a writing course will inevitably be different than what they require in a biology course.
- Make yourself readily available.
That is, make yourself more present than you were in the traditional classroom. This means your contact information, including email, office number (with appropriate office hours, both face-to-face and virtual) should be clearly available on your syllabus and via your class website.
However, you should inform your students of contact boundaries. Give them set hours in which you will return emails and in which you will hold office hours. A student shouldn’t be emailing you at 11 pm!
Regardless of your course, teach your students email etiquette, meaning how to appropriately draft an email to a specific audience. See Purdue Owl for tips and examples.
- Rethink deadlines
Because online instruction may lead some students to forget due dates and deadlines, it is important for instructors to utilize multiple methods to contact students and to stay in touch with them.
It may help to make a set day of the week in which all assignments, such as essays, quizzes, discussion posts, etc. are due. For example, students might be required to have all assignments submitted/completed on Canvas by Friday at 11:59 pm each week.
If you do set deadlines multiple times during the week, keep those deadlines consistent each week so that students then can take the responsibility and contact you regarding the late submission.
Additionally, for the sake of the student and yourself, it will most likely be easier for you to keep assignments open via Canvas the entire semester. That way, you do not have to reopen the portal every time a student has a late submission. Canvas will indicate the exact time a student submits a file, completes a quiz, or comments on a discussion post.
- Try to create a set schedule each week
For example, send out an email/video each Sunday in which you detail the tentative readings, assignments, and due dates for the week. Then, every Tuesday you could plan an asynchronous class. On Thursday, you could meet synchronously.
The more consistent you are with the course schedule, the easier it will be for students to follow along with the class and complete assignments/participate successfully.
- Rethink Attendance (Subject to change based on University policies)
Many institutions are changing from an “attendance” policy to an “engagement” policy. Follow the links below for resources and sample attendance/engagement policies:
- Indiana University
- Southern Arkansas University
- Durham Tech
- Additionally, see an engagement policy sample specific to the HyFlex model, drafted by Maria Soriano Young, Writing Center Director at John Carroll University:
- “Because a HyFlex course model prioritizes flexibility, I have adapted a traditional course attendance policy into expectations for engagement. To be considered active and engaged in my course, students must meet all of the following benchmarks each week (ending Saturday at 11:59 p.m. EST):
- "either attend class in person or over Zoom or watch the recording(s) of any class meetings you did not attend physically or virtually.
- "complete all assignments (e.g., required readings, slideshows that accompany lessons, writing activities, discussion boards, peer review/workshops, etc.)
- "Any student who fails to meet one or more of the above benchmarks in one week will a) lose the points associated with relevant assignments, and b) be marked "absent" for that week. A student who accumulates absences totaling 15% of instructional hours (equal to 3 absences) risks failing the course.
- "Modifications to this policy based on extenuating circumstances for a student will be made at my discretion. It is most important that you talk with me if a situation arises that impacts your ability to meet the benchmarks noted above.”
- Use Backward Design when Constructing Your Course.
Backward Design means you will set the goals that you want your students to achieve before choosing the modes and methods of instruction you will employ to convey such goals. Click this link from Georgetown University for a detailed description of backward design:
Additional Best Practices Courtesy of Sara Webb-Sunderhaus, Director of Composition at Miami University (Ohio)
- Humanize the experience: Anything you can do to improve the affective element of your course is critical. This will prevent the course from seeming impersonal and as though students lack accountability to participate/complete assignments.
- For example, use personalized videos that display your screen when responding to student work; provide a voiceover of your thoughts and suggestions.
- Communication is paramount: What’s more, it’s key to communicate with your students using multiple methods, including email, weekly video updates, or a FAQ thread on a discussion board.
- Open discussion boards that pose class questions are useful as other students can help answer questions in the thread. This cuts down on the work you have to do as an instructor.
- Get creative with your means of communication. Sara mentions TikTok as a potentially useful tool to connect with students.
- Remain Accessible: Even if you do not use synchronous video sessions to meet with your class, it is important to use synchronous video services for your office hours. Students should feel as though they have easy access to your digital office hours.
- Online Conferencing. Use video services such as Zoom to create one-on-one meetings with your students. “You Can Book Me” is a service that will help you and your students schedule conferences.
- Simplify Navigation: You’ll want to minimize the number of clicks a student must make when navigating the site.
- Stay Flexible: Keep in mind that circumstances such as illness (especially in a pandemic), lack of internet access, or new responsibilities such as caring for a loved one may alter the schedule of both your students and yourself. Synchronous sessions may not always be possible.