Rhetoric/Composition Teaching

the web 2.0 course

Though I have taught many technology-intensive courses and courses with a signficant online component, I have yet to have the opportunity to teach a course strictly online. It looks like I may get that opportunity for next Spring. I’m trying to figure out which would be the best course to begin with and which technologies and media I would bring into the course.

One thought is my Writing in Cyberspace course, which I have taught several times. However, it’s a course that, at least as I have taught it before, includes significant instruction in Dreamweaver and Photoshop. The students could get 30-day trial versions of the software, but that wouldn’t be long enough to last all semester. Of course, all the students who enrolled in the course would be on campus anyway, so they would be able to go to the labs to work on their projects just like they do in the current version of the course. But that wouldn’t be a particuarly good model for moving toward a genuine online degree. I don’t know; I could probably redesign the class to focus Dreamweaver and Photoshop in a limited portion.

That one’s a possibility. The same would be true of Technical Writing, where I teach InDesign and desktop publishing, along with more conventional tech writing subjects.

In technical terms, I think the easiest courses to teach online would be our creative writing workshops. Basically students would exchange their files and then post comments. That would make up about 90% of the course. However, workshops depend on a strong sense of community. The challenge of the course would be to build that sense. Also, it might require some committed writers who know something about workshopping. I’m not sure I’d do it with our introductory creative writing courses. We have a 400-level course titled, Experiments in Creative Writing, but again, it’s a course that looks more at the intersection of creative writing and new media (e.g. hypertext, flash poetry, video game design, etc.). It has some of the challenges of the new media courses.

That leaves our more "theoretical" courses (there are other courses in our program, but not ones I teach or really want to teach): Rhetoric, Contemporary Poetics, and the Evolution of Writing. Poetics is being taught in the Fall, so that is out for scheduling reasons. That leaves Rhetoric and Evolution of Writing.

These courses are ones that are perhaps most like other seminar-type courses offered around the College. I.e., students buy and read books, discuss them in class, listen to occassional lectures, and complete writing assignments that they mostly produce in Word and hand in on paper. So, if I were to teach something like that, I might combine the following elements:

  • a blog for class discussions;
  • individual blogs as reading journals;
  • a wiki to develop terminology;
  • audio/video mini-lectures distributed through rss, possibily iTunes U if the College ends up gonig that route;
  • some screencasting is also a possibility;
  • tagging to bring in additional material;
  • our CMS for secure submission and evaluation of assignments

I don’t know that might be too much, but those are the things I’m thinking about. I often teach courses where the technology is the subject, where I do my best to make it visible as we use it. In a rhetoric course, however, I’d be thinking about technology for the delivery of the course, as a less visible component. That is, I wouldn’t want to have the students spending so much time thinking about the technology itself.

Another advantage of a course like rhetoric is that the materials for the course could be relatively stable. I could add material from semester to semester to create more variety, but, for example, the material I produce for use discussing Plato will remain useful.

I suppose I could use Web CT to deliver a lot of this business. And I’m thinking I could publish RSS feeds of most of this material inside the CMS. The advantage for me of blogging over CMS discussion is two-fold. First, I can give my students more freedom (in Web CT discussions, students can’t create their own topics). Second, I can just add a course blog to the other blogs I read (I use Sage in Firefox now for doing this). Clearly the wiki and would give me capabilities that just don’t exist in Web CT.

Of  course, the real work will be in producing media content for the course. I’ll have to think carefully about what I need… but first I need to figure out which course I’m teaching.


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