Perhaps this doesn't require a great deal of imagination in the sense that these things already exist in the form of MyCompLab, YourCompClass, Insite and so on, to say nothing of the thousands of online composition courses offered in Blackboard, Moodle, etc. So perhaps the question is what would you (or I) put into such a platform?
It's a question on my mind as UB is moving with some greater intent into the area of online composition courses, specifically in the summer. For myself, the answer has always been to roll my own online pedagogical environment, but I don't see that as a good programmatic answer. The DIY approach demands a lot from instructors in terms of exploring and evaluating various social media options. Also, there is something to be said for the content that is available through vendor sites.
Not surprisingly I have little (actually no) love for the CMS. I see these essentially as devices built to serve large lecture sections of bio or psych or whatever. They are meant to appeal to professors who will upload notes and powerpoints, perhaps devise some self-assessment quizzes, and use an online gradebook. Whenever I am in these environments I keep expecting some old geezer animated gif to appear and say "Get off my lawn!"
But I digress. The point here is what would I envision for online FYC. Clearly the answer to that begins with one's core philosophy regarding the course and writing. I see writing as a material, networked, socio-cultural activity. I see FYC as a place where students should be composing often for each other and for larger publics. I'm also pretty sure that FYC is a place where students study writing/composition, and the last time I checked, that means some introduction to the methods of rhetorical analysis…. Yep, just checked again, and that basic answer is the same as it has been for the last 26 centuries.
So how does that translate into an online platform?
- Students should have some real ownership over the look, feel, and content of their environment. This isn't a place for them to be "managed," nor is it primarily an instructor-owned space for content delivery. It is instead the techno-material means by which students will compose and communicate. Identity formation is a key part of developing an online community. Community is integral to composition pedagogy. How do you do that in Bb? Can't. Wouldn't want to.
One of the basic lessons of social media is that if you want buy-in from students, instructors, employees, etc, then you want to make the system as open as possible. So what if students start a group to discuss a favorite tv show? And maybe they wouldn't want to do that. But there's something in knowing that you could if you wanted to.
- Content. Content. Content. Yes, composition is about student writing. But it is also about teaching students how to study writing and develop their own writing practices. In the FTF classroom, that means textbooks, discussions, and lectures. Online, it can still mean text, but text comes off somewhat impoverished online. There are other options (or should be). Instructors can clearly participate in online discussions, and they can produce their own multimedia materials. But wouldn't it be great if there was already a large library of materials for them to draw upon? If only there was something like, oh I don't know, a giant web where all this material could be found.
Obviously the challenge is finding the good stuff. Vendor sites offer a lot of materials. A good composition platform would include a way for instructors to rate and comment on materials, upload their own stuff, and share open access web resources.
- Here comes every comp student. There's a good reason for keeping FYC classes with low student-faculty ratios. It's labor intensive stuff, no less so online. That said, there are economies of scale involved in online education. And as we can deduce from Clay Shirky, there are whole new areas of activity that we can pursue in a program-wide platform. So a composition platform should facilitate communication and collaboration among students and instructors beyond individual sections.
I'm not going to add this as part of my numbered list, but what goes for social media networks in general goes for an online composition platform. It has to be usable, modular, modifiable, customizable.
So I'll let you know how it goes.