digital rhetoric Teaching

modeling workflow in a synchronous online writing class

I know, I know… me and the sexy, clickbait-y post titles. I just can’t help myself.

This is a brass tacks thinking through of something I’ve very rarely done, which is to teach an online course with a synchronous element. Of course many of us did it in an emergency way last spring, but now we get to plan how to do it.

The course I’m planning now is a media studies course in social media and networks. It is a writing-intensive course and satisfies a gen ed writing requirement at UB. At the most basic level, under typical conditions, it’s a course where students would

  • read and/or watch things,
  • post in a weekly online discussion,
  • come to class for short lectures, small group activities and class discussion, and
  • complete a series of writing/composing project.

In this new scenario all of the remains, but I have to create more structure and variety in the online participation both synchronous and asynchronous. Without structure, online class activity becomes amorphous with each activity looking like the others and without variety each week becomes increasingly repetitive. In a very loose way, I am using fitness video programs as my analogy. Typically those programs vary day to day in terms of parts of the body (e.g., leg day) and type of exercise (e.g., cardio v. weight training). In addition there’s a progression, so week 5 is harder than week 1. Obviously there are many differences too, but this gives me a way of thinking about structure and variety.

So I’m going to start with a generic structure.

  1. Read/watch the assigned text, video, etc.
  2. Watch my 10-15 min video lecture.
  3. Participate in an asynchronous group activity. These vary from week to week but there would be 4 groups (of 6 students) and each group would have a specific task: e.g., post discussion questions, share links to relevant current events or other material, make a list of keywords, etc. While they are grouped to be assigned an activity, this is something they do independently.
  4. Meet during our synchronous class meeting time where there’s another list of variable modes: class wide video discussion (e.g. Zoom), small group video discussion, synchronous chat (Zoom or Discord or the like), reflective writing (posted to a blog/discussion forum), collaborative writing (wiki, Google Docs). These then have to be tied to specific rhetorical purposes, and for my class, focusing as it does on the topic of social media and networks, one of the meta-questions is how different technologies foster different rhetorical capacities.
  5. With that in mind, part of the advancement in difficulty as the course proceeds is that we move from experimenting with different modes to having student groups make decisions about the appropriate mode for the task they’ve been given (and reflecting on that choice).
  6. The synchronous schedule has us meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, so the only task in-between is to write a brief reflection on Tuesdays class.
  7. Thursday classes are then structured differently from Tuesdays. In the first part we’ll pick up the threads from Tuesday’s class. I’ll have posted a brief video or written a post for them to read before class. We can use that as a starting point. The main difference is that we will turn our attention to the larger writing/composing project on which they’re working. This could mean me introducing the project, brainstorming, workshopping drafts, etc. etc. So once again we’ll be moving through the modalities available to us, but for a different aim.

This is a 4-credit course, so it’s scheduled with 4 hours of in-class meeting time. I’m not planning on doing that much video-conferencing, so we’ll have to discover, organically, how we want to use our scheduled time. Anyway, that’s where I am now.

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