As a reflective practitioner (clear demonstration of my NWP affiliation) Natalie Houston's suggestion on ProfHacker to reflect on the past semester as I prepare for the new one fell on fertile ground. I agree it is important to look at what worked and didn't in the past to make sure that my experience informs my future practice.
What Worked Well
Focusing on Writing About Writing with my first-year writing students. My concept for the class is not yet fully refined but students still learned important lessons. Not all of them were big fans but their arguments against were more eloquent and informed as a result of their reading (a fact none of them noted of course). I think I can work on this concept more to bring more students on board.
Switching from a multitude of summary assignments to building annotated bibliography as a class. This not only provides a saner (for me and my students) way to build the same skill set but it provides more support and scaffolding for the process. Also, when we are done we have a pretty helpful document to guide future research and writing which the summary assignments didn't really do for us.
Creating video tutorials were also a good choice. Admittedly they were initially created because I was dying to use my new Flip and as a new user they were not very polished, but students did find them helpful. I have a tendency to be too text reliant for the information I share with my online students so this was a nice break.
I assigned too much reading right up front. I was excited about making the switch to writing about writing and also knew students needed to front-load their reading to inform the writing they would do the rest of the semester. All true but still too much too soon for first-year students.
Starting out with a group project was a mistake. Enrollment has too many fluctuations at the beginning of a semester (especially in an online class) and it is really hard to make students work together when they haven't formed a community yet.
In part because I needed to allow more time for the group project than originally planned and in part because of my own misinterpretation of departmental guidelines I assigned too many pages of writing for my students. These factors meant I didn't allow as much time as I should have for drafting and revision.
What I'm Changing
One of the complaints about the writing about writing focus was simply that students didn't know what they were getting into. So this semester I created a video challenge to let students know what our focus would be for the semester. I sent it out weeks before classes started and also put it in my introductory materials (for those late additions as well as folks who might have missed those early emails). They still might hate the emphasis but at least now they've been warned!
I am making more video tutorials although perhaps for some at least mini-lesson might be more descriptive. Short explanations for major assignments etc. Hopefully students will find these useful and also help them understand my goals for the class and assignments.
I'm using social media to build a sense of community and audience and then took the elements I really wanted to keep from the class annotated bibliography assignment and melded it with the social media. This semester we are building a class annotated bibliography together but it is not a group project.