Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Technology: How much is too much?

I was suddenly sucked into a vortex of class concocting, pedagogical pondering, and technology taste-testing last night. I don't know what hit me. There I was living my life as usual (cooking, cleaning, caring for child and dog, performing administrative duties) when suddenly I was struck with the urge to build my fall course. This compulsion was so fierce that I never did go to sleep last night. Wow. I've suffered such creative compulsions before but never for writing a syllabus or assignment sheet.

I have a lot of ideas for making this class exciting, challenging, fulfilling, and fun (too tall an order for a general education class? well we'll see).

One of the primary things I want to focus is on genre awareness and all that entails (that is a whole 'nother blog post though so I won't get into it now) and part of my brainstorm is to utilize various web publication tools to emphasize that. But that does lead me to the all important question of how much technology is too much? I am not much of a subscriber to the belief that digital natives are super techno-savvy. Perhaps that is simply because I've had to explain to too many people how to use BlackBoard and even email. I think just like anything else -- they know what they use but there is a whole world of technology out there they don't use -- so they don't know it. But again that is another blog post.

I'm teaching a general education (as in required for everyone and taught in many different incarnations although with the same basic goals by many different instructors) writing class. The class is online and our university utilizes BlackBoard to support all classes. So that is one form of technology we will need to use -- albeit sparingly.

I'm also fairly definite about the use of student blogs to display finished products and allow peer comments -- perhaps more but still deciding the parameters there.

I've got a couple of short introductory assignments (very short!) which made me start to think about using a twitter feed as well. Is that too much? Still thinking about what I would do with that...but I do like the idea of using these different technological tools as well as other assignments to make my students think about the importance of communication and words in general as well as the role genre and audience etc. play in communication. But oh much technology to require and how much to simply encourage. How much is too much?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Community and muscle building

It's not that I haven't thought about these things before and it certainly isn't that I thought they were unimportant, but, recently, as I analyze my dissertation data (a study of the writing self-efficacy of adult writers) I have come to appreciate anew how important creating a sense of community is for a newly-formed group of writers and how essential it is to help those writers (who typically don't think of themselves as writers) develop their writing muscles.

I am not claiming either of these issues is new information to experienced writing teachers -- they certainly aren't for me (and I have the t-shirt to prove it) but reading through the comments of the writers I'm studying has made me more aware of their importance and will force me to emphasize them more in future incarnations of my writing classes.

Too often I have succumbed to pressure (from students as well as administration) to emphasize the business of a course up front (or at least place too much emphasis) but instead I vow to focus those initial days to activities that will build community and trust (among the group in general as well as between coach and writer) but even more importantly begin exercising those (often) flabby and underdeveloped writing muscles. The writing growth and development that I am studying has taken place as a result of these two elements and as the growth and development of writers is my primary goal as an instructor it seems a no-brainer to me that I need to focus even more on those elements in future classes.

A supportive community is an essential part of a successful writing workshop. This means a leader who provides lots of writing opportunities that not only give writers the chance to develop their writing muscles but also a safe place to push and challenge the writers to stretch beyond their safety zone. Of course the leader is also responsible for mentoring, teaching, and otherwise supporting the writer's progress through the development of individual pieces and growth as a writer. It also means a true community of writers that shares common goals to support each individual member's growth and success. In this community every writer contributes toward these goals by participating in workshops and offering feedback -- providing a real audience with a real response to the work. The support of both instructor and community are of equal importance to the growth process. I've always believed this but my recent research has given me even more reason to do so.

I've also long believed that writing practice and experience are essential. Just as you need to build your tolerance for physical activities so must you build your tolerance for mental activities. But I think we need to build (force or enforce?) more writing time on our developing writers. Time and practice are essential to writing improvement and I've always thought if there was no instruction but lots of time and practice we would see more improvement than if the reverse was true. While I don't believe no instruction is the answer -- I think we have a tendency to do too much pushing (direct instruction) and not enough pulling (giving the writer opportunity and getting out of their way until they need us). It is probably a response to our need to feel like we are doing our job but I can tell you that running a workshop is work.

I am pretty excited about the implications of my research for my teaching but now I better get back to it!