Before I comment on the great discussion we had for our digital rhetoric class, I want to briefly reflect upon my previous experience with online courses.
As an undergraduate, I enrolled in, to my memory, three fully online courses—Math Appreciation, Modern Russian History, and an upper-level sociology course. (Interestingly, about 80 percent of the Sociology Department’s courses were taught online. I was a sociology major for a hot minute.) All of the courses made use of the university’s course management system—which changed from WebCT to Blackboard about halfway through my undergraduate career. All the courses were set up the same way: we had weekly discussion board responses due (usually a reading response), quizzes, and papers due. The Math Appreciation was by far the most organized online course I took. The instructor, who genuinely seemed like she wanted to teach an online class, took great care to organize the course in neat modules before the class began. We had objectives and learning outcomes, with a clearly organized path to get there. As for the other two classes, I felt they were not nearly as organized—the schedule was updated weekly instead of carved out before hand. The instructors didn’t seem to have a great rapport with students. In many ways, both courses were messy and frustrating. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, though. Looking back, I realize I have retained more from my Modern Russia class than the other two. (Maybe it’s because I was more interested in the material?) Perhaps what would have worked a little better is a middle ground approach: organized but not so much that it feels automated and impersonal. (This gets me thinking about student agency in online courses. In what ways can online courses allow for expanded degrees of agency? Do they limit agency in some ways?)
And in graduate school, I took a technical communication course titled, “Writing in the Workplace.” The course activities were done through a wiki. We had scheduled readings and responses, peer workshops, papers, and class presentations (done through screencasting services). I think this was the best online course I ever had. It was rigorous, organized, and used the affordances of web-based education. However, it was difficult to build an online community. I didn’t feel connected to anyone in the course (I did outside the course, as friends and I sometimes discussed the course in face-to-face conversations.)
So, looking back on my experiences, I would say the following things work well in an online course:
- Organized, planned out schedule
- Diverse projects that make use of the affordances of web-based education tools
- A comfortable, communicative community
- A personal, flexible, and human approach (not a course that feels automated)
Based on the results of the Pew Research Report, online courses are here to stay. The question now becomes: how can we best facilitate learning?
As far as key takeaways from November 20th’s class, here’s what I got:
1) Due to distribution and circulation shifts, the composing process seems to be undergoing changes. Or at least it’s helping us think about the process a little differently.
2) More explicit work needs to be done on memory. I think, as Jon mentioned on the forums, there exists some great work on memory. So, perhaps a piece like Jim’s—this time on memory—would be useful.
3) Multimodal is a slippery concept. Are we talking about digital compositions like video, prezi maps, websites? Or does multimodal signify a more traditional concept of composing—gluing a picture to a piece of paper with words on it? Putting the word “digital” in front of multimodal doesn’t quite work either. I can write a traditional essay digitally. Is it necessary to define the term with every use?
4) Teaching a technology—how to use it, showing what it can do—isn’t enough. Following Selber, as teachers of comp it’s important to grapple with rhetorical and critical concerns as well.
5) Positioning public rhetoric in the classroom. This “takeaway” is more of a question mark for me. I don’t know how realistic it is to ask students to produce something to a public audience. But, as both Jim and Renea mentioned on the forums, perhaps it’s more useful to do less doubting (especially in the classroom) and more trying.