As we consider the relatively new world of online education—an area of instruction that has gained momentum in the past decade—it is important to recognize and encourage best practices for developing and sustaining fully online writing programs. In this webtext, we add to the conversation of best practices, focusing on training graduate students to teach online courses and develop pedagogically sound curricula. By training these students in online writing instruction (OWI), we not only encourage best practices in our institution, but we also prepare these graduate students to enter new jobs and programs with a comprehensive understanding of OWI pedagogy. In addition, these professional development opportunities influence graduate student instructors as they continue on to various career paths in academia, both in online and face-to-face teaching environments. We focus on training as a way to contribute to OWI practices, as research suggests educators remain unsure of teaching and responding to student writing in the online environment (see, e.g., Hewett et al., 2011; Hewett, 2013; Hewett & De Pew, 2014).
To illustrate the importance of this professional development, within this webtext we provide the reflections of four graduate students who worked in eComp, the online core writing program at the University of New Mexico. In their reflections, the graduate students discuss their experiences and highlight the importance of the training to their future professional goals. Our purpose is to show the importance of online training in the form of pedagogical education coupled with immersion in an online environment. The reflective narratives of graduate students show the breadth, depth, and variety of experiences possible before, during, and after the training in online writing instruction. In the field of composition, there is a long tradition of teachers reflecting on their practices in order to help themselves and others improve their pedagogies (Estrem & Reid, 2012; Reid, 2009; Urbanski, 2010; Weiser, 2000). We agree with Charles Bazerman (1992) when he stated, “By reflection, one can come to know the systems of which one is part and can act with great self-conscious precision and flexibility to carry forward and, if applicable, reshape the projects of one’s discipline” (p. 37). We are extending the reflective tradition into the conversation surrounding online education with the hopes of improving our practices and those of others seeking to implement or improve online writing programs, as well as those attempting to develop an OWI-training program.
Our webtext is structured around the metaphor of a map because a map shows both the destination and the journey, as well as points that can be revisited. Also, the metaphor of a map is apt for our purposes because our graduate students can follow two different routes within their online training program. We believe that mapping a project’s trajectory works much the same way as creating and designing an online course: it requires careful planning, collaboration, and reflection.
While this webtext can be read out of order, we encourage our readers to start with the section entitled "eComp," which is an explanation of our program. Starting here will help readers to fully understand and benefit from the graduate students’ reflections. Such training opportunities should be based on current theory in online education. As such, our conceptual map includes a "Scholarly Foundation" that guided our practices. We also provide a description of the two training paths that the graduate student instructors in our program can take; these descriptions can be found under the headings "Instructional Assistants" and "Pedagogy Course." In the section “Professor Reflection,” the instructor of the pedagogy course offers reflective insight into teaching a course that focuses on combining the areas of multimodal composition and online education, which includes lessons learned and changes made over two semesters. We then turn to the voices of four graduate students who worked in our program; all four reflections give insight into the benefits of training in online writing instruction, along with the benefits to each individual student, regardless of their level of expertise with online education or future career goals.
In reading our webtext, we hope that our readers learn how valuable graduate students are to the success of online programs. Unfortunately, graduate students are often a population that is overlooked when training for online education, most likely due to the fact that they will graduate and leave the program, taking positions elsewhere upon graduation. However, as we argue, the graduate students and the knowledge and excitement they bring to online programs is invaluable. The four reflections in this webtext demonstrate not only the variety of experience, education, expectation, and attitude that graduate students can bring to online-instruction education, but they also show different paths that the graduate students can take through OWI-training—and the different directions they can go once they have benefited from such educational opportunities. As the reflections included in this article illustrate, the training, mentoring, and learning experiences they receive help them to grow as teachers and scholars, no matter what their paths beyond education. We encourage our readers to consider innovative and effective ways to train graduate students within their own OWI programs, either using our program as a model or considering other ways that best suit the needs of their departments. It is imperative that programs help them develop skills that will benefit the first-year students within their courses, as well as the graduate students themselves. As they enter new programs and positions beyond their graduate institution, the various paths to best practices in OWI can and should continue to extend beyond localized and individual programs.