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Conference Reviews


Session J3

CCCC Committee Research into Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI)”
reviewed by Terry Carter

Grouped under “Practices of Teaching Writing,” this session may be one of the most important that took place at the CCCC 2009 convention. The over-arching focus of the session was to articulate a path toward helping the field of college composition articulate an understanding of online writing instruction practice and pedagogy.

There were four speakers for the session; listed below are their names, professional affiliations, and presentation titles as provided at the convention session:

  • Connie Mick, Notre Dame University, IN, “Research Methodology for Identifying and Articulating Best Practices in OWI”
  • Beth Hewett (Session Chair), University of Maryland, University College, “Using Site Visit and Questionnaires to Identify Best Practices”
  • Deborah Minter, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, “Using Focus Groups to Identify Questions Relevant to Best Practices in OWI”
  • Geoffrey Middlebrook, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, “Position Statement Development for the CCCC Executive Committee and General Membership”

The speakers provided a straightforward presentation of their purpose as a CCCC Committee and their plan to offer specific deliverables that are linked to committee charges. Their goal is to accomplish the following:

  • creation of a survey instrument for gathering data about OWI,
  • produce a position statement for the CCCC Executive Committee,
  • compile an annotated bibliography for CCCC,
  • and publish a synthesis of their survey findings.

Each of the speakers presented for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. The highlights from the individual presentations are listed below in the order that they were given.

Connie Mick, “Research Methodology for Identifying and Articulating Best Practices in OWI”

Connie Mick reviewed the charges, which are to identify:

  • Best strategies for online writing instruction
  • Most effective implementation of such strategies by way of online technology delivery modes and pedagogical practices
  • Best practices for using online writing instruction to teach English language learners
  • Most effective ways to train online writing instructors.

The speaker also highlighted that the current session is a follow-up to the committee’s CCCC 2008 session in which they conducted a focus group to help provide questions for a pilot survey instrument that will eventually be used to gather data about online writing instruction on a large scale within the field.

Beth Hewett, “Using Site Visits and Questionnaires to Identify Best Practices in OWI”

Beth Hewett provided a review of the methods for gathering site visit information at colleges and universities. The committee members chose site visit location in order to talk with faculty and administrators about online writing instruction at specific institutions. The site visit information like their CCCC 2008 focus groups provided guidance for the creation of their pilot survey.

Some of the specific sites visited included:

  • Montgomery College
  • University of Maryland
  • University of California, Irvine
  • Ball State University
  • Purdue University
  • Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
  • Capella University

Site visit locations were chosen that were accessible to the committee members yet the locations do represent geographical variety.

Hewett provided an overview of stakeholder concerns that were synthesize from sites visit interviews and questionnaires. Faculty concerns from a listing standpoint outnumbered administrator concerns. The concerns shared here are summarized and paraphrased.

Administrator Concerns:

  • Course design consistencies
  • Empowering faculty to be proficient users of technology
  • Discipline specific training

Faculty Concerns:

  • Student expectations for online learning
  • Training for students that enroll in online courses
  • Having a say in online delivery technology adopted by institutions
  • Equity issues for teaching online
  • Establishing pedagogy and practice guidelines
  • Addressing learning styles of online students

Student Concerns:

  • Accessible online orientation exercises
  • Having access to resources
  • Early performance feedback
  • Low stake exercise or practice opportunities to help improve course performance

The speaker emphasized that stakeholder concerns were used to develop the current version of their pilot survey and noted that results from the pilot survey would eventually be used to create a survey for national distribution. The speaker encouraged the attendees to provide additional input via email and to actively participate in future focus groups and information gathering sessions.

Deborah Minter, “Using Focus Groups to Identify Questions Relevant to Best Practices in OWI”

Deborah Minter reviewed the previous work of the committee during the CCCC 2008 session (Researching and Articulating Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction: CCCC Committee Investigations) in which they made use of focus groups to help understand the important issues about online writing instruction.

Minter explained that participants in focus groups self-selected discussion groups for technology, administrative, faculty, and pedagogical issues.

Below is a paraphrased summary of focus group findings:

  • A wide variety of online teaching contexts exist
  • Material conditions of online teaching vary
  • Overlapping concerns between self-selected groups surfaced

Below is a paraphrased summary of ways the focus group finding were used:

  • Led to development of two pilot surveys—one for hybrid courses and one for fully online courses
  • Led to development of survey questions that would provide directions for future data gathering across a wide range of domains relevant to online writing instruction
  • Led to development of survey questions that will assistant the gathering of “nuanced data” about pedagogical practices and influences.

Minter explained that the two pilot surveys created based in part on focus group feedback would be available during the special interest group meeting entitled Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction: CCCC Pilot Survey and Feedback (FSIG.15). The intent is to use the pilot survey to hone and develop a final survey that will be distributed nationally to CCCC members.

Geoffrey Middlebrook, “Position Statement Development for the CCCC Executive Committee and General Membership”

Geoffrey Middlebrook explained the steps taken to develop a position statement for “Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction.” Some of those steps have included a careful review of the CCCC mission statement and a review of position statements that have already been approved by the CCCC Executive Committee. Middlebrook emphasized that a position statement could help to clarify CCCC’s views about online writing instruction pedagogy and practice. Middlebrook also noted that regardless of the language used to develop a position statement, the discipline would need to avoid misusing the position statement to imply “finality” about what constitutes best practices in online writing instruction.

Comments and Questions from Attendees

After the speakers finished, there was enough time remaining to have a pretty good comment and question session. The room was almost full and one could sense that all had been carefully listening and anxiously waiting to offer feedback. Questions were directed to speakers and other attendees who had had offered commentary. Intellectually intense perhaps best describes the comments and question dialogue that ensued.

Here are a few questions that proved to spark dialogue exchange among attendees:

  • How will the committee research into best practices for online writing instruction address technology poor community colleges?
  • Is it possible to provide a term or definition for technology rich or technology poor?
  • Will your committee work consider the relevance of long-term versus short- term online writing courses?
  • Will the committee make recommendation about course management systems that are most effective?
  • Is the committee planning to investigate online writing instruction as delivered to non-traditional versus traditional students and undergraduate versus graduate students?

The above questions and others were so engaging that attendees asked the speakers to consider establishing a listserv so that intellectual exchanges about “Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction” could continue beyond the CCCC convention.

Concluding Thoughts

As stated in the opening of this review, the CCCC Committee Research into Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI) session was most likely one of the most important at the convention. Online learning is not going away and one could argue that online learning environments and online course delivery technology will eventually have an impact on the field of college composition that matches or exceeds the impact of word processors on college composition pedagogy, theory, and practice.

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Page last modified on August 15, 2009, at 02:56 PM