C.28 "Writing about Writing as a Pedagogy of Transparency"
Reviewed by Brenda Refaei (refaeibg@UCMAIL.UC.EDU)
Chair: Doug Downs, Montana State University, Bozeman
Scott Warnock, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, “Sharing in Digital Teaching: Writing-about-Writing, Transparency, and Teaching Writing Online”
Doug Downs, Montana State University, Bozeman, “Radical Transparency: Opening Rhetorical Systems through Truth-Telling in WAW Courses”
Moriah McCracken, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX, “Programmatic Transparency in a Local, Open, Online Course (LOOC)”
This session featured Scott Warnock, Doug Downs, and Moriah McCracken. Each speaker presented an aspect of writing about writing pedagogy and its application in first-year composition.
Scott Warnock’s presentation “Sharing in Digital Teaching: Writing-about-Writing, Transparency, and Teaching Writing Online” discussed his writing about writing (WaW) approach to online composition instruction. He began with the importance of teacher modeling of academic writing. The learning management system makes it easy for him to share with students his writing process. To show students his process, he posted drafts of one of his projects that led to publication. Students are able to see how he went from the initial idea to the final publication and how he responded to feedback on his drafts to revise his work. He said that online writing instruction allows teachers to “take students behind the curtain” by providing a space for the teacher to model genre, voice, process, conventions, purpose, etc.
The digital forum also provides ample opportunities for students to discuss tough writing topics. He asked, “What is different about teaching in this medium?” Students have more opportunity to share in the online forum, which is different than the physical classroom where not every student may be able to participate. Another important affordance of online writing instruction is the time students have to think before they enter the conversation. Warnock urges instructors to use online writing instruction to share their processes students can also describe their processes. For instance, a post topic that Warnock recommends is describing a situation he encountered as a student with an accusation of academic dishonesty. (See Warnock’s book for a full description of this scenario). He posts this scenario on the discussion board and asks students to share their experiences with academic integrity. He reported that students are surprisingly open about their experiences, which led to useful conversations about ethical use of sources in their writing.
Warnock suggested that in the fully online environment, it is essential that the instructor set themselves up as a real person who will be reading and responding to their writing. He tries to respond to students’ posts with a personal connection so they have a better sense of who he is. This is good advice to any instructor teaching students online.
I was fortunate enough to attend a summer online writing workshop with Dr. Warnock in the summer of 2013. I found both the workshop and his book extremely useful for my composition teaching even though I did not teach an online course. His ideas about how to incorporate learning management systems into writing teaching are just good pedagogy.
Doug Downs followed with a powerful presentation on “Radical Transparency: Opening Rhetorical Systems through Truth-Telling in WaW Courses.” He began by saying that WaW needs more theorization about why it works. He discussed how transfer is well-researched. WaW and disciplinary writing students show that transfer of knowledge occurs by helping students to analyze writing situations. WaW helps students learn both declarative and procedural knowledge about writing. He asserted that WaW allows teachers to talk about “What’s going on in this writing?” Students can inductively examine grammar. Instructors can share their own feeling about writing processes and ask students to demonstrate their writing processes such as Warnock illustrated in his presentation. Downs asks his students to analyze research double standards for students and professionals. For instance, students are expected to use sources skillfully while a number of professionally published do not have to follow any specific citation format. He also asks students to examine the “wild variance in teacher’s readings and grading of their work.”
He then turned his attention to defining the key terms in his title. He described transparency as “choosing to make the private public for the public good.” It is a management buzzword “designed to make outsiders insiders in some way to power share,” but he added, “it is designed to let people think they have more power than they do.” Then he posed the question, “What is there to be transparent about?” He listed: actions, rules, rationales, attitudes, and structures, and communication versus perspective/points of view.
What makes it radical? He suggests violating taboos and breaking hierarchy make the transparency he advocates radical. Downs said, “When transparency gives advantages to those who haven’t traditionally had it,” it becomes radical. It is radical “when you venture into risky areas, when the exposure of transparency is counter-intuitive, culturally proscribed, or potentially counter to your own interests.” Radical transparency assumes strong risks.
What else makes it radical? It is speaking truth to power. This radical transparency has a critical edge that can be turned back on the instructor or used against her. This means that radical transparency involves vulnerability on the part of the investigator. It also requires an ethic of care and subordination of the self-interest to the genuine interest of others.
Radical transparency is useful in writing about writing. Instructors can employ radical transparency by helping students understand rhetorical systems by exposing them and showing how they work. Instructors can expose double standards and help students to resist them. The WaW classroom is a place where writing instruction systems can be opened to critique by their subjects. Instructors can open cultural conceptions of writing to investigate and critique. This approach seems very similar to Critical Language Awareness advocated by linguists Norman Fairclough and Roz Ivanic. They examine the role of language in the maintenance of power and the place of education in challenging the status quo. Downs posits that if radical transparency is used in the WaW class, it may increase student interest that will be motivating.
The last speaker, Moriah McCracken, described how she used a WaW approach to design a look for students at St. Edward’s University in her presentation “Programmatic Transparency in a Local, Open, Online Course (LOOC).” Some assumptions she started with were thinking about what questions to ask about writing. She also thought about the persona of the students. Thinking of students as writers changes the nature of the relationship of students in the classroom. I found this simple idea to be a profound one in that it repositions students from passive receivers of knowledge to colleagues co-constructing knowledge. I like how it has the potential to change the dynamics in the classroom. The traditional paradigm of student-teacher relationship is often hard to break, but renaming students as writers subtly changes the way I think about my class. Writers are people who have something to say and my role is to help them say it.
To help the writers at her institution, McCracken developed a networked mentoring systems so teachers could share with each other and with students. She used a nonlinear classroom design that depends on student motivation. The local open online course (LOOC) also allows for instructors, department, and students to develop a shared vocabulary for literacy instruction to transfer information across disciplines. Students can determine how they want to learn whether by watching a video or reading a text. McCracken and her colleagues provide rationales for the modules to students, parents, and faculty.
The modules are designed specifically for their institutions. Students interview faculty about their writing and about how writing works in their courses. The modules can be completed in any order. The psychology and history departments explain how writing works in their courses.
The LOOC provides students with the opportunity to develop a meta-awareness of themselves as writers. Using the guides from the LOOC to think about writing students can consider what they think the terms mean and how they apply to their particular writing situation. Students begin to see themselves as writing experts.
All three of these presentations have changed the way I think about the work I do in composition. Scott Warnock’s presentation gave several suggestions for modeling writing for students and working with them as less experienced writers. Doug Down’s talk made me think about how to help students analyze the literacy expectations of the various discourse communities to which they belong and to which they want to belong. Moriah McCracken’s presentation provided insights into how my institution could set up LOOC’s to help our students gain the literacy practices that will be useful to them in their courses.