When we move to teaching in fully- or partially-online venues, some aspects of writing assignment design, writing instruction, and commenting and grading practices can migrate intact. Others benefit from being reconsidered or substantially altered. On this page, we provide some guidelines and resources to support this reconsideration.
Backward Design 1: Teaching goals drive strategies
As we move parts or all of course instruction into online venues, it can be tempting to align teaching goals and approaches to online teaching tools. Working in reverse, adapting tools to course goals, ensures relevance of approach, avoids access issues, and can keep you (and students) from becoming overwhelmed by options.
- "Setting Significant Outcomes" Linda Nilson and Ludwika Goodson inspire us to locate critical learning goals and to use these goals (rather than the attributes of online tools and venues) to drive our approaches to online instruction.
- Matching online tools to instructional activities can help ensure tool relevance and provide students with a rationale for tool use.
Backward Design 2: Meet students where they are
Getting information from students about their access to technology and their background with the sorts of writing you plan to assign allows you to align instruction appropriately.
- Student tech inventory will provide you with important information about online access and proficiency, NOTE: If you would like to use this, please make a copy!
- Student writing inventory can provide you with important information about students' experience with and confidence in demonstrating the kinds of writing abilities you expect in this course. NOTE: If you would like to use this, please make a copy!
- Low-stakes, early-semester writing assignments will provide you with baseline data regarding students’ proficiency with your core writing expectations and can orient students to the kinds of writing they’ll be doing in the course.
Constructing Online Writing Assignments and Activities 1: Explicit framing promotes engagement and pacing
The scholarship on designing effective online writing assignments and assessments points to the benefits of assignments that are clear and transparent, authentic and meaningful, and inclusive and accessible. Here are some useful resources to support good assignment design.
- Tools and Strategies for Instructors New to Online Teaching with Writing from the Teaching with Writing Blog
- The Unwritten Rules: Decode Your Assignments and Decipher What’s Expected of You from Transparency in Teaching and Learning (TILT)
- The Meaningful Writing Project has documented the kinds of assignments that undergraduates have found most meaningful to their learning.
- The Online Teaching Toolkit from the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) features short videos on core topics. Also useful, the Inclusive Teaching Practices Toolkit
- Plan for Accessibility with this resource form Accessible U.
Constructing Online Writing Assignments and Activities 2: Break large assignments into smaller, low-stakes assignments
Instructors working with a complex and lengthy assignment, will want to build smaller assignments backward from the end product. This is especially important for online assignments.
- This Assignment Planning Hyperdoc contains lots of resources and space to think through a key writing assignment for your course, including resources for incremental sequencing and conditional release.
- Review Writing to Learn Strategies on the WAC Clearinghouse website.
Commenting and Grading Online 1: Commenting online to encourage revision
Commenting on student writing is always an important opportunity for learning, but it takes on even greater significance when we are building relationships with students online. Whether synchronous or asynchronous, online courses require significantly more independent reading and writing, so finding ways to reward and promote student engagement is critical.
- Audio and Video Feedback: Canvas allows instructors to record video or will capture speech to text commentary on student submissions right inside the Speedgrader tool.
- Early, formative commentary (captured in writing, audio recording, or video) can help keep students engaged and on track and help to build the sense of dialogue and online presence that marks effective online courses.
- Well-designed peer feedback activities can establish classroom community and promote student learning. A 2018 meta-analysis demonstrated that peer feedback activities resulted in measurable improvement in student writing.
Commenting and Grading Online 2: Using online grading tools
Online courses often highlight the value of explicit assessment criteria, both as guides for students preparing their written assignments and for the instructors and teaching assistants that evaluate their writing. Canvas provides both a simple way to distribute writing assignments, to review student drafts, and to record students progress on grading criteria and learning outcomes.
- This Assessment Planning Guide can help you to start thinking about your own course.
- Additionally, Arizona State University offers a well developed guide to developing rubrics based on course learning outcomes.
With its interdisciplinary Teaching with Writing series, the Writing Across the Curriculum program offers University instructors a regular series of workshops, seminars, short-courses, discussions, and consultations.