Transitioning to Online Writing Instruction: Tools and strategies for instructors

Daniel Emery

As the risks associated with COVID-19 become clearer, the University of Minnesota has announced that all course work will move to online venues starting on March 18, 2020 and extending to at least April 1, 2020. General resources on the transition to online teaching are available through UMN’s Keep Teaching Website.

This teaching with writing tip addresses important considerations for making the transition to online instruction for writing.

Computer phone coffee cup

Use your learning goals to guide your transition to Canvas

In many contexts, the transition from face-to-face to online writing instruction can be managed through Canvas. The platform will allow you to create formal and informal writing assignments that can engage students with course materials and course content. Many of our previous TWW tips include details on writing assignments and teaching strategies and exercises, especially informal writing activities, prewriting activities, and reading and writing.

In other contexts, like wet labs and studios, the subject matter of the course demands a space with particular materials, technologies, and resources that can’t be replicated in an online environment. In cases like these, instructors will need to consider alternative means to help students develop skills and acquire course content. A focus on broader learning goals (what we hope students will know or be able to do by the end of the term) can guide alternative assignments and activities. For instance, while students may not be able to calibrate a mass spectrometer at home, they might be directed to resources on the development of these measurement technologies.

Consider multiple platforms for sharing writing

Because enrolled students all have Canvas access based on their UMN log in and ID, Canvas is the best mechanism for communicating information and announcements to your students. The platform also includes discussion and file sharing capacity that can replace face-to-face activities.

You may also take advantage of sharing through Google Suite, both with document sharing and shared drives. Using the suggestion and comment features within Google Docs will allow students to comment upon and share their work in progress in real time or asynchronously.

ELI Review, the peer response platform mentioned in a previous tip, has offered its service free of charge for all instructors and institutions making the transition to online-only instruction (read the announcement here). Some departments and colleges are already using ELI Review and we can provide support for UMN instructors.

Remember the importance of access and availability

When students are on campus, structures are in place to ensure that access to course materials, instructional activities, and learning opportunities is seamless and equitable. When students work remotely, it can be significantly more difficult to ensure equal opportunity.

While face-to-face courses operate synchronously, students may face challenges logging in to Zoom meetings or submitting documents under tight deadlines. Instructors will want to be proactive in addressing potential access concerns and be flexible with students who are depending on sometimes unfamiliar and fickle technologies. Instructors may wish to schedule synchronous homework sessions or virtual office hours through Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Got questions?  Here are some of the questions we’re happy to consult about:

  • How can I support course TAs who are charged with responding to and grading student writing?
  • What are the best options for commenting on student drafts? What are the advantages of synchronous versus asynchronous chats?
  • Students in my class were supposed to be conducting peer response is this possible online?
  • Should I move my deadlines? I want to be accommodating and fair, but I also want to avoid a crunch toward the end of the semester.
  • Students are working on a team-written document...what resources might help them with this?
  • If I decide to offer videoed lectures, what kinds of writing activities might I devise to go along with them?
  • What are the ways I could schedule and conduct virtual office hours to discuss drafts?

Contact us to schedule a phone call, online chat, or video consultation!

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