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Teaching writing/lit online

December 5, 2006

As some of you might know, I have taught composition online for many years. Recently I have made a break from my long-time online employer, much to my eventual relief.

One of the problems I was having was their move to centralized content. I have taught at many places (onground and online) where the department has a certain text they use and everyone falls into place using it. I have never liked being dictated to, so these instances had varying flavors of distaste depending on how well I like the book and/or approach.

Ex-online school taught 6 week courses. I don’t think this is necessarily enough time to get through a semester’s worth of material, but they paid and I taught. They also moved to adopt a reader/composition book for entering COMP101. It was this last move that I found heinously egregious.

I have found that using literature to teach writing can be a tricky task. These classes, usually, build their assignments around writing about literature. I mean, you are reading the poems, plays and short stories, so why not write about them? If this tack is taken, though, a good part of the face time is spent in teaching the student how to read—sort of a lit crit primer. Otherwise, there is a tendency for student’s to claim all sorts of weirdo ideas and attribute them to the selections. This is a good and worthy course of instruction. It takes time and patience, and yields critical thinkers who have had exposure to good writing and strong ideas.

Such instruction, though, cannot be taught online, at a distance, in six weeks. Can’t be done. Poor instructional design. At best, in six weeks one can hope to instruct on structure, paragraph coherence and word choice. One can also hope to instruct on the basics of using sources. To expect more is to be disappointed. To expect more is to not realize the limits of the structure.

And that pisses me off.

  1. Inside the Philosophy Factory permalink
    December 5, 2006 11:01 pm

    I feel for students who are taking those poorly designed courses.

  2. ThatsOurDad permalink
    December 6, 2006 11:25 pm

    At one point Frank McCourt was using cookbooks to teach writing. Anywhere there’s writing there should be, at least some, good writing. I wonder what the self-appointed experts i.e. administrators would say about that.

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