Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teaching Writing . . . Online: Are we teaching old rules for a new game?

I've been thinking about this a lot. Writing for an online environment is just different than writing for “paper.”  Don’t you think?  Let me say more!

I have been wondering if I am doing students a disservice by insisting on rules that may not apply anymore to many of our newer writing environments – namely, anything that is online.  Some examples might be, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, Twitter, any social media really. You get the idea. Can we continue to ignore the internet?

Here’s another thought for all teachers.  Writing is a highly universal activity.  As much as we know that modeling is important to learning, are we modeling the best writing behavior/skills?

I really want to know what you think.  Are we willing to let go of the scholarly rules for a more mixed media world?  I agree that right now it may be easy to define a proper time and place for each.  But how long will THAT last?

Here are some of the points I want your thoughts on:
  • Are bullet points okay in a graded discussion forum?
  • Are emoticons okay in a graded discussion forum?
  • How do you feel about hyperlinks?
  • How do you feel about hyperlinks instead of a formal Works Cited?
  • What about the more conversational style of online; is that okay for a grade?
  • Can you have an online voice and a paper voice?  It’s kind of like inside and outside voices.
  • What about the use of first and second person?
  • Do we need a five space indent?
  • The internet is meant to be interactive.  Are your online assignments addressing that?
  • Is it okay to include video or images as part of your argument, instead of text or to take the place of quotations, summaries, paraphrasing?
  • What if they really did write to their supposed audience and not their teacher? 
  • Aren't we making some rather misguided assumptions about other readers? Do they care about a classic, five paragraph essay? Is that communicating in the 21st Century?

There are a number of issues that fall under the whole idea that reading online is just different from reading print:
  • Screen size, lighting, being able to focus
  • Are you familiar with the “F” pattern?  No.  That is not a new online swear word.  It’s the eye pattern for how we read a screen, not a “Z” pattern for a book or magazine. 
  • Walls of words seem more like barriers than invitations to learning or conversation. Kind of like this blog post!
  • How do you feel about blocking rather than paragraphing?
  • Could you teach the inverted pyramid style verses the class five paragraph essay? The reader could quit reading at any time - click on a hyperlink or just get bored. 
  • Do we have time to change all our rubrics? I guess the more important question is does anyone have a rubric for using emoticons I can borrow?

I know.  I hear you.  What does all this chatter have to do with the pursuit of excellent communication and writing skills? Most online writing is about persuading (and entertaining) a particular audience to make money.  What if you took the last three words off that last sentence? What’chu got now?

I am doing a short class on writing in online environments next semester, so I've been thinking about all this lately.  I am curious where you land, or if it is even on your radar.  

Just thinkin'
Lee Anne


JCB said...

These kinds of questions are certainly on my radar. I believe that, as you mentioned Lee Anne, right now there still is a time and place for both. In other words, I can see teaching the five paragraph classic format and also teach how to write effectively online. They are still two very separate approaches with different purposes and audiences. If we are teaching Academic critical analysis, much of that is written in a traditional essay format (although not in five paragraphs). I note here that in my experience much of it is also written in the first person. Writing online, like writing for an essay test, or writing for a newspaper (at least for the few left), or writing an application letter, has different rules. I think these differences will be around for quite a while still.

Lee Anne Morris said...

Jan, thanks for your comments. I agree that there are and will always be differences dependent on purpose, topic, and audience. At least I hope so! I am curious to see how or if the blending of online and F2F environments will have any impact on at all in the next few years. It's kind of like the typewriter being invented or something.

Just thinkin'
Lee Anne