WEC Minicourse, Day Two

I’m starting Day Two of the Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum (WEC) minicourse, and we begin with a table listing the metadisciplines and metagenres of academic writing: problem-solving, empiritical inquiry, source-based research, and performance (process and/or product-directed). I guess my students’ writing is in that last category: “engage in field-specific processes that ultimately produce artifacts.” Although I’m not sure, because the two examples given are critique and review… not creative writing.

So, I will find out on the next page whether creative writing figures in this scheme at all… but the next page is a survey/quiz. Please remain on hold while I complete the survey/quiz.

Here’s what I wrote in response to the request that I locate my students’ writing on the chart:

My students do creative writing, retelling traditional myths and legends in new ways (sometimes VERY new ways). I’m dismayed but not surprised at the total absence of the word “creative” from the chart. I guess my students are doing “performance” writing, but nothing to do with critique or review. I did one year of teaching traditional academic writing (writing ABOUT the myths), and gave it up when I could tell that either I or my students or all of us were going to die from the sheer boredom of it. But MAKING myths works great, even for students who are otherwise very reluctant writers. That’s been my experience anyway. So I preach the gospel of creativity, and even the students who declare “I am not a creative person” in Week 1 soon realize just how wrong they were. We don’t write about stories; we DO stories. 🙂

I like the dramatic use of the next page. It features a question, and only a question, asking us to answer that question before moving on to the next page: How important is it for you that undergraduates to learn to write “within the conventions” of your discipline?

I had to laugh because that single dramatic question posed right there on the page reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s immortal words (see also below): There on the other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on the other side, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, read the following words: “KID, HAVE YOU REHABILITATED YOURSELF?”

And at last, here it is: creative writing. It shows up as item 3 on this new list of kinds of university writing: 3) Alternative / creative / personal / experimental writing.

The next page is a long extract from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas (new to me). We’re given a list of 5 different ways to work on a controversial topic (therapeutic touch) in the context of a nursing course where the writing is supposed to address the “critical thinking, inquiry, analysis, and problem-solving required of nurses.” This is very different from the kind of courses I teach (Gen. Ed. without any specific pre-professional context), so I’m going to quickly write out my reactions to each of these options, partly based on my beliefs about teaching writing (very strong beliefs) but also just trying to sort through my thoughts on discipline-specific writing (not very clear thoughts given basically no experience):

1. 8-10 page research paper. This might be an occasion for critical thinking, inquiry, and analysis, but I doubt it. Plus: BOREDOM. Danger danger danger.

2. Role-play a nurse writing a letter to the hospital board. Again, this is teetering on the precipice of boredom, but at least it is anchored in real-world practices and problems so that the research would have a problem-solving angle.

3. Literature review for a grant proposal. See comments on #1. It would be better to at least think about what the research study might entail; just doing the literature review and nothing more than that seems dangerously boring.

4. Critical review of empirical studies. This just sounds like option #1 but with a more specific slant. It also sounds fatally boring.

5. This final option is an “exploratory” research paper with a “reflective narrative” where the research is conceived as personal thought process: “your goal is not to take a stand on this issue, but to report on your process of wrestling with it.” Obviously this is the one that is least formulaic, impersonal, boring, etc. Totally do-able, open-ended, and potentially interesting.

And now, pause for another quiz/survey. It asks for a response to the nursing options, plus a response from my own discipline. I type my first paragraph:

Options 1-4 seem potentially boring and even fatally boring, although each could be improved to become less boring with some tinkering. Option 5 shows the results of tinkering so that the assignment is more personal and open-ended, less abstract and formulaic. I’m guessing students would find it stimulating to write and the instructor would find it stimulating to read. Although I’d advocate for using that framework while letting students CHOOSE a controversial topic that they are actually interested in. Is there any reason to focus on therapeutic touch only? My guess is that the class would benefit from students researching lots of topics of this type, and then sharing what they learn. The instructor could come up with a list of many such topics no doubt, and the students would then do the reflective narrative on the topic they are most motivated to learn more about. The class would benefit from a diversity of content, and the instructor would also be far less bored reading the collective results.

But just a few words into the second paragraph, Canvas timed me out so I did not get to finish my answer (I got distracted and left the quiz window open). It gave me all of 10 seconds warning: what is someone supposed to do in those fatal 10 seconds I wonder? Ugh. I’ve taught online for a gazillion years but the ways of the LMS remain a mystery to me. Here’s the other paragraph I was going to write:

Since I am not teaching within a discipline, I will instead write a pitch for why creative writing would be a meaningful and important option in a nursing course. It would not be a substitute, obviously, for the “critical thinking, inquiry, analysis, and problem-solving required of nurses,” but instead a supplement to it, one that would cultivate the practice of role-playing and empathy. Many of my students are future health-care professionals and I actually make it a point to emphasize the importance of creative insight and empathy in the medical field as, for example, in this video: Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care. If a faculty member felt uncomfortable with the idea of having their students do actual fiction-writing, then I would advocate for including interviews as one of the genres practiced in the course. In the reflective writing project from the nursing example, there is a mention of “talking with classmates,” but I would build in a component of actually interviewing someone: patients, family members, nurses, doctors, administrators, etc., and finding ways to elicit their experiences and reflect on them through the process of an interview.

Ahhhhhhh… on the last page, I have found my niche: Informal / Creative Assignment Ideas. And my course is actually ALL low-stakes. But lots and lots of low-stakes assignment. Why? Because practice is the only way people are going to learn to write. Lots of practice. Lots of feedback — from me, from other students, from the self-feedback that is naturally a part of revision.

Less judging. NO GRADING.

The final discussion is open-ended, so I will now go compose a response. 🙂

And, just because I can, here’s Alice’s Restaurant. A wild and crazy English teacher introduced me to Arlo in eighth grade, and my life has never been the same.

Plus, there must be a cat! I made a new one yesterday, and here it is:

Do things you’ve never done before.

That’s a good thought as the New Year is about to be upon us.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Writing-Enhanced Curriculum Canvas Minicourse

I’ll be using this blog in conjunction with the Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum minicourse I’m doing at Canvas; I don’t think the course is public but I will put in a plea for public at some point! I just checked and the link to a content module challenges readers for a log-in. For me, this is great opportunity to connect to other faculty who want to work on writing with their students and also to experience Canvas as an actual course space. I only use Canvas for the Gradebook, but here I will be using Modules and Discussions. Thanks to much to Nick Lolordo for putting this together!

There are learning objectives on the first Module page, and of course my favorite is this: “to allow OU WEC team members to open a dialogue” … I know the WEC team has been doing f2f events on campus, but this is the first online event, so I am excited about that (I live 1000 miles from campus, so I depend on online for access).

Reading through the page on “faculty within a discipline,” I have to confess that I opted for a different path when I switched from teaching in a department (Classics) to teaching General Education courses. Instead of teaching students to think/write like a classicist or folklorist, I’ve gone with storytelling instead. My students are reading stories (I teach Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics), and they are writing stories. Instead of writing within a discipline, I am hoping students will connect more deeply with the content this way: they too are storytellers, and I want them to learn to read like writers.

I can also very much relate to the “separation of writing instruction from instruction” in the modern university. I never expected to become a writing teacher at all, but when I saw how my students were struggling as writers (and my students are mostly graduating seniors!), I redesigned my classes to make them writing-intensive. This admittedly comes as a shock to the students, many of whom come to a “Mythology” class expecting to memorize the labors of Hercules and reproduce that list on an exam. Instead: they are retelling the labors of Hercules in their own way — like this semester, Hogwarts-style.

So, I cannot really connect to discipline.. but I can definitely connect to genre, the subject of the next page. And the fact that it starts with a horror movie is perfect: one of the first writing options in my classes each semester is using Tom Gauld’s horror-filled Holiday Home map as a storytelling prompt. The free-form structure of my class allows students use all kinds of genres, and I encourage students to use genres that relate to their future professions when possible: public relations, advertising, health professions… there are many ways to make story-ful connections like that, and I encourage students to explore all the genres.

And I very much appreciate the truthfulness of this statement:  “If your students are writing simply to demonstrate mastery of “the material,” then, speaking from a WEC perspective, you’re not teaching writing! Even if you demand long “research papers” or many pages of writing produced under exam conditions; even if that writing frustrates you with its grammatical errors and stylistic infelicities….you’re not teaching writing. You are using writing; you are teaching; you may be a wonderful teacher! But you’re not teaching writing.”

I agree that the use of writing-as-content-exam is not going to advance students’ writing skills, and in the future they are far more likely to need writing skills than they are likely to need the specific content covered by a specific college class — with only a few exceptions, and Gen. Ed. classes in particular (like the ones I teach) are not likely to be among those exceptions.

After those content pages, there is a brief survey, so now I will go take the survey!


I was able to just re-use two paragraphs from my notes to use in answering the survey, and I had to laugh about the mind-numbing LMS. Hacking a quiz to get useful feedback from students is excellent, but poor Canvas is baffled: “Correct answers are hidden” it proclaims, in some kind of oracular proclamation that has nothing to do with what I just typed in the “quiz” box ha ha. So it is, ye seekers after truth: correct answers are hidden indeed. 🙂

Now back to content: mutt genres. This phrase is new to me! It seems to be like what I call “faux genres” or “schooly genres” like the five-paragraph essay and its ilk that we use in the classroom only but which you are not likely to find being used elsewhere. So, in that sense, I am promoting writing within a discipline, but the discipline is not “analyzer of stories” (i.e. classicist) but instead “teller of stories” (i.e. Aesop).

That is the end of the first round of reading and now there is… discussion! Yes! So I will close with a cat here and then go post at the discussion board.

Scribendo disces scribere.
You will learn to write by writing.
(Latin LOLCats)

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Fall Semester: Blog Success

I finished the Fall semester today! Grades are turned in, students are congratulated… and while they might fretting about finals next week, I am thinking about the fun things I get to do between now and January when classes will start up for me again.

And one of the fun things I will get to do is to keep on blogging in this webspace. I started this blog on October 25, and I’ve managed to keep at it, Monday through Friday, for the past six weeks, with no shortage of things to blog about, even though I am still an LMS minimalist. Canvas is not so much the subject but more like the excuse for writing about issues in teaching and learning that interest me.

Someone at Twitter remarked today that she didn’t have time to blog, whereas for me, it is kind of the opposite: I don’t have time not to blog. Blogging is what helps me keep my focus from day to day, especially on big questions and long-term projects that I would lose sight of if I were not blogging. Blogs are also how I share my work with others online, linking to my blog posts at both Twitter and Google+. And, most importantly, blogging is how I become a co-learner together with my students: they are writing in their blogs several times each week, and I am doing the same.

This blog, for example, is my first WordPress blog; I usually use Blogger, and so do most of my students, but some of my students do use WordPress, and now I will be able to learn some blogging nitty-gritty together with my WordPress students in the Spring.

Since there is a WEC workshop next week at my school, that will probably be a good excuse to think some more about writing in general and blogging in particular, so after the flurry of posts about grading this week and last, next week will be about something more fun: writing. Are you an OU faculty member? Come join in; you can find out more and register here: Online Mini Course: Writing Enriched Curriculum.


And, as always, this is crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Writing yesterday. Writing today.

Yesterday. And today. There are not too many moments in life that witness a rupture in a single day. And most of those moments are more private, personal ruptures. Not a collective one like this. Last night before going to bed, I saw Audrey Watters wrote about being in mourning, and that is indeed what it feels like, the mourning of an unexpected loss.


As it happens, I used this blog yesterday to write about non-conformity. Canvas LMS is one small example of the triumph of “conformism,” and I argue that even in the face of pressure to conform, we should be nonconformists, and we should encourage in every way our students’ creative independence and nonconformity also.

I don’t take that approach to teaching because it effective (although I think it is), or because it is data-driven or research-based. I take that approach to teaching because it reflects my personal values, which are grounded in freedom. Not just the freedom of the majority, but of the minorities. Of the ultimate minority: the individual. And certainly not the freedom of the majority to make everybody else conform.

I am not optimistic for what the next few years will bring, but I will continue to promote the values of freedom, choice, creativity, diversity, and nonconformity in my classes. I will teach about the past not because I am driven by a nostalgic wish to return to that past but because I value the voices of the past. The voices of creative individuals, anonymous though they were. The fearless storytellers who used the power of words to speak their own truths. So that we might learn to do the same.

I teach writing. That was true yesterday. And that is true today.

I can shake off everything as I write:
my sorrows disappear;
my courage is reborn.
Anne Frank