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CCCC 2006 in Review

J12 Creating Community with the Online Writing Studio

Mike Palmquist explained that his Web-based Writing Studio project grew out of Colorado State's OWL, Writing@CSU (http://writing.colostate.edu), which he describes as an OWL that extends access to course resources. To develop the Studio, Palmquist and his collaborators asked what they could do to support a more student-centered, more interactive writing and learning space. Palmquist observed in a study with his colleagues at Colorado State that student discourse about writing in writing classes was more on task than that in f2f classes taught by the same instructors. This observation shaped his efforts to build a writing environment the supports students writers in the act of composing. The Studio also has a course-management system that provides a number of resources that he described as similar to WebCt and Blackboard, but instead of the courseware being centered on lecture classes, it's centered on writing classes.

The session transitioned from Palmquist's introduction to a video about networking communities called "Trendspotting" from The Daily Show. The sense of generational differences and savvy about online communities, along with a great parody of a professor and student, made it one of the most entertaining moments of the conference.

The next speaker (Lynda Haas) described her children's use of MySpace and her focus on integrating digital and information literacy as a mentor and teacher in the program at the University of California at Irvine. She tested and implemented Palmquist's Writing Studio Courseware and found that students were treating it like MySpace. In the frenzied pace of short 10 week terms, the courseware had created a virtual community. She claimed that students make friends and can find out "what to do" 24/7.

Peg Hesketh titled her presentation, "Syncretism" and offered background on UC Irvine's First Year writing courses. She asserted that The Writing Studio allows teachers and students to "jump start" the course and continue it after the quarter ends. She then quoted from a blog that the teachers used to help each other understand their online learning space. This is part of the 39C Instructors' Sandbox which can be visited by going to http://writing.colostate.edu/classes/ and logging in as sandboxvisitor@hotmail.com and then using "visitor" as the password. The quotes of snippets from online literacy narratives in Hesketh's presentation showed effective teaching and learning in process.

Loren Eason spoke about the Writing Studio as online community in his presentation bouncing between between points about community and "post-human community." He situated himself in this continuum by explaining he's a Ph.D. student in literature with a background in IT. He admires the open source aspect of the Writing Studio (it's free and open to any teachers anywhere in the world to set up classes) because it allows techie teachers to adapt the space to student needs.

Andrew Tonkovitch presented "Care and Feeding of Your Blog." He began by citing Lawrence Ferlinghetti describing the net as "the great interruption." Tonkovitch described student blogging where students were making teacherly comments to the class. He was one of the oldest and most critical members of the panel. He said he suspected his own ambivalence may have made the blogs into busy work instead of focusing on the discourse of responding. Tonkovitch's candor with his disappointment with class blogging was refreshing. He concluded with a story about his work providing anti-recruiting advice to students. His response to his local representative's email has engendered a more strategic involvement with responding online, and he used that as a moral story to indicate that he intended to continue to improve his use of the learning cyberspace generated from the Writing Studio.

Frank D'Amato presented "A New Teacher's Narrative" that not only involved an entirely new teaching experience but also the transition of a life-long "New Yawka" to the west coast. His presentation was packed with comedic description and visual support. When he arrived at his new apartment, he plugged in his computer and saw an email from the Writing Studio at Colorado State. He tried to ignore the email for a week but when he finally responded and logged into the Writing Center, he saw some techie problems. He emailed Haas, and she received his criticism gracefully. He said his first class was "basically me standing in front of the class and trying not to puke." As a new teacher, he was at first puzzled by the Writing Studio and common syllabus. He admitted digital failure as a community leader and doubted stories from other instructors about learning communities sounding like a love-in of online hippies. He summed up by understanding his early problems and intending to do more to "break the ice" and create a real sense of community in his second term.

Tracey Creech and Heather Tunender presented "Conversation: Research Writing and the University Library" in alternating voices. Their focus was on information literacy and the collaborative roles librarians and teachers play in helping students get "relevant returns" from their searches. They noted how librarians offer non-graded help to students and pointed out how Google has influenced student library searches because Google uses natural language and has conditioned expectations of responses that are not typical of traditional library searches. They advised us to think of libraries as research labs where trial and error enable student-teacher-librarian collaboration.

I-Lien Tsay presented "Feminist Pedagogy in the Writing Studio" and began by explaining she has taught the FY writing course (39C) in both a traditional classroom and then with the Writing Studio. She found the online space helpful to de-center her authority and claims that this shift may engender feminist advances as well. The studio enables a "non-patriarchal" classroom because student comments do a lot of the teaching and seemed less gendered. Although the sense of community is still teacher enforced, the physical presence of the teacher is de-emphasized. I-Lien Tsay noted that students online personalities were bolder and more direct when it came to talking with each other and the teacher. "However, this class was not totally idyllic," Tsay noted critical response from a student on Ratemyprofessor.com, while also noting learning progress with a sense of audience and sensing appropriate online communities. She ended the term with "haikus of hate" which flashed on the screen.

Peg Hesketh concluded the presentation and on the screen was her wedding picture taken in paradise like setting. Syncretism is a reconciliation of differences in belief, she explained, and the photo of Hesketh's spouse (also female) and Hesketh standing with arms around each other and with Father Francisco next to them visually expressed the idea of Syncretism quite powerfully. She described the destabilizing of traditional and new learning spaces by the implementation of the Writing Studio for all of the graduate teachers as a way to enable more powerful learning communities.

This session was atypical of many CCCC sessions because the presenters were honest about their problems. The heuristic of their failures made it clear that they were not only becoming better teachers, but that they were forming an online teaching community that is effectively improving the way composition can be taught.

— Will Hochman

CCCC ConventionFor more information on the CCCC 2006 conference,
visit the NCTE Web site at http://www.ncte.org/profdev/conv/cccc/.