Teacher Response to Language in Student Writing: Implications for Online Courses

Veronica 9/14/13: Maybe I need to review whether the reflective report (in which I mark the language as well as content/task achievement) should in fact be part of the student’s SDL grade. In favour is the fact that the report is usually an enlightening (for the student) overall reflection on the process/outcomes of his/her SDL and hence a valuable task. But something still bugs me about it!

Response

Hi Veronica.

Your question (in Responses to Veronica, Ida, Sara: 9/13/13) re when to mark language in student writing forces us to address a tough issue. There aren’t any easy answers — except “It all depends,” which isn’t an answer at all.

It’s especially relevant in the online learning environment where communication style is critical. For example, Which set of standards should we use? Should there be just one standard across the range of onground and online platforms? If we use different standards for online, What are they for communications in social media? When we take the broader perspective of rhetoric, which taps all the means of persuasion that’s readily available to writer and reader, What role should multimedia technology play? and, perhaps more importantly, How do we evaluate its use in student artifacts?

As a writing teacher, I find myself increasingly questioning the role of traditional documentation (APA, MLA, Chicago) style in online digital writing. Much of the rules seems irrelevant with the advent of digital media and URL links. And it doesn’t stop there.

I do know that the whole idea of readability has been radically altered by the new rhetoric of online social engagement and that traditional formal academic prose is going the way of landlines — at least in the real world of virtual communications.

So the whole notion of marking papers may be changing, and one of the new indices for readability may be the idea of “hits,” i.e., How often is an artifact read or viewed? How do readers rate it? and How extensive and dynamic is the attached discussion among readers and author?

In this scenario, the teacher as sole evaluator is replaced by the concept of real world audience, and the ultimate test of correctness may be reader response. But this may create disconnects. For example, a work receives a top grade from a teacher, but no one or only a handful view it. Another work receives a mediocre grade but goes viral online as much for the content as the style. Which is the more effective? Or, more important, How should we define effectiveness?

When the potential feedback is the world rather than a single teacher, I think we need to rethink the role of teacher in the writing process. For example, her/his task may be to explore and establish the most useful platforms for facilitating audience feedback on student works and guiding students in interpreting the results and exploring implications. In this role, the teacher becomes a coach, guide, consultant, advisor, and her task is defined as much by her knowledge of the student as her mastery of the new rhetoric with an emphasis on audience response.

In addition, her job doesn’t end there. She is further tasked with the need to empower students so that they leave the course with the the ability to independently understand and use reader feedback to guide their own writing development.

Online isn’t just a bunch of new technology but whole new sets of challenges that force us to reexamine our roles as teacher.

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10 Responses to Teacher Response to Language in Student Writing: Implications for Online Courses

  1. Michelle says:

    This is a tough situation. I am an English teacher, so I am biased. Even in the world of viral videos, memes, and social media, I feel being able to clearly and accurately express yourself is still incredibly important. Magazines may be on tablets now and they may be about pop culture, but the pieces are still well-written. Youtube clips from shows (like SNL), that pay professionals and give them the “big bucks,” are well-written and a lot of thought goes into the dialogue and “sound bites.” Most of the popular web-tv shows are well-written, like Lisa Kudrow’s web therapy that got picked up recently. Yes, some people get paid for tweeting, but that is not a majority of the population and those who do can’t usually live off of it. The ones creating a career off of this digital age are doing so by incorporating smart writing into this new form.

    • JimS says:

      Michelle, well put. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      To clarify: I don’t see going viral and poorly written as synonymous. The gray area is standards, and not necessarily good vs. bad but more one form of good vs. another. Prose in blogs, for example, follows standards for good writing, but those are different from standards in academic journals.

      People are generally much more discerning as readers than as writers, underscoring the fact that receiving and sending are different functions and explaining why even poor writers can often be excellent reviewers of classmates’ drafts. They’ll know good writing from poor even if they can’t always articulate the reasons. Thus, chances are that writing at the top of the hits list are well written.

      The question for English teachers may be, What are the elements of effective style that are unique to online media?

  2. Veronica says:

    You’ve raised a lot of very valid and interesting points, Jim – thank you. Like Michelle, I also believe that accuracy of written language is still a must (not so necessary when speaking where pronunciation/intonation are more important) – and this is NOT just because I teach English! I love the idea of hits being a measure of readability. But wouldn’t you have to be extremely motivated to read a text that is full of sloppy mistakes? It also very much depends on your audience and the medium as to how accurate you need to be. Anyway, grading written work isn’t my favorite pastime – I make it more fun by recording my feedback – so I’d be very happy if one day it was no longer necessary. Time will tell!

    • JimS says:

      Hi Veronica. Good point! I agree that “text . . . full of sloppy mistakes” would drive everyone away.

      I guess I feel the way I do about different standards because in some of my own prose comments in discussion forums, private email, and tweets, I often abandon caps, commas, some articles and preps and embrace frags and abbreviations — all in the interest of speed. I also don’t back up to correct spelling. If the meaning is clear, off it goes.

      My students pick up on this and feel more relaxed about posting in discussions or emailing me. Interestingly, for some, their prose in discussions is more natural and authentic than in their papers, where it’s often stiff, awkward, and overwritten. In my comment on the draft, I find myself quoting one of their discussion posts or emails and saying, “Write more like this . . . .”

      I find this comment intriguing: “I make it more fun by recording my feedback.” How about a blog post on how you do this? I’m assuming that you’re recording your voice comments as a digital file and sharing it with the student writer. What are the specific steps and equipment/apps used? This is an alternative to written comments that passes through my mind every once in a while, but I’ve never really thought it through. I would think it brings to the review process some of the human qualities that we’re emphasizing in the 2nd week.

      • Veronica says:

        Will do, Jim, but have no access to my PC for a few days so won’t be able to do this for a few days.

        • JimS says:

          Hi Veronica. There’s no rush so whenever is fine. Voice seems to automatically add a human touch dimension that’s absent or difficult in text only comments so your post will probably draw interest.

          • Veronica says:

            Re audio feedback – yes, it took longer than anticipated but I eventually got round to describing how I do this, Jim – see http://tomooc.edublogs.org/
            And I’d be very interested to hear whether you think it would work for you in your teaching context.

            • JimS says:

              Hi Veronica. I wrote a quick reply on our TOMOOC “wall” — I couldn’t get through the security for commenting on your blog. I’ll respond at greater length once I have a chance to try a similar audio process. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond is such detail! I can almost picture the processes in my mind. Best, Jim

              • Veronica says:

                And thank you, Jim, for acknowledging my posting so quickly! But I wonder why you couldn’t comment on my blog – would you pls let me know if this happens again? Happy recording! Veronica

  3. JimS says:

    Hi, Veronica. My bad. I must’ve mistyped my Edublog username/password and after repeated attempts I gave up and decided to post on the wall.

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