Making Composition Massive: a #digped Discussion

This Friday, April 5 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific), Hybrid Pedagogy will host a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped to consider the place of composition and writing curricula within massive open online courses. MOOCs do not just offer an opportunity to reexamine the way we teach writing, and the way writing is learned, they may well ambush us into doing so. The conversation curated and archived via Storify.

Always when we talk about massively-scaled learning, we must first face the gargoyle of our resistance. Despite their inexorable march, and subsequently proliferating PR, MOOCs have not been embraced by the majority of educators. In fact, MOOCs are seen as an experiment rife with poorly executed pedagogies, troubling colonial overtures, and corporate origins that threaten to prey upon traditional higher education. And yet, MOOCs are upon us and resistance may well prove futile. Perhaps instead of erecting an ed-tech Berlin Wall, with MOOC adopters on one side and holdouts against this massive technology on the other, we should consider ways of making these MOOCs work for us, not against us.

In his recent article, “Will MOOCs Work for Writing?”, Chris Friend cozies up to MOOCs by offering five ways that the on-ground classroom can benefit from MOOCification. He writes, “We cannot teach all students every intricacy of writing — for their future courses, their careers, and their civic engagement — using a MOOC format, but we can use MOOC strategies to improve our existing in-class teaching efforts.” These five strategies are: collaboration, connection, assessment, reflection, and trust. Chris proposes that implementation of these five strategies within a traditional or hybrid classroom can expand not only pedagogical methodologies, but also the way in which students engage in their own writing — and from there, the quality of the writing itself.

What’s interesting about Chris’s stance is that he is not embracing MOOCs themselves, but rather inspecting them, mining them, for pedagogical alternatives to bring to bear in his on-ground and hybrid classrooms. He argues that massiveness “pushes instructors away from the students they are charged with teaching,” making it difficult or impossible for students to “learn proper strategies or practices [within that] unindividuated learning environment.” Chris’s feet remain firmly on the ground, while he pulls ideas from the MOOC ether.

However, I would push against his assumption that “we cannot teach all students every intricacy of writing … using a MOOC format,” and propose that:

  • Writing, and the teaching of writing, is undergoing a fundamental shift;
  • It may be only within the massive, networked environment of a MOOC or other similar approach that we can investigate the nature of this shift.

In other words, I wonder if we are fast approaching a moment when we will no longer be teaching writing, but will be doing writing in its new form — experimentally, experientially learning what it is now rather than teaching what it has been up to this point. I write, in my Digital Composition course syllabus:

Writing in the digital age is public, never created in the same private space that traditional composition has occupied. Where traditional writing arrives in the public sphere ready for consumption, digital composition arrives there ready for dissemination and reinvention … Digital composition must have use. Digital composition does not produce “pieces”, such as articles, essays, stories, etc., because writing which has use is never entirely complete as an artifact. Digital writing is only realized in the sharing, the copying, the mimicking, the parsing, the distribution.

What I am getting at here is that traditional composition is an alien form in the digital age, and we must work to inspire work from our students that is relevant to the increasingly online world they occupy. Perhaps we cannot fully understand digital composition unless it is composed within its native environment — a native environment which, when translated pedagogically, may take the shape of a MOOC.

Our discussion on Friday will take aim at our understanding of massive online pedagogies and how they relate to the teaching of writing. But we will also question whether or not our well-worn ideas of composition must necessarily change to fit a world where information has become impermanent, fluid, a reusable commodity.

Some questions in advance of our discussion:

  • What are the biggest challenges facing composition teachers when trying to teach online, especially in massive environments? How can composition be “massively taught”?
  • What techniques can we adapt from digital learning environments to productively complicate our on-ground and hybrid classrooms?
  • How do our assumptions about collaboration, connection, assessment, reflection, and trust change when we take learning online? How when we take it back on-ground?
  • Is the nature of composition changing? And if so, what are the implications for how we teach it, how our students learn and practice it, and what is the best environment in which to explore those implications?

Add thoughts and questions below in advance of the conversation and join us on April 5 at 1:00pm EST (10:00am PST). For those unable to attend this week, Hybrid Pedagogy’s #digped occurs on the first Friday of every month. Our next #digped conversation will occur on Friday, May 3, 2013, same time, same place. If you have suggestions for future topics, feel free to add them to the comments below or tweet to @hybridped.

[Photo by bara-koukoug]

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