Writing and Reading in a Hybrid Course

I think students in a hybridized ENG2800 course would benefit from the opportunity to write in different (and public/semi public) ways. An article like this for instance considers how new forms of internet-based writing (in which many students regularly engage) could or should change our approach to teaching writing. The article points out that, through the internet, people are writing more — and then asks how a writing class should take into account these different forms of online writing. I think, in a hybridized course, confronting online writing is clearly inevitable, but it does not have to mean sacrificing academic writing. In fact, I think a hybridized class provides a really interesting opportunity to explore these different forms, how they differ, and how practicing public online writing and standard academic writing can be a process mutually beneficial to both. For instance, I know that many of my students come into class with a host of preconceived and often incorrect notions about what academic writing entails (we are all familiar with the essays that begin, “Throughout history, all of mankind….”!). I think writing on a class blog for instance helps to mitigate that type of issue and may even demonstrate why it is an issue in the first place– maybe an “all of mankind” statement would suddenly look absurd to a student imagining it in a blog post! Potentially students feel less pressure when writing on a course blog than they do in academic papers, and perhaps they could learn how to bring that ease into their academic writing.

The issue I see at this point in hybridization is in the reading side of an ENG course. I feel that so much about how to read and how to read closely is a tool acquired in the classroom through discussion and work performed together. This would of course still be done in the F2F time, but that leads me into another worry — I fear putting a lot of pressure on the F2F classroom to make sure we do everything we “can’t” do online, and I’m not sure how, as an instructor, I would know which aspects of the course to move online and the best way of doing so. I think hybrid courses entail a reimagining of the course as a whole, and that leads me to my last worry which is about the level of planning (pointed out in our reading) required for successful execution of a hybrid course. I understand completely why this planning would be necessary, but I’ve always left a certain amount of flexibility in my courses so that we can adjust according to student interest, the pace of the course, etc — would this flexibility be lost in a hybrid course?

4 thoughts on “Writing and Reading in a Hybrid Course”

  1. I find your comment, that perhaps social media types of writing (typically casual, undeveloped, even, at times, callow) could actually help students, is an observation of particular interest for all of us embarking into the hybrid arena. I personally feel this kind of loosely articulated, low stakes writing is a necessary part of the thinking/producing process, and although I think most of us use free writing/brainstorming, and the like, in the f2f (and ask the students to share their musings openly with each other) it’s virtually not the same as publishing this kind of writing online (and something I am trying to get used to, myself). As many of us have expressed, making one’s words public lends a great deal of authority and can, I think, help to build the confidence one needs to engage in larger and more complex dialogues. This confidence then might well, as you say, Nicole, prepare students to feel more comfortable with their academic work, since for them that is the largest risk (one of the larger grades).
    Although as Keller notes, there is the criticism (valid certainly to some degree) that this kind of expression teaches slack thinking, the informal, open format also teaches something quite useful, and that is a way to uncover, through various collaborations, the multiplicity of one’s voice (thoughts, questions, confusion, emotional reverberations). I think it could also (possibly) teach a kind of mindful awareness of the self that I think is immanently useful before one engages with complex issues, the kinds of problems we’re asking our students to navigate.
    As well, I want to be transparent with my students about the learning goals of each assignment; if the more loosely formatted blog has a different learning goal than the essay, then the students (not just the instructor) should be clear about that difference. Hopefully students will then come to understand that what’s required in the finished essay is a deeply involved analysis, even if that was not expected (or indeed even wanted) in the blog.
    At any rate, most of would agree that diverse kinds of prewriting (and that term seems more and more obsolete, as if one kind of writing were intrinsically more worthy than another) are necessary in order for writers to effectively explore what their areas of interest offer.

  2. Thanks for the link to the article, Nicole! I enjoy the challenge you pose: as I understand it, you bring up the possibility that a hybrid Great Works course could also become a laboratory for parsing and experimenting with hybrid forms of writing, which is a rich idea. And this might be digressive, but the article led me back to something I’ve thought about quite a bit recently–how reading and writing skills are standardized and assessed and whether those scores mean anything relevant anymore (if they ever did), even as secondary and higher ed institutions rely on such normative measures more than ever. In Great Works, for example, it seems like the consensus would be that it is more important to get students reading, talking about what they read, and writing inside AND outside of class than to compose a perfectly generic MLA formatted research paper… right? And, of course, this has implications for how the course is taught as a hybrid.
    One final note: do I detect a certain anxiety about hybrid course design in your post (something I certainly suffer from–I talk about this stuff all the time, but find myself challenged whenever I actually have to do it)? Don’t get bogged down on this. There is definitely room for organic growth in an online/hybrid course, as long as the policies are clear and you have communication and trust among and with your students.

  3. In her comment, Kate said:”In Great Works, for example, it seems like the consensus would be that it is more important to get students reading, talking about what they read, and writing inside AND outside of class than to compose a perfectly generic MLA formatted research paper… right? ” And I say RIGHT! But there is a strong pull toward the classic comparative literary analysis paper. Most instructors assign it. Even I (and lean pretty far left in the traditional assignment spectrum) feel a pull. I think it’s important to come up with really clear and compelling learning goals for non-traditional assignments, to articulate for others AND ourselves what we’re going for. to make the pedagogy transparent. Especially for ourselves. It doesn’t work to jump on some “new-fangled” bandwagon just for the sake of doing something new and edgy. But it is equally important to interrogate our traditional assignments in the same way. Just because it’s always been done, or we did it as undergraduate English majors (which most of our GW students are not), doesn’t mean it makes good pedagogical sense in our context.

  4. I don’t think hybrid classes would necessarily reduce your flexibility. Instead it could actually enhance it. Something we could all do across the curriculum is add on line activities to help those who need sentence-level work, how to succinctly write comments in a discussion group or e-mails to teachers. The latter could be explained , modeled and assigned in the first class. When I taught business English, we spent a lot of time on these tasks plus e-mail memo writing. It can get them off to a good start and can enhance academic writing too as many issues stem from language, syntax and organization confusion. Students could work together on-line as needed. For example, Twitter could be a wonderful tool to help those who have have rambling issues.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

Comments are closed.