As the K-State community begins the “semester like no other” (to quote a recent Town Hall speech from President Myers), at least one thing hasn’t changed: many students will have a lot of writing to do this fall.
Faculty well know—often from personal experience—that the task of writing is daunting even at the best of times. This fall, as their students work through course assignments online, perhaps while in quarantine or while balancing demands of other components of their lives, instructors are rightly worrying that writing might feel like an insurmountable item on a student’s to-do list. Previous strategies like office conferences, in-class peer review and face-to-face writing workshops might not be feasible this time around.
As a result, the question we’re hearing so often at the Writing Center right now is: How can faculty support student writing in ways that are adaptable to a pandemic semester?
Fortunately, virtual writing support has been a part of our services at the Writing Center for several years. We are here in both new and tried-and-true ways to help faculty establish a strong, collaborative and socially distanced environment for student writing!
Below are some of our favorite suggestions and resources.
Provide Writing Resources Inside Your Canvas Site
Demonstrating a commitment to writing support and improvement early in the semester is one of the best ways to shows students that they have resources available to them.
Faculty can explain what good writing might look like in a particular discipline: What are typical conventions for style? Tone? Structure? Word choice? What kinds of information do readers in that discipline value? Providing writing samples to demonstrate these conventions, and that students can read and discuss, is a great way to gauge their understanding of a particular writing task.
In a typical semester, faculty can request an in-person classroom visit from a Writing Center consultant as a way to kick off the course and connect students with our services. This fall, we are pleased to offer a Writing Center module that can be imported directly into Canvas courses!
The module, available inside the K-State Canvas Learning Commons, allows faculty to place our resources right where students can use them.
The module, which can be downloaded for use inside any K-State Canvas course, introduces the Writing Center and our services.
This semester, our consultants will be offering all virtual appointments, with both synchronous and asynchronous options. The module walks students through the process of scheduling so they can easily connect with us when they’re ready.
Our Writing Center Module offers a clear, designated space to provide resources directly to students, and can be used to add additional writing guidance for specific courses and assignments.
Establish a Community of Writing
Students often feel overwhelmed and lonely by the solo components of writing, and forget (or don’t realize) the ways in which collaboration and community-building help writers to be more successful. In order for writers to truly achieve their purpose, connecting with and learning from readers is very important.
In place of in-person conferences and writing consultations, faculty can encourage students to set up a shareable, virtual writing space. OneDrive, Google Drive, and Microsoft Teams, for example, allow students to share work in progress, and provide spaces for instructors to leave feedback. Unlike the option of emailing writing files back and forth, these platforms allow students and faculty to work together on real-time writing dilemmas.
Providing opportunities for connection with fellow writers in the course will also remind students that they are not alone. Online discussions, for example, not only help students engage with course content, but also provide low-stakes moments for students to practice sharing their ideas with others. The more writing can feel like a doable daily or weekly task, the easier it might feel to get started on that larger writing assignment.
Peer review workshops have long been a helpful class tool for teaching students to engage with writing assignments from the perspective of a reader. Canvas provides a handy setup for building a peer review requirement into assignments, and allows for work to be exchanged without any fact-to-face contact. Since students can struggle with what to look for during peer review—especially when they are doing one online—we’ve prepared a Peer Review Worksheet that is available inside our Writing Center module.
As the semester gets underway, we hope that faculty and students will continue to make the Writing Center part of their community!
To book a virtual writing consultation, or to request a virtual writing workshop tailored to a specific class, please visit our website at https://www.k-state.edu/english/writingcenter/.
— Theresa Merrick, Instructor and Assistant Director of Outreach for the Writing Center