August 30, 2012

Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing - Even Online

Back in 2008, I was teaching a course that included collaborating on writing online. We played around with a number of services that were available. We tested out online collaboration tools like Writeboard, Google Documents, Zoho etc. that could be used for writing, either for yourself or with a group of students.

Writeboard (*see bottom of this post) allowed us to share a document without fear of losing or overwriting. It allowed me as the teacher to compare different versions of a document and see what each student had contributed. I could subscribe to documents via RSS and be notified of changes. The only real problem was that the interface was more wiki-like than Word-like (which is what all the students were used to using).

The following year Elizabeth Nesius and I teamed up with Ellen Spaldo and Janet Boyd from the Metro Writing Studio at Fairleigh Dickinson University. We did a full-day workshop called "Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing: Online Strategies to Support Writers in All Disciplines" sponsored by NJEDge.Net.

It was a hands-on workshop and sharing session as we worked our way through the process of planning, developing, designing, and delivering online writing resources to support students across the curricula.

We were interested in finding out how people at other writing centers were making decisions on policy, procedures, and even budget, particularly as it applied to supporting students online.

PCCC was already using online tutoring, and was embarking on an ePortfolio initiative as well as using LibGuides and media resources to support student writing.

We chose that title - "Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing" - because we were far more concerned with changing the students as writers than "fixing their papers." We borrowed the phrase from Stephen North's idea that the goal of a writing center tutor, is "to produce better writers, not better writing." (North, Stephen. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English 46 (1984): 433-446.)

We see many similarities between what we do in meeting with student writers on the ground, and what we do with writers in the computing cloud.

For example, in a tutoring situation, what students need to do to get the most out of a submission to an online tutor, applies to live sessions too. Provide the tutor with as much information as possible about the assignment and you have a much better start to a session. Ideally, we want our tutors to have the teacher’s written instructions, requirements, textbook or readings. We are very lucky in that all of the writing-intensive course sections at PCCC (38 for this fall) provide the Writing Center with their textbook, syllabus and assignments.

We also encourage teachers to send students to the center before they begin an assignment for help in formulating topics, creating an approved thesis etc. If then session is a meeting about starting an assignment, we ask that the student bring a sample of their writing that is in a similar mode.

We have collaboratively created many LibGuides (websites) for courses and services to support these efforts. (Almost all of them are indexed at

* If you would like to try out Writeboard, you can log in without registering to our original 2009 post for the workshop at using the password: collabwrite   Feel free to experiment and add/change content and leave a comment on your edits.

1 comment:

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