The recent on-campus presentation of Bedford/St. Martin’s Writer’s Help came at an advantageous time for me, both as an instructor and as the director of the writing center. As instructors, we all are in search of new tools and technologies that help support student learning. Web 2.0 have become increasingly more popular (wikis, blogs, flicker, WordPress, etc.). This educational world of “social media” encourages collaborative publishing, sharing of images and texts, and continuation of online identities. Additionally, these new tools for learning produce new practices and attitudes, both in students and teachers. Drafting—redrafting, shift in ownership of material, higher engagement, and collaborative learning have all been argued to come directly from the integration of Web 2.0 technology in education. And in a world that is ever more focused upon Web 2.0 technology, effective use of this technology seems to be a requirement for success.
Cognizant of the shift to Web 2.0, I have become interested in implementing Web 2.0 technology within my classes and within the Writing Center (suggestions are always appreciated, especially for re-designing the Writing Center website). My push towards integrating Web 2.0 technology in the Writing Center, particularly into our website, came from a presentation at the CCCCs. Using the OWL at Purdue as an example, a presenter navigated her audience through the site, showing the one dimensional and linear organization of the site. She then posited the question “If our instruction, if our websites all point towards a one stop ‘fix it shop,’ then why are we surprised when students expect instructors and writing centers to be just that?” I think this can be connected to instructional use of technology, both in writing centers and in classrooms. Handouts, modules, and exercises are all well and good, but produce very limited engagement and transfer of learning. As they function currently, many writing centers, and even online handbooks and resources for students, function on a “tasked based” interaction. A move toward a Web 2.0 focus for courses such as ENG 1020 would appear to encourage interaction, collaboration, and transfer of learning. My fear, however, comes from the possibility of utilizing Web 2.0 in a way that would align the technology to “match” intended learning outcomes and assessment. We need designs that support our own educational practices.
This is why I am intrigued by Writer’s Help. The program, from my initial overview, appears to allow instructors to “match” the technology with their own objectives/outcomes and assessment. I am particularly interested in the ability to “customize” the tools for my own course through a side tab of resources. I also find the capability of sharing resources with instructors and with students to be a useful tool for collaboration and focused instruction. The linking feature of exercises, definitions, placing resources into text, announcements, and activities highlight potential learning benefits from a Web 2.0 approach. If I were to question Writer’s Help, my questions would come from my initial concern (which may be invalid as I have only begun to play around with the system) that the program still functions as a handbook in many ways. I have found that the basic structure of the program still appears to privilege lower order, rather than higher order concerns. In other words, the exercises still resemble handbook or online, one dimensional, exercises. The quizzes provide only “yes” or “no” answers. And unless the exercise and links are connected to specific and well thought out course objectives, Writer’s Guide and the course could become two separate entities, disparate from an overarching focus upon learning outcomes. I think that linking Writer’s Help with the portfolio program we are currently piloting might help. Additionally, these tensions may be overcome through instructors finding the right tools from Writer’s Help to support activities connected to course objectives/outcomes and assessment. I am not sure if the tensions between Web 2.0 technology objectives and educational course objectives can be answered with Writer’s Help (personally I would like to see exercises that allow for more than one answer, for exercises that give various examples or options for completing a task, etc.), but I am hopeful. I am even more unclear as to how student’s interpretations and uses of the technology will match that of the teacher’s design of a task. That question will have to be discussed at a later time, in a different blog post…
Jule Wallis is a full time lecturer and Director of the Writing Center. She teaches ENG1020, 3010, and 6010. Her area of study is Rhetoric and Composition with an emphasis on Writing Center Theory, Affect Theory, and Popular Culture.