The Online Writing Program Administrator (OWPA): Maintaining a Brand in the Age of MOOCs

The Online Writing Program Administrator (OWPA): Maintaining a Brand in the Age of MOOCs

Jessie C. Borgman (Texas Tech University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch012
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This chapter explores issues specific writing program administration considering the huge influx of online writing courses across the country. The author argues that a pedagogical shift has occurred that requires a change in administering writing programs: teaching online is different that teaching face-to-face. Considering this influx and pedagogical shift, the author argues that in the age of MOOCs, focusing on faculty support and the development and maintenance of online writing courses (OWCs) becomes imperative. The central idea of the chapter is that in order for online writing instructors to focus on what they do best (teaching), they need to be led by someone with online writing instruction (OWI) experience, who is trained and qualified to lead a writing program that includes OWCs. The author argues for the development of a new WPA role, an Online Writing Program Administrator (OWPA), in order to distinguish a brand (a concept from Keith Rhodes, 2010) of OWI, which is distinctly different than the instruction and content offered by MOOCs.
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In 2013, the New Media Consortium Horizon Report identified six technologies as potential game changers for education: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) being the first of them. While MOOCs have been growing in popularity since their 2008 invention—and their appeal extends beyond free learning and the development of new skills—educators continue to be weary of their presence and argue that “that there is a need to examine these new approaches through a critical lens to ensure they are effective and evolve past the traditional lecture-style pedagogies” (New Media Consortium Horizon Report, 2013, p. 4). MOOCs are particularly worrisome for online writing instructors who realize the value in reduced classroom sizes, which enable instructors to provide more personalized instruction to students. MOOCs, by definition, negate this valuable component of writing pedagogy. In “Teaching the Online Writing Instruction (OWI) Course,” author Scott Warnock (2015) argues “that the experience that MOOCs provide is not one that should be “confused with the disciplinary concept of a writing course, in which interaction with the instructor is integral” (p. 175). While instructors are an “integral” part of the success of an online writing course (OWC), proper training for those instructors is also very important, and not just training to teach online, but training to teach writing online.

Looking at the CCCC OWI Committee’s Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing (2013), one can see that one of the committee’s main focuses is on support for OWI instructors (specifically looking at Principles 61&72). This focus extends to proper OWI training and preparation; supporting the instructor who is “integral” to the course experience. Nevertheless, support, preparation and training aren’t always the top priorities at institutions with online courses. As Beth Hewett and Christa Ehmann (2004) note in Preparing Educators for Online Writing Instruction, “While money is spent relatively freely to develop online learning platforms, software, and self-contained modules, precious few dollars are spent on teacher training, particularly on training that supersedes learning how to navigate a specific electronic platform and that addresses instead the pedagogy of online teaching and learning” (p. xiii). While many assume that what works in a face-to-face course will seamlessly translate to an OWC, unfortunately this is not always the case. Due to budget cuts, most colleges are being pressured to do more with less, thereby feeling pressure to offer OWCs. However, as Warnock (2015) asserts, “in delivering MOOCs or the next greatest teaching innovation, OWI teachers should not forego what makes great teaching and what makes institutions of higher education work” (p. 174). Instructors are an integral cog in “making higher education work,” and it is clear that OWI requires instructors to possess a different skill set than used in their face-to-face writing instruction.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Branding: A term coined by Keith Rhodes in his 2010 text You Are What You Sell: Branding the Way to Composition’s Better Future” written for the Writing Program Administration Journal.

Writing Program Administrator: An experienced instructor who develops and oversees a writing program at a university or college.

Value: The worth or importance of a person, place, thing.

OWI: Online writing instruction or online writing instructor. Used to describe writing courses that are web-based and/or hybrid. Used to describe instructors who teach in an online setting.

MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses are free web-based courses that allow for a large number of people to interact and participate in learning regardless of geographic location. The term MOOC was first used in 2008 by Dave Cormier.

OWC: Online writing course. Used to describe writing courses that are web-based and/or hybrid.

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching in an academic setting.

GSOLE: The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators. A group formed by Beth Hewett in 2016 that aims to address literacy as a key component to successful online writing instruction.

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