What Online Writing Spaces Afford Us in the Age of Campus Carry, “Wall-Building,” and Orlando's Pulse Tragedy

What Online Writing Spaces Afford Us in the Age of Campus Carry, “Wall-Building,” and Orlando's Pulse Tragedy

Rebecca Hallman Martini (Salem State University, USA) and Travis Webster (University of Houston – Clear Lake, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch017
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Theorizing about twenty-first century writing spaces, the authors argue that online writing environments offer particular affordances to writing teachers when navigating challenging subject matter at complex, political moments. Alongside narrative theorization, the authors provide stories about their writing experiences alongside their students, while offering strategies for complicating and extending our field's discussions of the possibilities for online writing in the age of massive online open courses. The authors conclude that, while online spaces cannot offer “safe spaces” for writing instruction, they may offer “braver” spaces as students and instructors alike grapple with challenging, political landscapes.
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Kairotic Collaborations: Rebecca And Travis

In the early 2010’s, we, Rebecca and Travis, held leadership roles in the University of Houston (UH) English Department’s hybrid and fully-online online writing initiative. As we taught online courses and led our colleagues through workshops focused on online writing instruction, we fielded best practices from the discipline’s experts (Hewett, 2010; Warnock, 2009) and drew upon the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s (CCCC) Position Statement on Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (CCCC Committee, 2013). While these resources prepared those we mentored and us for designing courses’ nuts and bolts, they were insufficient in preparing us for talking with our students and colleagues about challenging subject matter in online writing spaces. With recent events surrounding Texas agents bolstering border patrol, systemic racism and police brutality, and queer injustices extending to and beyond institutional access, all topics that we would expect to surface and then be discussed in face-to-face writing courses, we were at a loss for how to have such conversations online, or how to create an online space where students would feel comfortable bringing up such topics. Not only was this not covered in our own professional development as online writing instructors, but it was also not welcomed by some of our local workshop leaders as a valuable and necessary component of training and professional development for new online writing instructors.

We see a similar absence surrounding the scholarship around the teaching and development of MOOCs. Researchers that argue for the value of MOOCs recognize the strength of their interactive nature (Krause, 2014) and their potential for writing research (Grabill, 2014), while those who argue against MOOCs note the potential lack of an effective writing teacher who offers individualized attention to students (Porter, 2014), the problematic idea of the MOOC as a free education for all (Barlow, 2014), and the limitations of a teacher who primarily acts as “guide” rather than teacher (Samuels, 2014). While these are important resources for both MOOC instructors and online writing teachers, they fall short of preparing instructors for context-specific writing scenarios. In this chapter, we write from our own experiences of teaching writing online and working with students through discussions about tense subjects, such as representing illegal immigrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) injustices through writing and research.

While this was always an aim of our chapter, recent events that took place after our initial writing forced us to rethink and re-prioritize our focus. We could not fail to address local university policies on gun control instituted in August 2016 and the recent Orlando tragedy. As we reflect back on how we discussed tense subject matters in the online space in the past, we attempt to imagine how we can use such strategies to help us talk and write through such events with students in the future and how we can prepare online writing instructors for such conversations. We argue that, although online courses and MOOCs can, perhaps easily, ignore political climate and current events, university online writing instructors have a responsibility to consider specific university context through which local, national, and global events are realized. We also argue that the university online writing course, and online spaces in general, provide a fruitful environment for these discussions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fully-Online Environment: An instructional environment where all learning takes place online through internet-based, digitally-mediated activities.

Hybrid Environment: An instructional environment where learning takes place in both an online and physical location. Face-to-face courses that include online components are one version of a hybrid course.

Kairos/Kairotic: A Greco-Roman rhetorical term focused on a rhetor’s opportune moment for articulation or composition, and that is based entirely on an audience and situation.

Wiki: An adaptable, online writing space, whereby multiple writers can contribute to, develop, and revise the written forms apparent in the space, often in order to define and/or make meaning about a specific topic. A popular example is Wikipedia, which itself is a “wiki.”

Face-to-Face Environment: An instructional environment where all learning takes place in a physical location, often a classroom.

LGBTQ: An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer identity.

Queer Rhetorics: A sub-field in Rhetoric and Composition Studies focused on the intersections of Queer Studies and Rhetorical Theory.

First-Year Writing Course: An introductory writing course focused on the process and production of writing and research, typically taken by undergraduates during their first year of university study.

Intersectionality: A noun phrase grounded in social justice research and ideology that refers to a person’s lived experiences made up of, but not limited to, race, assigned sex, sexual identity, gender identity, and socioeconomic background. The noun refers often to a person’s institutional in/access based on these factors.

Journal: A writing tool used for reflection, revision, and learning about major projects, themes, or ideas. In the case of this chapter, online journals were privately written, submitted, and responded to by the instructor.

OWI: An acronym for online writing instruction.

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