Skip to main content

Online Feedback in Writing Courses

How do I respond to student writing using online technologies?

I tend to make extensive use of Microsoft Word's "track changes" and "reviewing" modes. The real challenge for me as an instructor is to not make every edit for a student.

My primary concern, and research seems to support this, is that students have been inculcated with the notion that you make the suggested corrections, no more or no less, and that is what constitutes "revising" a paper. Online, this habit becomes even easier... cut-and-paste or simply "accept change" and the revising is "done" in the view of many students.

When I first started student teaching, in the late 1980s, I fell into the trap of making too many comments on papers. Now, I try to minimize how often I correct mistakes students need to discover. I also do not make as many suggestions as I did years ago.

Online tools have made editing and leaving short comments much easier. For all the dangers of relying too much on helpful "hints" from Word or the Mac's built-in dictionary, I think students do benefit from technology when writing. I love moving paragraphs with "drag-and-drop" simplicity.

When writing is done online in threaded discussions, I encourage students to respond only to the ideas and the rhetorical arguments they read in the posts. Sometimes, they cannot resist correcting an obvious grammar or spelling error, which is okay, but I want them to reply to something more than the surface mechanics of a text.

I moderate occasionally online, usually more in the first weeks and less as the class progresses. I'm still trying to find the right balance of involvement to encourage longer and more thoughtful online responses to peer texts.

Blackboard's online system includes an option of interactive editing and comments. I wish the Web/Vista platform included a similar "markup mode" to help students. I like the "Post-it Note" style of the comments in Word and Pages a lot. Students read the comments and know that I am an engaged reader. I think they need to know the words are being taken seriously.

Honestly, I don't think I could switch to an all-paper process for giving feedback to students. I can type a full-page critique of a paper, using color coding to indicate where a paper was weakest and where it was strongest. I love the visual cues, both for my own use and for students' use.

I put important thoughts in bold type and I will use colors, too. I want students to remember my feedback!

One risk of online editing is that students might come to expect the "spreadsheet" style checklists of "points possible" found in Web/Vista. While having a rubric can help students, I also need some flexibility as a teacher. Students will argue for grade points based on a rubric, instead of focussing on the overall quality of a text. I think this is a serious problem with rubrics, which online systems seem to enforce without the flexibility I want as a teacher.


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Screenwriting Applications

Screenplay sample, showing dialogue and action descriptions. "O.S."=off screen. Written in Final Draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A lot of students and aspiring writers ask me if you "must" use Final Draft or Screenwriter to write a screenplay. No. Absolutely not, unless you are working on a production. In which case, they own or your earn enough for Final Draft or Screenwriter and whatever budget/scheduling apps the production team uses.

I have to say, after trying WriterDuet I would use it in a heartbeat for a small production company and definitely for any non-profit, educational projects. No question. The only reason not to use it is that you must have the exclusive rights to a script... and I don't have those in my work.

WriterDuet is probably best free or low-cost option I have tested. It is very interesting. Blows away Celtx. The Pro version with off-line editing is cheaper than Final Draft or Screenwriter.

The Pro edition is a standalone, offline versio…