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Comparison of Learning Based on Course Delivery

Benefits of teaching as an adjunct include gaining experience teaching in a variety of scenarios. I now have taught a first-semester, first-year writing course either fully face-to-face, hybrid or partially online, and fully online at three institutions. A review of the syllabi, schedules, and assignments (the “Samples”) for these courses indicate emphasis on similar content and outcomes despite differences in the teaching environment and course delivery format. However, the review also illustrates adaptations to procedures, assessments, and design to better influence student learning and improve accessibility based upon my own continued education related to online learning.

The Samples represent two time frames: Pre-Certificate and Post-Certificate. From May 2018 to May 2019, I completed a graduate certificate program in Online Writing Instruction (“OWI-GC”).

Pre-Certificate

Prior to pursuing and completing the OWI-GC, I regularly taught first year writing in a variety of formats. Syllabi for a hybrid course (“Fall 2016 Hybrid”) and a face-to-face course (“Spring 2017 F2F”) are included in this review. Notably, these courses were also Pre-COVID.

Pre-Certificate: Fall 2016 Hybrid Sample

This course was listed in the class schedule as a hybrid course meeting face-to-face one day per week. The course syllabus explained that students were expected to attend the weekly face-to-face meeting and complete assignments on the LMS (Blackboard) throughout the week. The syllabus and course schedule were both provided to students in hard-copy at the first face-to-face meeting and published to the LMS in PDF format. The course schedule listed what students needed to read to prepare for each weekly class meeting, what the topic of that class would be, and what assignments were due later that week. The syllabus previewed the major writing projects for the semester and included policies for attendance, assignment submission, and late work.

Students would complete three major projects (a personal narrative, a personal statement/scholarship essay, and a position paper/letter to the editor) plus a final digital portfolio at the end of the term.

With only 15 face-to-face class meetings in the semester, students were expected to miss no more than four and would not be allowed to continue/pass the course upon the fifth absence. There was no “attendance policy” related to logging in/doing work in the LMS.

All assignments were to be submitted via the LMS. Students were expected to complete their major projects in Microsoft Word, save their papers in different versions (e.g., draft, final), and name their files as proscribed.

Only major writing projects were accepted late, with a point deduction that equated to one-half a letter grade for each calendar day late. In-class and homework assignments could not be made-up or turned in late.

Pre-Certificate: Spring 2017 F2F Sample

This course was a traditional face-to-face class meeting three times per week. The course syllabus and course schedule were both provided to students in hard-copy at the first face-to-face meeting and published to the supplemental LMS course (Blackboard) in PDF format. The course schedule listed what students needed to read to prepare for each class meeting, what the topic of that class would be, and what assignments were due. The syllabus previewed the major writing projects for the semester and included policies for attendance, assignment submission, and late work.

Students would complete three major projects; however, only one was similar to the semester before. This term I had students prepare an analysis and a proposal in addition to the personal narrative. Though this was a face-to-face class, I also required students to complete online assignments as a part of a publisher software program (access purchased with the textbook). Students prepared a final digital portfolio at the end of the term just like the semester before.

Each class period was “worth” three (3) points: one point each for being present, on time/not leaving early, and participating. Much later in the syllabus document, I included a provision that every absence after the sixth would result in a half-letter grade deduction. 

All assignments were to be submitted via the LMS. Students were expected to complete their major projects in Microsoft Word, save their papers in different versions (e.g., draft, final), and name their files as proscribed.

This term, the general rule was that no late work would be accepted unless I granted permission prior to the deadline based on extenuating circumstances deemed justifiable by me.

Post-Certificate

Since the OWI-GC completion, I have continued to teach first year writing in a variety of formats. Of course, COVID has increased the demand for non-face-to-face delivery formats. Syllabi for a course that had to transition to remote learning (“Spring 2020 F2F>Online”), a current fully online course (“Fall 2020 Online”), and a current hybrid course (“Fall 2020 Hybrid”) are included in this review.

Post-Certificate: Spring 2020 F2F>Online Sample

This course was a traditional face-to-face class meeting three times per week. The course syllabus and initial course schedule were both provided to students in hard-copy at the first face-to-face meeting and published to the supplemental LMS course (Canvas). 

After completing the OWI-GC, I started preparing all course documents in Google Docs and embedding links in the LMS to take advantage of the ability to update easily within the same shared document. The course schedule listed what students needed to read to prepare for each class meeting, what the topic of that class would be, and what assignments were due. Using Google Docs also allowed me to link to informational items on the internet and other OER resources directly from the schedule. Once COVID hit and we pivoted to remote learning, I decided to create a new remote course schedule for the remaining weeks. I was able to link from the new schedule to “Online Class” documents that I created each week for the remaining of the semester. Those online class documents contained much of what would have been said in a lecture in written form and video (for some weeks). I also created a FAQs document and linked it, with the new schedule, on the course’s Canvas homepage.

The syllabus, as usual, previewed the major writing projects for the semester and included policies for attendance, assignment submission, and late work. 

Originally, I had planned for students to complete four major projects plus the final digital portfolio. While I kept the analysis project I had used before, I switched the personal narrative project to a writing reflection essay to get students started off thinking about what they already knew about writing and what they’re experiences had been. Then, the third and fourth projects were related: a written argument and an in-class presentation of that argument. However, when we had to go remote emergently, I decided to remove the presentation project and allow students extra time to complete the written argument.

Originally, each class period was “worth” three (3) points, as in previous semesters, and no more than six absences for the semester would be permitted. However, once we went remote, I did not take attendance in any way or monitor how often students logged into the online course, though I did offer bonus points for participating in optional weekly discussions. 

All assignments were to be submitted via the LMS. I did not provide software requirements in the syllabus, but the assignment instructions provided before each project required students to complete their major projects in Microsoft Word, save their papers in different versions (e.g., draft, final), and name their files as proscribed. Though I had started using Google Docs for course materials, I was opposed to students using it to complete their work.

For this semester, I had returned to my policy that only major writing projects were accepted late, with a point deduction that equated to a letter grade for each calendar day late. However, once we went remote, I built in a “grace period” for every assignment: while assignments were always due on Fridays at midnight, I would not impose a late penalty if submitted by Sunday at midnight. My goal was to alleviate panic from last-minute computer/connection issues.

Post-Certificate: Fall 2020 Online Sample

This course was listed in the class schedule as “hybrid, hyflex, or online; see instructor.” I was contracted to teach it just two weeks before the semester began when the course roster was already full. I decided to make it a fully online course and to try to put into practice everything that I had learned in the OWI-GC program. 

I created a Course Website to serve as the hub for the class. The Course Website is structured by week (Monday to Sunday), and I have, at the very least, had the next week’s page/material up by the Sunday preceding the week. The Course Website is used to deliver all instructional material, either created by me, linked OER, or textbook chapter references. The course syllabus and course schedule are embedded on the home page.  I modeled this structure off of how many of the courses I took for the OWI-GC were set up (which is how I’ve taught a fully online upper-level writing course for the past few semesters as well).

I started out linking to the readings on the course schedule but found that students were not looking at the additional material I created for the Course Website; so, in recent weeks, I’ve started only listing the week’s page (e.g., “Week Six page and readings listed there”) under Readings on the course schedule. 

Students are to complete three major projects (the writing reflection essay, a rhetorical analysis, and an argument) plus the final digital portfolio. They typically have tasks due mid-week (Wednesday or Thursday) and at the end of the week (Sunday). One task weekly is a discussion board unless a second scaffolding assignment supplants discussion for the week.

There are no attendance/participation requirements aside from contributing discussion posts in minimum number and timing as instructed. 

The LMS (Blackboard) is only used for discussion boards and delivery of grades. All assignments are submitted by sharing Google Docs (either directly with me or with the class via embedding links in the LMS discussion boards).

The syllabus includes a statement that late work is generally not allowed except in extenuating circumstances and encourages students to reach out to me if needed, particularly given the pandemic.

Post-Certificate: Fall 2020 Hybrid Sample

These courses (three sections) were listed as partially online or web enhanced in the class schedule. A common comment I received from students at this institution in the Spring was that they wished everything from the course was in one place – they seemed overwhelmed that some information was in Google Docs (or linked on the schedule there) and some was in Canvas. Though I thought I had been pretty consistent in putting information in both places (or cross-linking), I took this to heart when planning for Fall. 

While I created the course syllabus in Google Docs as I have become accustomed to doing, I also published it as the body of the “syllabus” page in Canvas and made that menu link available to students. Further, rather than creating a separate Google Doc for the course schedule, I decided to utilize the Module function in Canvas as the schedule; this way, students are directed from the Canvas homepage to click “Modules” in the left sidebar and there they can see the course schedule for each week/class. The downside to this is that I have to update the Modules in three Canvas course (for each section) rather than updating one course schedule in Google Docs. However, I haven’t had any students this term complain that they “can’t find” what they’re supposed to be doing for class.

Students are completing the same three major projects (the writing reflection essay, a rhetorical analysis, and an argument) plus the final digital portfolio. For this class, all assignments are due on Friday each week.

I take attendance at every F2F class meeting for contract tracing purposes only. Attendance is no longer “counted” in the overall grade, and, honestly, I’m thankful for that top-down policy change. 

Students must complete assignments using Microsoft Word and submit them as attachments via Canvas. I’m considering changing this requirement at this school to Google Docs as well.

I returned to my previous hybrid course rule in that only major writing projects were accepted late, with a point deduction that equated to one-half a letter grade for each calendar day late. In-class and homework assignments could not be made-up or turned in late.

Model, Composite Class

Based on this review, I’ve comprised what I believe to be a model class to enhance student learning and provide accessibility to all learners. Thus, for future first-year writing courses, I will adhere to the following design and policy determinations:

  1. Create a Course Website organized by week(Google Sites) with Syllabus and Schedule (Google Docs) displayed on the home page. Link the Course Website, Syllabus, and Schedule in the sidebar of the LMS.
  2. Use only open-access resources and resources I create.
  3. Require three major projects (writing reflection essay; rhetorical analysis; written argument) plus the Final Digital Portfolio.
  4. For classes with F2F/synchronous online, award participation points for attending. For classes with no synchronous, no attendance/participation policy separate from assignment/discussion points.
  5. Allow students to complete and submit work using Google Docs.
  6. Provide hard deadlines but allow for a 2-hour “grace period” for computer/connection issues.

This review and conclusion can be viewed in table format here: Different Situations, Different Syllabi TABLE.