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OLI & OWI Theory & Approach

With Fall 2020 grades submitted, I’ve now completed at least 24 semesters (more counting summers!) of teaching. While the earlier years were primarily face-to-face with supplemental LMS, I’ve been teaching online more and more since 2017. Based on my teaching experiences as well as my learning from and experience in the OWI-GC and OLI-C, I believe online literacy/writing instruction should encompass, incorporate, and value the following: accessibility and inclusion, instructor-student and student-student engagement, a focus on the learning not the technology, as well teaching students to leverage their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. 

Accessibility and Inclusion

The most important principle for online writing instruction is that it should be accessible and inclusive for all. This is evidenced by it being the subject of the Principle 1 for both the GSOLE Online Literacy Instruction Principles and Tenets (“OLI Principles”) (GSOLE 2019) and the CCCC Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction’s Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (“OWI Principles) (CCCC 2013).


Ensuring accessibility and inclusion in the online learning environment is not limited to ensuring that learners with disabilities can access instructional information. Certainly, we must consider how design is lacking for students with disabilities as we are planning and designing our courses (Oswal 2015). However, we must go further than that. We must meet all learners where they are and equip them to achieve the outcomes and objectives of the course. Rodrigo (2015), Woodley et al. (2017), and Warnock and Gasiewski (2018) all offer insight, examples, and practical tips for integrating accessibility and inclusive practices in the online learning environment.


Though Neilson (2016) specifically addresses learners with four types of disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, motor), the takeaways from that text should be applied to all online teaching: (1) Provide all instructional material in text-based documents and spoken lectures (recorded, captioned); (2) Provide descriptions for any images/graphics used so that screen readers can do more than just recognize an image is present; and (3) Limit the amount of text production required by students weekly.


As Harris et al. (2014) point out, moving online highlights problems with the emphasis on written text. So delivering instruction in only written form will not ensure accessibility for all. Thus, offering instructional materials in multiple modes, with multiple points of access, is crucial. This is true in both hybrid and fully online courses (Snart 2015). 


As online instruction has become more and more acceptable given the current pandemic, there’s been a shift in the discussion to focus on whether synchronous or asynchronous instruction is best. However, as Mick and Middlebrook (2015) explain, these modalities are not exclusive. Rather than focusing on which is better, we should be determining “when, why, and how” to incorporate both (Mick & Middlebrook 2015).


So as we plan activities, design assessments, and schedule class sessions, we must keep in mind not only how do these activities and assessments lead to the course outcomes, but also how well will all students be able to interact with/learn from said activities and assessments. 

Instructor-Student and Student-Student Engagement

One of the tenets for OLI Principle 1 states that “[t]he student-user experience should be prioritized when designing online courses, which includes mobile-friendly content, interaction affordances, and economic needs” (GSOLE 2019, emphasis added). Likewise, OWI Principle 11 provides that “[o]nline writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success” (CCCC 2013).


The research supports that interaction with peers and the instructor is a core factor for learning (Boyd 2008). Both Boyd (2008) and Harris et al. (2019) reveal student survey results that highlight how much students value personalized instruction in the form of feedback from their instructors, and sometimes peers, over other content. Rendahl and Breuch (2013) confirm that students generally want more feedback from their instructor than from their peers.

Focus on Learning Rather than Technology

Another tenet of OLI Principle 1 provides that “[u]se of technology should support stated course objectives, thereby not presenting an undue burden for instructors and students” (GSOLE 2019). Likewise, OWI Principle 2 contends that “[a]n online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies” (CCCC 2013). Further, OWI Principle 10 argues that “[s]tudents should be prepared by the institution and their teachers for the unique technological and pedagogical component of OWI” (CCCC 2013).


It is ineffective to simply transfer (or attempt to transfer) face-to-face practices to online spaces (Harris et al. 2019). Since course design is separate from teaching practices, we must focus on “purposeful pedagogy” that supports and aligns with the course outcomes rather than focusing on the use of various technologies (Harris et al. 2019). As Hewitt (2017) explains, teachers need to be specifically trained to teach OWI because “Effective online writing teachers need three types of skills: They must be able to (1) teach writing, (2) specifically in a digital environment, and (3) primarily through written communication” (p. 358).


Witte (2018) explains how students will approach new technologies, like the LMS, as a genre, meaning that they will compare/contrast it to something they know. Cleary et al (2019) offers pragmatic strategies for not focusing on technology, e.g., not requiring additional hardware (like printers/scanners) and relying on redundant, parallel construction for delivery of learning materials.

Leverage Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivations

Finally, all teachers operate in a mentorship type role with their students; built into each course, regardless of delivery method, is the need to foster time management and encourage students to meet goals and objectives. Rendahl and Breuch (2013) review the literature related to good study habits, social cognitive theory, and the conclusion that students can’t be passive in their own learning. Thus, teachers must gradually develop, through engagement, their students’ abilities to connect with the material, communicate and collaborate with others, and ultimately become managers/leaders of the learning experiences (Rendahl & Breuch 2013).


Boyd, P. W. (2008). Analyzing Students’ Perceptions of Their Learning in Online and Hybrid First-Year Composition Courses. Computers and Composition, 25(2), 224-243. 

CCCC. (2013). A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI). Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction.

Cleary, Y., Rice, R., Zemliansky, P., St.Amant, K., & Borgman, J. C. (2019). Perspectives on teaching writing online in global contexts: Ideas, insights, and projections. ROLE: Research in Online Literacy Education, 2(1), 

GSOLE. (2019). Online literacy instruction principles and tenets. Global Society of Online Literacy Educators.

Harris, H. S., Lubbes, T., Knowles, N., & Harris, J.  (2014). Translation, transformation, and ‘taking it back’: Moving between face-to-face and online writing in the disciplines. The WAC Journal, 25(2), 107-135.

Harris, H. S., Melonçon, L., Hewett, B. L., Mechenbier, M. X., & Martinez, D. (2019). A call for purposeful pedagogy-driven course design in OWI. ROLE: Research in Online Literacy Education, 2(1),  

Hewett, B. (2017). Anyone can teach an online writing course. In D. Lowe & C. E. Ball (Eds.) Bad Ideas about Writing. West Virginia University Libraries Digital Publishing Institute, pp. 356-362.

Mick, C. S., & Middlebrook, G. (2015). Asynchronous and synchronous modalities. In B. Hewett & K. E. DePew (Eds.), Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (pp. 129-148). WAC Clearinghouse.

Nielsen, D. (2016). Can everybody read what’s posted? Accessibility in the online classroom. In D. Ruefman & A. G. Scheg (Eds.) Applied Pedagogies: Strategies for Online Writing Instruction, pp. 90-105. Utah State UP.

Oswal, S. (2015). Physical and learning disabilities in OWI. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. Depew (Eds.), Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (pp. 253-289). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.

Rendahl, M., & Breuch, L.-A. K. (2013). Toward a complexity of online learning: Learners in online first-year writing. Computers and Composition, 30, 297-314. 

Rodrigo, R. (2015). OWI on the go. In B. Hewett & K. E. DePew (Eds.) Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction, pp. 493-516. WAC Clearinghouse.

Snart, J. (2015). Hybrid and fully online OWI. In B. Hewett & K. E. DePew (Eds.), Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (pp. 93-127). WAC Clearinghouse.

Warnock, S. & Gasiewski, D. (2018). [Excerpt] Writing together: Ten weeks teaching and studenting in an online writing course. National Council of Teachers of English. Boyd, P. W. (2008). Analyzing Students’ Perceptions of Their Learning in Online and Hybrid First-Year Composition Courses. Computers and Composition, 25(2), 224-243. 

Witte, A. (2018). ‘Why won’t Moodle. . .?’: Using genre studies to understand students’ approaches to interacting with user-interfaces. Computers & Composition, 49, 48-60. doi:

Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating difference: Best practices in culturally responsive teaching online. TechTrends 61, 470–478 (2017).