As we all try to adjust to and make sense of these unprecedented circumstances, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss how we can best serve our students in spite of the unusual challenges we’re all facing. Rather than add on to the wealth of resources already available on using technology for long distance instruction, I’d like to focus instead on how WAC pedagogy can be implemented conceptually in our (makeshift) digital classrooms:
Scaffolding larger assignments is an excellent strategy to both monitor students’ progress as well as help students manage their workload during this stressful time. Break a larger assignment such as a research paper, presentation, or group project into several discrete tasks, ranging from simple to complex, that build upon each other. Each week, ask students to work on and submit a different assignment or task. By sequencing the assignment into smaller, more manageable building blocks, students will find the assignment less time-consuming and easier to accomplish.
Lecturing and delivering course material long-distance is an especially challenging task. There are merits to both asynchronous and synchronous lectures, but regardless of which approach you take, an excellent way to compensate for the lack of in-person lecture/discussion, as well as to evaluate students’ comprehension of material, is to incorporate writing-to-learn principles—that is, to use writing as a tool to help student think through key concepts or ideas central to the class. If delivering course material asynchronously, ask students to write a brief reflection after reviewing the material that summarizes the lesson and identifies the areas they found most confusing or challenging. If students were supposed to read an assigned text for class, ask them to write a short summary and/or identify its key themes or features.
Students can continue to participate in peer review remotely, either as a class or in small groups or pairs. For pairs or small groups, students can exchange assignments and drafts via email and fill out a guided worksheet or cover survey about their peers’ work. For larger groups or class peer review, students can upload drafts on Google Docs and edit or comment directly on the document. Peer review helps students improve their writing and critical analysis skills by providing them with real readers who must make sense of their assignment. Encouraging students to communicate and collaborate with each other—and to maintain a sense of community and support—is especially critical now as we practice social distancing and self-quarantine.
WAC pedagogy has always promoted assessment that prioritizes higher-order concerns over lower-order concerns, and now is an especially worthwhile time to adopt this grading method. When grading students’ assignments, look first to the “higher-order concerns” such as thesis/focus, audience, purpose, organization, development, or mastery of course concepts. “Lower-order concerns,” such as grammar, mechanics, style, and formatting should only be considered afterwards, and should factor minimally in assessing and grading student work. We should, I feel, be generous in our grading at this time: just like us, students are trying to navigate these unfamiliar circumstances, in addition to juggling several other classes as well as their own personal issues.
For additional resources, the CUNY Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center has provided a comprehensive website: https://continuity.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
And the following GoogleDoc is a shared aggregate list of all university responses to the crisis, with many helpful tips and strategies: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VT9oiNYPyiEsGHBoDKlwLlWAsWP58sGV7A3oIuEUG3k/htmlview?usp=sharing