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Teaching Online in Texts and Technology

Research Guide Information

The challenge for those teaching mixed-mode writing courses (half the class meetings are online; half are face-to-face) is the disconnect between members of the class due to limited personal contact.  The solution is to build a learning community in the course by creating collaborative/group assignments/projects that bridge the gap between the isolated online and social F2F aspects of the course.  This guide is created to provide resources that help instructors overcome the challenge and create a learning community in a mixed-mode writing course.

Prepared by Bob Mohrenne


Collaboration and Community in Mixed-Mode Writing Courses


“Blended Learning.” Simmons College, 2008. Web.  21 Feb. 2014. <


Created by Simmons College to provide faculty with resources for transitioning to a blended format, this site offers advice for conceptualizing a blended course, challenges, ways to implement, and resources.  One of the most valuable aspects of the site are interviews with faculty and the handouts they provide.  None of the faculty or information pertains directly to writing courses, but all offer insights on teaching and working in a blended environment.

Blended Learning Toolkit. University of Central Florida, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.


Much of the information provided on this site is theoretical—teaching and design theory—but there are course shells for different courses and programs as well as handouts for creating/stating objectives.  It is most valuable as a tool for newcomers to online teaching but provides materials for teachers at all levels to consider what they do, how they do it, and how students are likely to receive it all.

Brindley, Jane E., Christine Walti, and Lisa M. Blaschke.  “Creating Effective Collaborative

      Learning Groups in an Online Environment.”  The International Review of Research in

      Open and Distance Learning 10.3 (2009). Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <


Theories of social constructivism and connectivism are considered in this report on a three year study of small group activities, mostly discussions, and levels of participation related to graded and ungraded activities.   The results offer some insights into how to best design assignments and motivate students, not the least of which is the insight that in designing group activities, an instructor should “Choose tasks that are best performed by a group.”  A consideration many online instructors likely overlook.

Forman, Janis, ed. New Visions of Collaborative Writing. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook,

      1992. Print.

Among others, this anthology contains essays on creating, assessing, and persona in collaborative assignments and was written before the advent of online learning.  Though it doesn’t provide the practical exercises I’d hoped for, the readings do suggest some assignments that could be adapted for online or mediated course.

Gedik, Nuray, Ercan Kiraz, and M. Yasar Ozden. “The Optimum Blend: Affordances and

      Challenges of Blended Learning for Students.” Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative

      Inquiry 3.3 (2012). Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <


Using reflections, assignments, and interviews with ten students in a blended learning course, researchers concluded that students preferred this mode of learning because it offered both the interaction of a F2F course and the increased learning opportunities of an online course.  They also found that students thought the workload and technical barriers to be troublesome.  Instructors should apply these conclusions in course design by finding a balance in the assignments.  

Kelly, Rob. “Discussion Board Assignments: Alternatives to the Question-and-Answer Format.”

      Faculty Focus. Magna Publications, 7Mar. 2014. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.



Kelly offers three suggestions that provide alternatives to the usual Q&A format that many discussion board assignments employ.  Though they aren’t practical for all courses, they provide good fodder for thinking about alternatives.

Lauron, Aldwin G. “Fostering Collaboration to Enhance Online Instruction.” Turkish Online

      Journal of Distance Education 9.2 (2008): 109-121.  Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

There are many things to take into consideration when designing an online or mediated course, and Lauron discusses all of them here.  It’s a good source for those teaching online for the first time but adds nothing new to the discussion.

McGee, Patricia, and Abby Reis. “Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices.” The

      Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 16.4 (2012): 7-22. ERIC. Web. 21 Feb.


The research seeks to answer the question: “What patterns exist across publically available documents that articulate best or effective practices in hybrid or blended course design?”  The resulting article summarizes a lot of theory and points readers in the direction of corresponding sources/authors, but the information is more theory and less practical.

Remesa, Ana,  and Rosa Colomina. “Social Presence and Online Collaborative Small Group

      Work: A Socioconstructivist Account.” Computers and Education 60.1 (2013): 357-367.

      Science Direct.  Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

Persona in online courses is important to the successful creation of a learning community; without a learning community where students feel safe and valued, they are less likely to participate and learn, which is why I was drawn to this article.  Unfortunately, the study is flawed because it looks at sixteen student-teachers, fourteen of which are female, making it difficult to connect with “regular” students and more diverse groups.

Zhou, Wenyi, Elizabeth Simpson, and Denise Pinette Domizi. “Google Docs in an Out-of-Class

      Collaborative Writing Activity.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in

      Higher Education 24.3 (2009):359-375. ERIC. Web. 21Feb. 2014.

Zhou, Simpson, and Domizi provide a mix of theory and practical approaches that help me to understand the possibilities for using Google Docs. Most valuable is that the reading is supplemented with assignment examples, rubrics for instructors, guidelines for evaluation, and peer evaluation forms.

Collaborative Media Solutions

Adobe Connect and GoToMeeting

These are two web-based programs (no software purchase necessary) that provide opportunities for video and audio interaction between participants when participants have web-cams and/or microphones.  Both offer the chance to share and interact with documents, present lectures, and have small or large meetings with students or on their own.  It should be noted that both services require a subscription or can be purchased on a pay-per-meeting basis.  My institution purchased a license for Adobe Connect, so that is the only one I can speak to directly.

Adobe Connect is a great option for online collaboration and interaction with students in online courses.  It provides several opportunities for writing teachers:

  • It allows both video and audio interactions, making it easy to establish a relationship with students and create a sense of community.
  • The program allows the active and real-time sharing of computer desktops, which means a participants on either side can share a document that all participants can interact with, given the right permissions by the moderator.  The feature works well when going over the draft of a student's paper.
  • Meetings can be scheduled in advance, allowing a link and invitations be sent to students.
  • I schedule virtual office hours every week when teaching online courses, theming each to current assignments/course needs.  I begin the hour with a brief lecture, PowerPoint, or video and then open the meeting for discussion.
  • Discussion can be handle through the chat function when there are many participants or through audio when there are only a few.
  • Meetings can be recorded and a link posted, making it easy for instructors to record a demonstration of an assignment--revision, MLA, paper formatting, etc.--which makes it very easy to connect with students.  Combined with a discussion board on an LMS, a lecture or presentation could be made into a collaborative and community building exercise by connecting it to a discussion board.
  • There are several customizable "modules" in the program that allows a moderator to include only the most important tools.
  • There are other benefits and opportunities with the program, but they are difficult to explain clearly.
  • Both offer a trial period to measure and experience the potential for each.

GoToMeeting Video Tutorial

Adobe Connect Video Review and Demonstration

Your Learning Management System

The LMS that your institution employs is likely to have a system similar to Adobe Connect and GoToMeeting; it will likely have a chat room and both video/audio functions as well as opportunities to share documents with attendees.  Since the technology is constantly changing and your LMS is constantly updating, you should see what's available to you.  Our current LMS is Canvas, and I can only speak to what it offers.

  • Offers "conference" rooms where instructors can talk to and interact with students through audio and video.
  • It's possible to share documents that upload to Canvas through the conference function.
  • It's also possible to share your desktop, though I'm uncertain as to how much interaction is possible and/or what attendees might be able to see or do when attending.  Canvas doesn't allow me to invite myself to a conference and doesn't allow a realistic "student view" of the course or materials, limiting the ability of a presenter/teacher in anticipating and preparing for challenges.

Since I've had more experience with Adobe Connect, it is my best point of comparison.  Connect has a lot of flexiblity and few limitations for writing teachers and allows for more opportunities for real-time interaction and collaboration, which is likely to result in a better learning community.  The downside is that Connect requires a subscription; using your LMS doesn't.