What have you learned from your project about the principles and practices of good teaching that you would like to share with your colleagues?
- The Importance of Learning Styles: My struggles to learn the basics of Dreamweaver (web page authoring software) brought home to me the importance of providing many different modes of learning a skill: written directions, videos, hands-on practice, questions/answers from expert, etc. In the past, if my written directions did not produce the desired student outcome, I tended to think it was because I hadn't worded the directions clearly enough. This experience has reminded me (painfully) that different people learn different skills in different ways, and providing just one instructional methodology--such as that set of written directions, no matter how extensive--is often not enough.
- Cutting to the Core: For each section of the web site, I decided to try to explain the general concept of that section (what is a run-on sentence, what is academic writing style, what makes a sound argument, etc.) in no more than one screen of information. Other information related to the same topic--examples, clarifications, and explanations-- would then be linked to that one front-page summary if students wanted to dig deeper. Writing these brief summaries was quite a challenge. I recommend it to other teachers as an interesting exercise in clarifying (for themselves and for their students) the essence of a topic. It reminded me to focus less on whether I am “covering” everything about a topic and more on whether students have grasped the main principles.
- Worth a Thousand Words: As a writing teacher, I tend to think that meaning only exists in the words themselves. Working on web-based documents reminded me that the visuals—color, font size, font style, white space, graphics—are important parts of meaning too
In what way(s) did this project help your students gain new knowledge or skills?
- To supplement the more generic handbook examples, our non-traditional students now have a set of easily accessible explanations of common writing problems, with examples drawn from the kinds of topics they typically write about.
- The online tutoring option allows writing instruction to take place in an ideal learning environment: working with a motivated student around a focused task using his or her own writing as the instructional medium
In what way(s) has your grant-funded project changed the way that you teach?
A student survey conducted at the end of fall semester, asking students what they found most useful on the web site, made me realize that students both want and need models of finished products. The section of the web site that contained annotated sample papers and models of APA reference items was judged most valuable, with suggestions that it be expanded. As a result, I am using more models in my classes, paired with rubrics that break those models down into their individual components.
Thinking about learning styles prompted me to add audio clips to my WebCT courses so that students who learn better by hearing than by reading will have a chance to use that preference to supplement information I had in the past only provided in writing.
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