ENGL 824 Blog Entry #5 – Gillan and Wooden

Gillam, Ken, and Shannon R. Wooden. “Re-Embodying Online Composition: Ecologies of Writing in Unreal Time and Space.” Computers and Composition 30. Writing on the Frontlines (2013): 24-36. ScienceDirect. Web. 28 May 2014.

In this article, Gillam and Wooden utilize ecological theory to describe the way in which writing courses should operate as learning communities as interconnected and collaborative. The central problem with online writing courses is that the current tendency in online writing pedagogy is to plan courses in a way that emphasizes the cognitive-process model, valuing the writer as a solitary individual who works alone, while more recent scholarship and best practices in composition studies place more emphasis on collaboration in a community of inquiry. One problem with online education is that the way in which course set-up tends to value and privilege strong writing and communication skills, the very skills that students should be developing in the course. Referring to Garrison and Vaughan, Gillam and Wooden explain that online courses encourage both personal but also purposeful relationships. They issue a call to action to their readers: bring the personal back into the class through collaborative group projects that make community a “content-oriented” goal of the course benefitting from the interconnectedness and collaborative nature of these activities. Gillam and Wooden advocate an online course that incorporates the principles of distribution (that learning is situated and negotiated between a variety of sources), emergence (the adaption and coordination in the process of creating knowledge), embodiment (through recognition that student embodiment impacts the process of learning and writing even in online classes), and enaction (the final product). In order to satisfy these principles, Gillam and Shannon describe an online course containing scaffolded assignments beginning with group negotiation of a topic of exploration, data collection via a group constructed survey (the design of which requires emergence and enaction), multimodal presentation of findings, a collaborative annotated bibliography, and an individual final project (a problem/solution paper accompanied by a reflection paragraph). The assignment helps students understand writing as ecological, writing for a community, and writing for a purpose instead of presenting writing as a solitary act done by an independent writer (35).

While I am focused on hybrid course design, I felt that this article was beneficial for me to examine because of the focus on writing as enaction of the ecological. The notion that writing is the result of engagement in an ecology makes community-building in the writing course seems not only desirable but necessary. The writing that students do in their future careers will be ecological in nature-steeped as it will be in the conventions and purposes of specific discourse communities-so one could argue that writing instructors have an impetus to teach writing as ecological enactment. Another reason that I found this article very useful is that I was drawn to Garrison and Vaughan’s notion of “communities of inquiry” and part of the aim of my project will be to build such as community. After reading Garrison and Vaughan I still wasn’t quite certain how one might facilitate the building of such communities. Gillam and Wooden put the notion of “community of inquiry” into action in the course design that they discuss in this article.

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