Friday, November 8, 2013

Rough Drafts, Peer Editing, and the Online Class

First a confession:  long ago, in grad school when I was last surrounded by a critical mass of Comp-Rhet folks, I learned all about the writing process.  I had the enthusiasm of a new convert; you know what they say, "No vert like a convert."  I marched into my Composition classrooms and extolled the virtues of pre-writing, which we did together, mapping on the chalkboard, drawing arrows, doing freewriting.  We wrote rough drafts and final drafts.  We revised and made those final drafts better.

Along the way we did peer editing.  It's the only piece of the writing process puzzle that never, ever worked in a classroom.  I will not talk about all the failed experiments and frustrations.  I will just note that years ago, I gave up on the process and peer editing left my syllabus.

Fast forward to the online class I'm teaching now, Composition II.  Adjuncts teaching online get a course shell with all the curriculum already created.  My younger teacher self would have chafed at that.  My older, more tired with more commitments mid-life self is relieved.

I had wondered how peer editing would go in an online environment.  If students could be together in a group and not pull it off, how much worse might it be online?

I'm here to report that our first experience has been great.  Students post their own rough drafts in the discussion area with a short post about what worries them about their rough drafts.  I was pleasantly surprised at their ability to do this.

Then they had to choose at least one rough draft and write a response.  The response had to include 3 things they liked about the paper and 3 things that needed work.  Most students did a fairly good job at this.  And about 1/3 of the class commented on more than one paper--hurrah!

Sure, there was still the post that said, "Gee, I thought your essay was really good, and I'm not sure what changes to suggest."  But even those posters, for the most part, talked about what they liked about the paper.

I, too, had a chance to comment on rough drafts.  The final drafts are due tomorrow.  I'm interested to see how students do.  They've had all sorts of feedback.  Will they turn in stronger drafts?  For those who can carve out some time, I suspect their drafts will be stronger.

It's been just a few years since I taught.  When I last taught, we were just adopting our Learning Management System, eCompanion.  I didn't have students submit electronically.  Oh how much has changed in just a few years.

Yesterday, as I was commenting on rough drafts, I thought, wow, this is so much easier than writing notes by hand.  I could insert comments directly into paragraphs where I saw problems appearing--no need to stuff comments into cramped margins.

It will be interesting to see if I continue to feel this happy about the rough draft and peer editing process.  I know that I may just have the luck to have an exceptional class.  Or maybe it's something about the online environment.  Maybe both.

Each part of the process gets a grade, so there's incentive to participate.  Still, long ago, I used to do that too, and didn't have the same kind of luck.  I remember students showing up without rough drafts or with just a paragraph.  In the online environment, the unprepared don't derail the whole process, although I suppose enough unprepared people might.  The online environment helps in other ways too:  students can participate at a time when they're feeling up to it.  They can take their time in reading. 

When I last did peer editing with a class, they brought hand-written rough drafts and sat in a circle.  They had 5-8 minutes per draft and a feedback sheet to fill out.  As I look back, I'm not surprised that the process didn't work well.  I know many an expert who can't read and respond to papers that quickly.  And I expected students who were new to the process to be able to do that?

When I started teaching this online class, I confess that I expected the experience to be different from the onground teaching, and it has been.  I didn't anticipate that there would be ways that the online environment would actually be better than onground.  What a pleasant surprise.

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