Sharing the Journey: Video as a Strategy for Inclusion in an Asynchronous Online Writing Class

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Brief Abstract

This presentation emphasizes the value of authentic video as a tool for including and empowering students in an asynchronous online writing class. The presenters discuss research supporting the value of an inclusive classroom and explore strategies for reframing the learning experience as a journey shared by the student and instructor. 


Ben Pearson is the Program Director for writing classes at Excelsior College. He comes to the field of writing instruction from a non-traditional background, having begun his academic career as a historian. He is passionate about writing across the curriculum, with a particular interest in teaching information literacy and research-based writing. Ben holds an MA and PhD in modern European history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a graduate certificate in online writing instruction from the University of Arkansas - Little Rock.

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Extended Abstract

Extensive research supports the connection between inclusive teaching practices and student success.  For example, the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University emphasizes that classroom climate has a significant impact on student learning. According to the Eberly Center, fear or shame related to being “wrong” can be highly demotivating to students. The traumatic times we are experiencing in our culture—related to the pandemic, economic woes, and racism— create a particular need for supportive and inclusive pedagogy. Mays Imad, a neuroscientist and founding coordinator of the teaching and learning center at Pima Community College, explains that trauma negatively impacts students’ ability to learn and that creating trauma-informed learning environments is necessary. These learning environments focus on safety, trust, and inclusion.  

The presenters recently completed the development of a new asynchronous introductory writing course at the open enrollment online college where we work. This is a class that will run in multiple sections with multiple faculty each term but will share common outcomes, learning materials, and assignments.  Students enter this course with widely variable levels of writing experience, skill, and comfort. Many—especially first generation college students, minority students, and students with a non-traditional academic background—struggle with anxiety, self-doubt, and fear of taking risks. Many also express some degree of insecurity or shame about their own use of language and their struggles to write in an “academic” or “professional” voice. 

Our goal in this class was to create an inclusive learning environment that provides students with a safe and supportive space to develop as writers. In the class, we intentionally frame learning writing as a lifelong process in which we are all engaged, students and teachers alike. We challenge the idea that there is single, unitary form of “correctness” to which every writer must aspire, instead emphasizing that good writing is guided by situational conventions and that the ultimate goal is effective communication, not some abstract ideal of perfection.  At the same time, we also provide students with practical guidelines and models for writing more clearly and more effectively in both academic and professional contexts. Research by Beth Hewett and others has shown that students benefit from explicit instructions that assume minimal prior knowledge and from concrete modeling of the skills they are expected to demonstrate. This is especially true for students historically underserved by traditional higher education. 

In order to meet these goals within the instructional format used at our college, we created videos for each week of the class in which the course developer—who is also a writing professor, writer, and first-generation college student—could speak directly and informally to students about her own writing process and struggles as a writer, while also conducting interviews in which experts and writers in other fields share their experiences.  

For example, in the first week of the course, which focuses on the writing process, the course developer walks students through the step-by-step process she followed to prepare one of her own articles for publication. In another video that shows students how to use the online writing lab to help answer questions about grammar and punctuation, the course developer shares her experiences as an undergraduate student who was hesitant to seek help and ask questions.  

A learning module that focuses on issues of “correctness” in academic writing includes an interview with a linguist who emphasizes the relativity of correctness, stating that there is only an “error” in communication when communication doesn’t happen. While “correctness” remains an important part of academic discourse, and a goal to aspire to, the video helps students better understand there should be no shame in having struggles with the “rules” of academic writing. It is through this freedom from shame that students can begin to find their writing voices and then work to understand error expectations of an academic audience. 

A module that focuses on genre conventions and writing expectations across the disciplines includes interviews with a series of professionals in other fields: a professional writer and a business owner, a nursing professional, and an nuclear engineer. In the interviews, the experts from other fields help students better understand the value of writing, explain expectations of professional writing in their fields, and share some of their own process and struggles. This video offers students insight into the variety of writing expectations in different fields, while also helping them to see some of the “messiness” of writing in the real world. 

Finally, a series of videos feature the course developer using her own writing and the writing of others to concretely model the skills students are working to develop. Topics include reading assignment instructions, analyzing the rhetorical choices of an author, crafting a thesis statement, paraphrasing, paragraphing, and providing and receiving peer feedback. By breaking down tasks into their component parts without assuming prior knowledge, these videos empower students to develop and succeed as writers. 

This presentation would emphasize the importance of both the content and style of the videos in creating a warm, inclusive learning environment for beginning writers. It would also highlight the importance of breaking down tasks into their discrete parts and providing concrete modelling to support the success of all students. During the presentation, short selections from the video series would be shared with the audience, and audience members would be encouraged to brainstorm ways in which they could use video in their courses to help create an inclusive classroom that is supportive of student growth and learning.  

This presentation would describe the benefits of an inclusive classroom, showcase specific examples of how inclusivity can be emphasized and students empowered through videos, and emphasize that classroom videos do not have to be formal or “professional” to be effective. In fact, we would argue that a real person sharing their own struggles and stories can speak to students more effectively than a more formal approach.