Learning While Teaching: Exploring the Impacts of Pre-Designed Courses as Faculty Training

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Brief Abstract

This session will share and discuss faculty experiences with a multimodal pre-designed module in an online first-year writing course with the goal of improving faculty development and training through support and pre-designed curriculum. In this discovery session, participants will be asked to consider pre-designed courses as learning spaces for faculty and designers alike. 


Catrina Mitchum is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in Composition/Rhetoric and Digital Studies from Old Dominion University. In 2018, she was, collaboratively, awarded the CCCC Research Initiative Grant. Her research interests are in retention and course design of online writing classes. She has scholarly work published in The Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, MediaCommons and Enculturation. She teaches first year writing and professional and technical writing courses online.

Extended Abstract

In the Writing Program at a large public institution in the southwest, a designated HSI, we use a required pre-designed course (PDC) with established course outcomes for our online courses. These PDCs are designed to streamline the online teaching experience for new instructors--both graduate students and lecturers from a variety of disciplines with English--as well as offer help and support as they learn to navigate their online writing courses. In the fall of 2019, we developed a multimodal argument assignment for the second first-year writing course in a two course sequence. A multimodal project requires students to craft their assignment using a combination of text, images, video, and/or audio components. Instructors are able to choose this project in place of a more traditional research essay; however, many of our new online instructors still opt for the traditional essay and remain hesitant to include multimodal composition or discuss the transferability of these skills in their online courses.


Although writing studies scholarship has long advocated for the inclusion of digital or multimodal composition (Selfe, 1999; 2004; Selber, 2005; Ball, 2004) and digital literacies are essential in college classrooms (Jacobson, et al, 2019), research shows that instructors who might try a multimodal assignment in a face-to-face course are less likely to try it online (Blair, 2015; Borgman, 2019). Even if instructors do feel comfortable enough because they are working with a pre- built curriculum, many do not know how to articulate how these projects can transfer to other writing situations (DePalma, 2015). These professional fears--coupled with the “messy logistics” (Borgman, 2019) that online writing faculty often associate with multimodal projects--led our Writing Program to consider how teaching from the pre-designed module might actually help mitigate these fears and uncertainties as well as offer space for ongoing professional development.


In the most recent version of the pre-designed course, the multimodal module and instructor resources were designed to mitigate uncertainty and promote confidence in teaching these assignments by focusing on scaffolding the final project and explaining the rationale behind certain activities. The idea was that faculty who were interested in multimodality but not yet confident in it would gain the tools, language, and resources they needed, as well as clear up any misconceptions that multimodal texts are not the “big and bold” or overly complicated documents they think they are (Borgman, 2019), as they themselves worked through the pre-designed course. In order to assess the usefulness of our pre-designed course and whether or not we were meeting our goal of offering effective professional development, we tracked a variety of new online instructors in Spring 2021 who chose to do the multimodal module to see how well they: 1) felt prepared to teach multimodal projects after teaching the course; 2) understood the transferability of the skills learned in multimodal projects; and to find out 3) whether or not they needed additional professional development or support.


In this discovery session, we will share we’ll share our own story developing and teaching this project, we’ll share the story we see in the experience of the instructors who are new to teaching this multimodal project and gaps we see in our support of these instructors who are “learning on the job,” and we’ll ask participants to consider how they’ve learned from teaching a course they didn’t design, how they considered those teaching a course they did design, and how faculty support is managed through their programs and institutions. This session is intended to start a discussion about both the designer and the teacher perspectives when PDCs are required.