Understanding Online Writing Instruction in the COVID-Era

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The rapid, unplanned shift to online instruction throughout higher education beginning in March 2020 represented an unprecedented change for most instructors and now offers researchers an important window into better understanding the practical, pedagogical, and technological choices instructors made in their online courses. Documenting and reflecting on experiences from a variety of institutional contexts is critical for scholars as we seek to understand how online writing instruction (OWI) and student learning were impacted during the COVID era.

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The survey discussed here investigated OWI and the experiences of college-level writing instructors during the pandemic in academic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. It was designed to investigate the following research questions:

  1. What pedagogical and technological training and professional development did online writing instructors engage with and how did it inform classroom practices?
  2. What can scholars learn from the widespread online teaching experiences during the pandemic that can inform future academic training and ongoing professional development needs related to online writing pedagogy, classroom instruction, and instructional technology use?
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Preparation and Professional Development for Online Writing Instruction

In seeking insights on training and professional development experiences, one part of the survey asked a series of questions investigating the sources, foci, preferences, and perceived effectiveness of respondents’ preparation for OWI.  Responses captured a spectrum of experiences that supported instructors' pedagogical , technological, and learning modality needs.

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Experiences with Online Writing Instruction

One  section of the survey asked participants about various aspects of their pandemic OWI experiences, including successes or innovations, reflections on online pedagogical practices they might carry over to their in-person teaching, and final thoughts about OWI and teaching during the COVID era. Several themes emerged that capture the diversity of pedagogical lessons learned and offer insights on how pandemic experiences have influenced participants’ teaching in multiple instructional modalities.

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Online Instructional Technology and Digital and Multimodal Student Composing

One series of survey questions asked participants about technology they used for instruction and required students to use for composing. Responses provide important take-aways for future OWI academic training with graduate students, professional development with faculty, and equitable, inclusive access for students.

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Recommendations and Conclusions

Even with the many challenges of teaching online during the pandemic, only a third of survey respondents (30.9%) would choose to return to solely in-person instruction if they had their preference. Reflecting on the survey findings reported, I conclude by offering several recommendations aimed at helping writing programs support instructors and strengthen their online course offering moving forward.