Writing Together: How a Student-Professor Bond Turned Into a Book
April 18, 2018
Scott Warnock, PhD, director of the Drexel University Writing Program and an associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, knew that his 2009 book “Teaching Writing Online: How and Why” needed an update.
Stemming from his experience over the course of his 20-plus-year teaching career, he figured that his next book on the subject could benefit from the addition of a student perspective. So, he turned to one of his all-time favorite students, Diana Gasiewski, BA education ’16. Gasiewski had taken his fully online English 102 class and their relationship continued to grow over two additional courses together before her senior year. Because very few other books had been authored between teachers and students in this way, the writing duo at first set out to write just an article.
“I love this story,” Warnock said while sitting in his office in the Writing Center, nodding at Gasiewski to begin telling it.
“I went down the street that day, posted up at a coffee shop, and just started writing about my experience in that course, which was my freshmen first-year writing course that happened online,” Gasiewski said. “I sat there and I wrote 6,000 words. Then we were like, ‘OK, maybe this should be something bigger than an article.’”
“Six-thousand words is an article itself,” Warnock added. “We have a good working relationship, so I thought, ‘this is really good. There might be more to this.’”
That “something more” became their 267-page book, “Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course,” which was released in March by the National Council of Teachers of English, or NCTE. Seeing how an online writing class is not only taught, but also how it is “studented,” is the main takeaway they hope readers come away with upon reading the book, Warnock said. The writing partners achieved this by working through each chapter in a “call and response” style where they each recount their experience in the Drexel course in a way that can apply to other teachers and students in online writing courses, or even online courses in general.
“We were trying to model a good class,” Warnock said. “So if you’re saying online learning doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work for me, or I don’t get it, [you’ll see how] Diana and her classmates facilitate discussion — that’s in the book. How did it look from her perspective?
“How about this question which I get all the time,” he continued. “Where do students do their work? When you’re in class, you’re in class. … So she writes about it. Diana had this coffee shop and she describes it in the book. So it’s very granular in the experience.”
Warnock first found scholarly interest in online writing instruction when he was hired at Drexel 14 years ago to convert all first-year writing courses to online and hybrid courses. At the time he released “Teaching Writing Online,” he said there was really no other book like it.
“I was looking, and everything about distance learning, or online learning, was content-based,” Warnock said, pointing out that writing courses are instead skill-based. “It was unbelievable! I was like, ‘Where’s the stuff for writing instruction?’ I still think it’s really heavily tipped in that way.”
In the same vein, for the most recent project, Warnock and Gasiewski found a similar pedagogical hole in that the student voice is rarely represented in educational materials. Having reviewed a bunch of this material when pursuing her education degree, Gasiewski said counteracting this trend was something that made her passionate about working on the book project.
“This is broader than the world of online writing instruction and kind of applies to the world of education period in that the student voice just isn’t represented at all,” she said.
Another highly important point about online education that the book showcases is how meaningful discussion amongst students can be promoted. The book even includes flow charts to illustrate how complex online discussion board conversations happened among the 17 students in the course based on simple prompts— something that would have been hard to replicate in face-to-face classes.
“In general, having this community with my classmates made the class so much easier and so much more enjoyable, too,” Gasiewski said of the importance of this type of discussion in an online learning environment.
“I think that community is foundational,” Warnock agreed. “There’s a lot of work early on in our course to develop community. I think that instructors need to have a structure for discussions.”
Though this writing duo, apt to laugh together and finish each other’s sentences, have no future collaborative projects planned yet, their work together has certainly been paramount to their individual professional development. The project has pushed Gasiewski toward applying for graduate school to continue studying composition and rhetoric, and Warnock is focusing on the international student experience in online coursework for a new project. They are both also very grateful that Drexel offers and supports such opportunities as this.
“You can look at this and say, ‘Oh, this is kind of a quirky project,’ and I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to get across the finish line, but we had some good people who were behind it,” Warnock said. “I think it made it easier working on something you thought everyone supported.”
Find out more about “Writing Together” on the NCTE website.