Marking the Moment: Teaching During COVID


“Taste and Smell” by Rachel Smith 

When we transitioned to online learning at the beginning of the pandemic, I found it very difficult to write about how I was feeling. While I wanted to reflect on my daily experiences, I could not find the words to explain such a dramatic shift in my life. I realized that if I felt this way, it was likely my students felt similarly. We spent our last unit studying personal memoir, using a multimodal journaling project to document this time. My students filmed vlogs, interviewed family members, created digital collages, and developed new ways to communicate their experiences. We also discussed how borrowing the words of others using mediums like blackout poetry could help us express ourselves. In that same vein, when I considered reflecting on the past year, I struggled to find the words. Therefore, I turn to this poetic form to explain what it has been like teaching and learning fully online. I hope this piece, “Taste and Smell,” conveys the continued fear, exhaustion, and uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the cautious hope I feel one year later.

Text-friendly version:

“Taste and Smell”

This impossible “plague”
could consume my touch 

a forceful flow

contagious and potent 

the toll so endless. 

we are destined for 

a safe life, 



I suppose. 

a star and a dream 

Conferencing with Students — Coffee Chat

Guest blogger, Josh Barsczewski, is a PhD candidate in Rhet/Comp at the UMass Amherst. He teaches the first-year writing courses in the Writing Program , where he also serves as a mentor to first-year teachers. Josh has also served as the Assistant Director of the UMass Writing Center. 


If you ask your fellow Writing Program colleagues how they handle the required “Interacting with Texts” conferences, you’ll hear a lot of different ideas. Some hold 20 minutes conferences with each student; some spend 30 minutes or more. Some read the Unit 2 drafts ahead of time; some read during the conference itself. Still others try group conferences where they act more like facilitators of a peer review session rather than an “instructor” per se.  There hasn’t typically been a lot of training around the Whys and Hows of conferencing because they aren’t something we do every day. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, or that there aren’t some techniques to help make them more productive and enjoyable! Last Friday, (2/8/2019) Shannon Mooney, Stacie Klinowski, and I led an informal workshop/conversation on how to conference with students. Shannon, Stacie and I all have experience working in Writing Centers, where one-on-one pedagogy is key. So, we decided to share some of the tips and ideas we use to help students one-on-one.

Some ideas we talked about:

*Have a goal for your conferences. What do you hope to achieve? Do you want students to think more complexly? Then maybe prepare a few higher-level questions ahead of time that you can ask each student that might help them develop their ideas. Are you more focused on making sure students can summarize and paraphrase well? Then focus your session primarily on those things. For example, if you’re more concerned with organization, structure, or audience awareness, you don’t need to feel compelled to discuss grammatical errors.

*Think about where in the unit you’re scheduling your conferences. If you schedule conferences earlier, then you might want to focus on generative writing, brainstorming, and asking open-ended questions. Being comfortable with silence as students figure out what they’re thinking is key! If you schedule conferences after the initial draft, maybe you can focus on global revision strategies. But if you wait until later, maybe you should focus just on specific parts of the essay or sentence-level concerns.



*Focus on patterns and don’t think you need to cover everything. When we work one-on-one, we might feel compelled to share all of our tips and advice with students, but think of this from the students’ perspective. In trying to help them, we might be overloading them. Instead, it would be better to focus on a few things that we can cover in depth.

*Make the student do the work. If we put pressure on ourselves to do too much, we can quickly burnout! To help lift the burden off of yourself, make plans so that the student has to do most of the reading, note taking, thinking and writing. For example, have students come prepared with questions to ask you so you don’t need to think as much on the fly. Or, have students read their own papers out loud so you don’t have to pre-read or try to read quickly while they’re sitting next to you. You might even try just talking through the essay without reading it: see if your student can summarize what they themselves have written. If they can’t, they might need to go back on their own and figure out what they’re doing.

*Try to do some writing in the conference itself. Conferences don’t need to be just about talking! Most writing tutors will tell you that some of the most productive moments of tutorials are when the tutor steps back and the writer actually tests out what has been discussed. We can do that with our students too. If you suggest a new organizational strategy, for example, maybe take a step back and let your student have some silent time to write and see if the idea works for them. If it feels awkward sitting there while they write, you can take a step outside. Sometimes I like to walk around the perimeter of the 13th floor; after one trip around, I’ll check in on my student. If they want more time, I’ll walk around again.

Above all, keep in mind what we’re there for. Years ago, Stephen North declared the axiom around which Writing Centers operate when he said “Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing.” That’s true in many ways for College Writing too, and certainly keeping this adage in mind can help us plan our conferences. Getting the student to write a perfect “Interacting with Texts” paper after our conference is a less achievable goal than helping them build writerly skills to carry forth throughout College Writing and beyond.


The Resource Center staff of the UMass Writing Program is hosting a series of Coffee Chats for Spring 2019 semester. Each Chat will take up a topic related to the teaching of writing. Chats will be held on the following Fridays (2/22, 3/22, 4/5, 4/19) from 2:30-3:30 in 1321 Du Bois Library. Coffee and snacks will be served!  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Stellar Stories by Jodie Childers, Tech Fellow 2017

For the past few years, I’ve been looking for an easy-to-use tool to create digital stories in the classroom. This past semester, I used Steller, an app that allows students to construct digital stories on their phones by easily importing photographs and video from their phones, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.

One goal of the project was to push students to maximize the capabilities of this tool. Steller is often used superficially to document vacations or to share streams of personal photos, and while I wanted students to consider how to write with images, I also wanted them to think about balancing images, videos, and text in a multimodal writing context.

As we prepared for the project, we viewed several Steller stories, and talked about their structure. One tendency we noticed was that most leaned too heavily on photographs with no explanatory text to contextualize the images. Other pieces, however, were filled with text and failed to compellingly hold the viewer’s attention. As multimodal writers, their goal was to find an effective balance among the various mediums and to consider how the mediums relate to one another.

Students chose a diverse range of topics. One student documented her trip to New York, but unlike most of the travelogues on Steller, she added historical context to the places, using her story not only to entertain but to inform the reader about the places she visited. Documenting her family’s tradition of cooking potstickers, another student took a more poetic approach, reflecting on the the tensions between simplicity and complexity, exploring the ways in which college students can navigate the stressors of finals by appreciating the simple things in life.

Here is the assignment sheet I gave my students:

Unit #4 Digital Essay

to engage and reflect upon the digital writing process
to gain awareness of rhetorical choices in multiple mediums & their effects on audience
to craft a voice/style tailored to a close audience (i.e., classmates)
to copy edit for audience

For this assignment, you will create a digital story on a topic of your choice using Steller, a platform that allows you to create visual stories.

Some possibilities for your narrative include:

a personal story
a persuasive essay on a topic that you are passionate about
an oral history or interview with a friend or family member
a how-to guide
an activist toolkit
a travel guide

As you decide on your topic for your digital story, consider not only exigence and audience but also the medium itself. In other words, choose a topic that allows you to play with both visual content and text.

The Writing Process

I also encouraged students to take original photographs for this project. We analyzed still shots, and I sent the students outside to compose their own photographs. I was impressed with how quickly they picked up on how to take photographs.

Mapping the Media by Thomas John Pickering, Tech Fellow 2017

Most people teach digital media literacy badly. Or, they teach it in ways that indoctrinate students into ideologies complicit with ruling class interests, which is essentially the same thing. Let me explain.

The usual approach to media literacy, emerging after the election of Donald Trump and the panic of fake news, is to teach students to recognize the difference between facts and opinions, truths and falsehoods, real news and fake news, credible sources and untrustworthy sources. It thus takes the crisis of fake news very seriously and assumes that the crisis can be solved or at least alleviated by a rigorous media literacy education project. There are two problems with this approach.

First, it assumes that there is an easily recognizable difference between fact and opinion, and that this difference can be determined by just a quick google search. What date was it published? How did you learn of this source? Can you find other sources that corroborate the story? Was it written for a trustworthy publication, like NPR or the Washington Post, or is it from Some Guy’s Blog? The New York Times has launched a whole media literacy campaign that as much as promises: if you go through this process, you’ll be okay!

Second, this solution to fake news emerged out of a particular exigence and worldview. The story goes like this: in the election between the qualified, truthtelling Hillary Clinton and a belligerent, fake news-spewing Donald Trump, falsehood and lies won out (given a helping hand of course by foreign others like Putin). People were tricked into voting for Donald Trump because they lacked sufficient literacy and knowledge to interpret and dismiss the fake news from the real. If America were more educated, we might have a different president. Teach media literacy; save the world, says English professor John Duffy.

My tech fellows project emerged out of a response to this approach to media literacy. I believe the issue is much more complicated than it is being given credit for, and I will illustrate that through a story: In the spring of 2015, a police department in the Denver area killed an unarmed black man in broad daylight. Having just emerged from protests for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Jessie Hernandez, myself and many other Denver-area community members were ready to go for another march. But the police department was hush-hush about the shooting, and the local media barely covered it. When they did, they were quick to emphasize the dead man’s criminal record and the police officer’s achievements and commendations.

In order to get any “real” information on the shooting, especially information that contextualized it in relation to the larger history of violence against black bodies, I had to leave the official media sphere and turn to independent blogs and locally-run, grassroots websites. I have no doubt that any of these websites I visited would be labeled questionable and biased by the anti-fake news, facts-only train. But most of the time, they are all that is available to us.

Writing studies has grown very good at acknowledging the ways that some discourses and genres, like legal ones, are structured in such a way that simply do not allow for subaltern voices to speak and be heard. The same, I argue, is true of journalist discourses; the kind of parrhesiac positioning that mainstream media performs, wielding such slogans as “The Truth Is More Important Now Than Ever” and “Fair and Balanced,” commits itself to a liberal-bourgeois worldview that would never allow itself to narrate an event from a far left perspective without feeling that it was breaching some core journalistic value. Hence why mainstream media like the NYT or the Washington Post prove themselves, time and time again, utterly incapable of representing anti-racist, anti-capitalist politics.

The “truth” is that the left in America has no major news outlet. It has some very good smaller-scale operations, but most of us still have to get the majority of our news from the same places that Democrats and Republicans draw from. So we get used to wading through the pro-capitalist muck that is a New York Times article. We get used to having “alternative facts,” because we know that the official ones are pretty lousy. We become very, very good readers of the media precisely because we have embraced “post-truth” in a world where truth is equated with neoliberalism.

Teachers of writing and writing programs that commit themselves to media literacy pedagogies that proclaim a war against fake news and post-truth are, I argue, ultimately reactionary. They could only be made by a person (or a field) who is not used to reading mainstream media with a bitter taste in their mouth, who has grown comfortable with the soft-spoken, liberal NPR or the fiery “debates” on CNN. They represent a new, 21st-century “literacy crisis” narrative, except all the more insidious because at least when “Why Johnny Can’t Write” was published, the field recognized the crisis for what it was: conservative politics dressed up in pedagogy. Somewhere between then and now, we lost that critical gaze.

For my tech fellows project, then, I taught a digital media literacy unit that attempted to avoid these downfalls. Rather than decide for my students ahead of time that the NYT is trustworthy and their friend’s website is not, I asked them to create a “map” of the media along coordinates of their choosing, position individual media sources on the map, and write an essay defending their placement using evidence from actual media articles. To ensure that their maps did not fall easily along the usual liberal-conservative lines, I required that they include a few non-standard publications, like the far-left Socialist Worker.

Most of our in class time was spent reading digital media sources, comparing one account of an event to another, and talking about the many writing techniques publications use to condition information. Students learned firsthand how slippery the concept of “evidence” can be when tasked with the job of “proving” a publication is pro-war/imperialist or anti-animal rights, particularly when most journalist articles are written in such a way that they appear reasonable until compared to a radically different account. Along the way, they conducted their own original research to find their evidence and had to make an argument for why their map was socially useful–what it contributed to our conversations about media. Media is complicated, and so should be our pedagogies.

Annotated Bibliographies In The #fakenews Era by Tech Fellow Chris Ayala

As teachers, we often wonder how we can make our students more discernible citizens while adhering to a syllabus. Citizenry in our current moment is of the utmost importance and, as ENG112 instructors, we have a tool that can help us stay with the goals of our syllabus while helping our students become more discerning.

I’m talking about that Annotated Bibliography unit with a slight re-branding.

Reformatting Annotated Bibliography For News Summary:

This assignment came as a way to make my students read more. They started the semester joking about fake news and I used their humor as a way to pose the question: What is fake news?

None had an answer.

I told my students that, for extra credit, they should read one news article a day and talk about it with me. I had no idea how to track their progress, but I knew reading and about the news would make them more discerning with the right assignment. I remembered our Annotated Bibliography unit plan and reformatted that idea as a trackable assignment to help my students with this project.

Here were my terms:

  1. News link appears at the top (Dated).
  2. 20-25 words stating the links credibility and how they came to that conclusion.
  3. 20-25 words summarizing the article (NPR News summary was my example).
  4. A brief sentence or two saying what this article taught them.

This was the easiest way to make an assignment as far as format was concerned. Once these terms were laid out, my students went at it with a surprising vigor. On semester’s end, I was given an average of sixteen news summary pages, each entry more succinct than the last.

News Round Up And How To Make It Better:

The students who actively participated in this project made tremendous strides in their classroom participation and how they analyzed texts assigned. I noticed, too, the research paper and annotated bibliography lessons (from where the project format came) were easier to go over.

As far as critique and implementing this as a full on project, checking progress and unpacking where the information was coming from as well as how they were interacting with the material would be paramount to further success. For an extra credit assignment, I am happy with the work my students have done and the strides made toward being more discerning citizens.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phone by Tech Fellow Emily Hunerwadel

So. You’re a new TO, and if you’re anything like me, you are panicking right now as you read this sentence. There is so much to worry about in crafting a teaching persona and managing a class. Will you be the suit wearing, quiz stickler? The yoga-pant-wearing, cross-legged desk sitter? What about when your munchkins start coming in 10 minutes late? And, for god’s sake, what will you do about texting, twitter, insta, facebook, snapchat and the millions of other blinking platforms that serve as a carnival-esque distraction from your teaching curriculum? Don’t worry, baby girl, I got you.  

While I can’t tell you what to wear or how loud to talk in front of your class, I can say I’ve had some success with phones in my classroom. I know, I know, there actually is something to be said for the addiction narratives we assign to social media usage, and it is sometimes easier to be the “everyone-put-your-phones-in-this-basket” kind of teacher. But Shhhh. Let me convince you of the cell phone’s virtues in the following quippy listicle:

  • Stop iPhone-Forbidden-Fruit Syndrome

This is probably the most obvious and easily-debatable points, but forbidding phones in the classroom does not get rid of the distraction. In my own experience as a student, being told I could not look at my phone only made checking it more tantalizing. Even if I was a good little girl and kept my phone in my bag, I would often find that, as the class topic/discussion became more boring or unappealing, I would daydream of who was messaging me, liking my cat-child instagram pics, or sending me snapchats of their morning wake-up hair.

And that’s the crux of the problem: It’s not an issue of cell-phone usage; it’s an issue of engagement. An uninterested student will find a way to disengage with your class, iPhone or no. One needs no tools to daydream, and, as all teenagers (and biblical characters) know, telling someone “no” is a great way to create temptation. While it’s easy to blame technology for the waxy looks in your students’ eyes, banning phones eliminates so many possibilities of using this tech as a teaching tool while not solving the actual problem.

  • Exemplify Context: IRL Self v. Online Self

Yep. I said it. The Writing Program buzzword: context. Social media is a great tool for explaining and teaching the rhetorical concepts of Unit 1. While your youngins might not have much experience writing a personal essay, they tend to have a good amount of exposure to an online presence. In my experience, they come into class with at least some understanding that what they choose to share and how they choose to express themselves changes between social media platforms or between their virtual and physical “selves.” Pointing this out in the classroom setting is a great way to scaffold to related ideas of context and audience.

“The IRL Fetish” in Opening Conversations is obviously a great text to get them thinking and ready to discuss these concepts. This semester, I paired the Jurgenson essay with an activity stolen from Elizabeth M:

As students came into our second class, I told everyone we would be doing a social IRL experiment and to turn their phones and computers’ volume up as loud as possible.

As we started to discuss and debate the Jurgenson text, pings and bips abounded. Each time a phone rang, the responsible student’s face would blush red and often they felt the need to apologize. This is where the questioning and context exploration began. I turned the conversation to why each student felt so embarrassed when their iPhone-bell-tones perforated our discussion, and, after pondering, students replied saying they weren’t used to iPhones being ok in a class.

They were used to being reprimanded when their phones sounded in a classroom, so by being in the context of the classroom and hearing the sound, they expected some sort of trouble like a labrat trained that cheese=electric shock. I then asked if they would have the same reaction to the sound of their iPhone if alone in their dorm room or at a party or on the sidewalk, to which, they all agreed, would probably warrant different responses. The noise had a different meaning in a different space. In a different context!

By having a small physical example of context, they were then more ready to accept that they, in fact, have different ways of being in different situations, that context affects their sense of self and ways of acting. We were able to have a very worthwhile discussion about how our writing changes based upon context, branching to the differences between their online and embodied selves. I ended the class with generative writing comparing their virtual and IRL selves, which I noticed filtered into some of the Unit 1 essays.

  • Demonstrate Genre Conventions and Form

My first semester, I tried to teach these concepts through my Unit 4 assignment, in which we together made a class magazine. I brought in different online or physical magazine-type articles and tried to demonstrate how the addition of a picture or different typography affected the reading of the text. However, our final class magazine had only one essay that deviated from a typical essay format, which was slightly disappointing. Looking back, I think I did not incorporate enough exercises that modeled form or genre into my lesson plans, and so, in the final paper, they still did not feel comfortable taking those kinds of risks.

In reworking my lesson plans for this semester, I thought about ways to make the concept of genre and form more reachable and realized that perhaps, here again, they have more experience editing their writing for different social media platforms.

As a way to tap into that experience,I crafted a lesson plan tweak of a Writing Program Database favorite—“Short Long Short.” You can find a description of that activity here I’ve found that students LOVE this exercise and that it really gets them thinking about revision techniques while giving them the confidence to experiment with descriptive language.

In my class, I brought in my blue typewriter as our object (which they got a kick out of). I had them complete the activity in the normal way described, allowing them to distill their long descriptions into 50 words. After we discussed what exactly they’d done in the revision, I broke the class into smaller groups and asked them to choose one 50 word description and mold it into three separate social media posts, allowing them to choose which platforms to use (i.e. twitter, instagram, etc.)

We then analyzed how the templates of these social media platforms affected the content. We talked through questions like: How did the curation or picture-based quality of instagram change how you wrote the caption? How did your post need to change in particular to fit the more ephemeral medium of snapchat?

It was fairly obvious to most students how their Facebook post would need to change in order to be more appropriate for Twitter, and by teaching these differences as the “genre” of Facebook or the “form” of a tweet, I was able to help my students apply this vocabulary to their writing.


Writing is Always Multimodal by Sharanya Sridhar

Hello Everyone,

I am Sharanya Sridhar, a first year PhD student in literature. I also teach College Writing. During my masters program at Boise State, I taught first-year writing with a different curriculum that introduced me to critical conversations about multimodal composition.  The opportunity be a Tech Fellow this spring allowed me to talk about my evolving ideas about multimodality with my peers. It’s been incredibly helpful to have a community of first-year teachers with whom I could ruminate my excitements as well as anxieties about using technology and pedagogical practices. What follows is a snapshot of my project for Tech Fellows and a related activity. Hope you enjoy it!

Overarching context: My project for Tech-fellows this spring involved thinking about ways to incorporate multimodality and digital rhetoric in classroom conversations. I have also been thinking about ways to frame interesting theoretical concepts from composition studies as classroom activities so it becomes accessible and useful for first-year writers. The following activity speaks to both these goals.  

Immediate Goal(s): To introduce students to certain threshold concepts in writing, to get them to think about different shades of meaning the term ‘text’ could take, to understand that writing is always multimodal.

Preparatory Reading Assignment: As a preparation for this activity, students read 5 threshold concepts (I picked out the ones I wanted them to read) from “Writing is a Rhetorical and Social Activity”, Naming What We Know and pick 2 favourite concepts

In Class Activity: Based on the concepts they picked as their favourite, I put them in 4 different groups. Each group had to visually represent the concept they picked. Some made mind maps or roadmaps while some represented their concept with a series of sketches. Each group presented their visual representation and explained the concept but also talked about their own choices in representing their chosen concept.

Follow up Discussion: We talked about how we use different mediums to write, to make meaning, and to communicate our thoughts. We also talked about how writing gets interpreted differently based on how readers interpret it and the mediums readers use to interpret a piece of writing.

Follow up freewrite:  Based on the activity and our discussion, I asked them to write about their definition of text and it might be different from their previous conceptions of the term. I also asked them to give examples of certain texts that they hadn’t thought of as texts before.

Their responses to the activity and the freewrite was a positive one. It helped me set the the tone for the second unit (Interacting with a Text) and allowed them to explore multimodal texts like Ted Talks for their unit essay.


Opening Doors

This semester I’m teaching College Writing, and I’m about to begin our second unit – “Interacting with Texts.” Seems like a typical academic type assignment—students read one-two essays from our reader and then develop a critical response. Developing a critical response—meaning a response that moves beyond pure summary and agreeing or disagreeing with the author’s main point—may be challenging for students. As a writing teacher, this is a challenge that I feel a bit more comfortable with—developing ways through writing that enable students to develop their own ideas and responses to a text.

But what I really struggle with as a teacher is not so much with the writing process, but more with the reading process.  The essays in our reader have been selected to challenge first-year students and they do so for a variety of reasons. Many of the ideas raised by the authors included in Opening Conversations are complicated and complex, and combined with being unfamiliar with the different kinds of rhetorical choices these writers make in terms of form/ genre, our students may misread or misunderstand the content.

So here are a few things I try to keep in mind when I work through this unit.

What is an essay?

Many of our students may have traditional expectations when it comes to what constitutes an essay. They may expect to see a very clear and well defined thesis statement announced very early in the text. They may expect the author to be arguing either for a specific point or against it. Many of the essays we ask them to read don’t fit neatly into these expectations. These essays are meant to challenge our students’ notions of form and genre as a way to broaden their knowledge of texts. Since the audiences for most of these essays were not written directly for first-year college students, some of the essays will contain references (cultural and academic) that will be unfamiliar to our students. Our students may also bring a cultural frame of reference that differs from the author’s and our own. For example, I have to keep reminding myself that our students have grown up post 9/11. As a result, their relationship to the events surrounding 9/11 differs from those of us who are older and remember life before these events occurred. These differences can provide points of discussion as well as an introduction to research since students can research events and/or cultural references that they find unfamiliar.

Context – Mine and the Students.

One of the reasons why I wanted to go to graduate school was to have the space to continue reading challenging texts and discussing them with people who also loved discussing ideas and concepts. Many of the readings in Opening Conversations raises issues that many of us engaged in the exploration of these ideas want to discuss. However what I try to remember is that although these are ideas that I have been thinking, reading, and writing about for several years, this may be the first time our first-year students have come into contact with these ideas. Understanding white privilege, the fluidity of gender, systems of power are not learned in one 50 minute class period, or a week or even one semester.  Through our own reading and writing, this is what we work through most of our academic lives. College Writing provides our students with the space to be introduced to these ideas, a space that enables them to become aware of these different perspectives and to begin the questioning process.

When I was about to enter my first year of college, my mother told me that one of the reasons she and my father were sending me to the university was to expose me to new ideas, new concepts, new experiences that growing up in our small, rural New Hampshire town could not do. A part of being exposed to new ideas means having our assumptions and understanding of the world challenged in ways they would not be if we had stayed in our “comfort zones.” Sometimes this makes us uncomfortable and resistant. Sometimes this makes us confused and unsure what to say or think. Sometimes we may say things that may appear inappropriate.

As a teacher I try to practice what Judith Johnson, my mentor in graduate school, called a poetics of generosity—the assumption that everyone is writing and speaking from a good place, from a place where everyone is open to learning.  I try to keep reminding myself that our first-year students are beginning the process of understanding, and it is through the interaction of reading, discussing, and writing about these essays that will enable them to begin working through these ideas.

Building a Classroom Community

Since this may be the first time many students have interacted with the ideas raised in Opening Conversations, they may not only be unsure what to say, but unsure how to articulate what they are thinking. This may result in many uncomfortable silences in the classroom and students may make mistakes—they may say things that sound offensive.  Building a classroom community based on generosity, the assumption that we are all trying to figure these ideas out, and are all speaking from a place of learning enables students to work through these complex and complicated ideas without the fear of getting it “wrong.” Many teachers find it useful to work with the class to set up guidelines for discussions. Together as a class you can develop guidelines as to what kinds of statements would be useful, what kinds of questions would be useful, and the importance of clarification. “Class Discussions Suggestions” by Amber Engelson in the Writing Program’s Resource Database is an excellent example of how to establish a classroom based on generosity.

Opening Doors

I think the most important thing that I try to keep in mind is that in my first-year writing class, I’m opening a door to these ideas. Some students may have already taken the steps through the door, some may be willing to take a step or two through it, and some may be resistant right now to go through it. That’s all okay. They are just beginning. The important thing is that the door has been opened.


From the Writing Program’s Spring Symposium — “Who Gets Left Out of the ‘Paperless’ Classroom?”

In January of this year, the Writing Program held a symposium that explored how issues of diversity intersect with the first-year writing classroom. The symposium began with a talk from Professor Haivan Hoang entitled “Why Diversity Matters in FWY?” Our instructors then participated in a series of roundtables that focused on language, teacher identity, access/technology, discussion strategies, and issues of disabilities.  As a way to continue the discussions that we started at the symposium, we will bring to you an overview of each roundtable’s discussion.  This week we are featuring the discussion led by Shastri Akella and Rebecca Petitti for the roundtable “Who Gets Left Out of the ‘Paperless’ Classroom.” Please add your own thoughts and questions.

Roundtable: Who Gets Left Out of the “Paperless” Classroom

Leaders: Shastri Akella and Rebecca Petitti

Paperless classrooms can have their benefits. They can entail the sharing of assignments/lectures; collecting assignments; sharing feedback. However for a paperless classroom to work we, as teachers, need to have a shared understanding of the technology we are using with our students – in a sense we all need to be on the same page. It is important to keep in mind that this does not need to be an either/or situation – meaning as teachers we do not  have to have either a paperless or paper classroom. It is possible to explore having a hybrid classroom.

In order to explore the paperless and hybrid classroom, Shastri and Rebecca posed the following questions to the participants of this roundtable:

  • What is a paperless classroom to you—what are some ways in which you use technology?
  • What are some concerns you have about using technology in the classroom, particularly in terms of limitations for both students and teachers? What are some challenges?

Here are their responses or, in some cases, even more questions that were raised:

Challenges & Possible Strategies

Availability of technology on campus: lack of access; limited technology in classrooms; UMass does not have a laptop requirement for students

  •  Survey students at the beginning of class: natures of learning (digital vs. tactile)
  • Survey students at the beginning of class: can you bring in laptops?
  • Survey students about their technology usage

Distraction from laptops: students not paying attention; interacting with each other

  • Ask students to have all their technology/notifications on to see how they use that within a classroom space
  • Ask students to close laptops when you’re done writing
  • Have clear goals for writing; have students summarize the class; clarifying community membership—provide outline. Discussion might go well.
  • More and more students are learning (being forced to learn!) through technology

Classroom spaces: classrooms across campus are uneven in their technological capabilities; not  every classroom  has a projector

  • Possible to get a projector from AIMS

Reasons for not using technology

  • Preparation is harder?
  • Technology investment for teachers (dongles etc.)
  • Students might disengage with speaker (instructor/classmates) and look instead at the screen
  • Why do I need multimedia when I all want to teach is a sentence?
  • Different kinds of technology?
  • Different kinds of media?


  • Using a grammar blog to integrate student writing with technology
  • Converting “Adding to the Conversation” unit into new form (how form/content influences content)
  • Using new media but making sure all students are on the same page (ex: Vine video)
  • What form/media do students reach out for? Physical/digital media
  • Playing music as students write
  • Using music with speakers. TBA Unit: Bring in a musician into class. Creative process across disciplines. Q&A, writing exercises. Artists also talk about their revision process.
  • Usage of Power Points. Posting online might remove the incentive to come into class
  • Provide only outlines, helps with attention issues and multilingual writers
  • Focus and helping with goals vs. making sure students are respectful in class
  • Everything except final draft on Google Doc
  • Stop editing their papers if it’s online. Give targeted feedback
  • Students can interact with comments on Google Docs
  • Google Docs for peer reviews; students work at different pace. If students are done, they read another one—teacher can see comments and encourage then to write more if they are not detailed. Allow only comments, not in-line edits
  • In-class debate, students started doing research proactively
  • Peer-editing in Google Docs
  • Student can collaborate

Takeaways/Best Practices/Classroom Activities

  • Have conversations on how students use technology
  • Might be hard to incorporate technology in your first semester (when you might want to focus on content and not medium)
  • Having varied platforms for different writing styles: be adaptable
  • How do we have teachers step out of their comfort zone in terms of using technology?
  • Have workshops for teachers on different technology platforms
  • Continue to have books
  • Working on a common computer in peer groups—access ease
  • Focus issues—perhaps not use laptops?
  • Writing on paper and then putting up on Google Docs might give students the opportunity to sit longer with ideas
  • Writing Program Tech Coordinator can come to your classrooms for help with technology!