How to Flip Without Flipping Out: Some Digital Resources for Teaching the Analog Experience of Writing

An early flipped classroom?

Below you will find links to some digital resources I selectively use in my writing courses at Washington College and recommend that you consider for your courses, suitable for teaching writing, argumentation, and style at all levels in the college. But this is not an argument to flip your classroom, per se, even though it looks like one. Let me explain.

Writers seek resources, feedback, and instructive models as a way to develop their writing. The motivation for doing so is audience. Aristotle’s definition of the ways rhetoric teaches and tunes in audience goes like this: The faculty of observing (or discovering) the available means of persuasion in any given case. To persuade means to relate, to communicate and to connect. In this way, writing, or at least the writing we expect from our students in the academy, is fundamentally an analog technology and faculty: the signals should be continuous with the sources of information we study and thereby reproduce.

Where do we find the available means for persuading students how to write and to communicate today? Increasingly, one answer we are hearing with urgency argues that the means have to be digital in order to be accessible to our digitally native (and increasingly, digitally addled) students.  I don’t agree entirely, and worry (as both teacher and parent) that in some cases our practices are creating self-fulfilling prophecies. But that need not be every case. The “flipping” and “blending” of our classrooms and courses, courses which are fundamentally analog places for learning, can be enhanced by the means of digital resources.

However, such resources of information should not be confused with the ends of teaching.  If seeking the available means of persuasion, wherever that given case might be, is understood as the basis for what all writers and speakers do, then a good writing classroom has been “flipped” or “hybrid” since liberal education began, long before these terms became educational buzz words. This flipping–the targeting of elements of writing, critical reading, and style that each student individually needs to work on and develop–goes on, of course, when students come to our offices for a conference or work with peer tutors in the Writing Center. In fact, since skill in communicating with others is one of the main goals in teaching writing, I would suggest that analog, non-virtual versions of the flipped classroom, the conference with a tutor or mentor or peer, provide not just information, but a better opportunity  to learn to commune and to communicate with others than do digital versions.

And yet, I recognize that these analog experiences are not the only spaces where students, and let’s face it, faculty, are interacting with ideas and each other (I am, after all, communicating with you through this digital space of this blog). Digital varieties of flipping, of the YouTube and Kahn Academy variety that have become especially popular in secondary and primary schools, places strapped for resources like our wonderful Writing Center and our enviable class sizes, might be useful when appropriately used to supplement the course and its purposes. We, teachers, should be as rhetorically selective in our materials and resources as writers should be. How does this information serve my course (my argument)? What will be its effects on my audience? These resources are obviously available (Google and YouTube have made them seemingly ubiquitous), but whether they are a means for persuasive teaching and learning, in any given case, is another matter that we should decide, using (as Aristotle reminds us) our faculties.

Listed below  are digital resources I recommend that you could selectively direct your students to, as students work outside the classroom, targeting particular areas of their revision (strengthening their argumentation and critical thinking, their organization) and editing (style, grammar, punctuation). One way you might direct students for teaching beyond the classroom: select a particular discussion (some of these resources offer follow-up exercises) by providing them the link, ask students to use while working on revision or editing. For example, when students are editing their first writing project, I have them read Michael Harvey’s chapter in The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing that discusses active and passive voice. [Note: First Year students receive a free copy of this book over the summer; if you would like a free copy for yourself to consider using in your course, I will get you one]. Assigning a book chapter to be used outside of class is also flipping the classroom, is it not? Along with this strategy, I give students the link to this discussion of Active v. Passive voice at the Style Academy.  This precedes my brief discussion of the topic in an editing workshop I organize with students the last class before their first writing project is due.

Another method: after a paper or writing project has been completed or returned to students with your feedback, identify a particular element that you focus on in class as a follow-up. For example, if you notice that a fair number of student writers struggled with a key element of argumentation, the need for a claim or thesis to be contestable or arguable, you might turn to this discussion from the Grounds for Argument resource that includes a video clip from Monty Python to elucidate its point. You might do something similar with particular grammatical or punctuation problems you observe in student writing, directing students to follow-up with a discussion of Comma Splices in the Guide to Grammar and Writing, one that includes interactive quizzes.

Here is a selection of several resources I have used and recommend (others are linked on the left of this blog under Resources):

Composing Arguments [Davidson]

Guide to Grammar and Writing [Capital Community College, Hartford CT]

Grounds for Argument [UVA]

Style Academy [BYU]

Purdue OWL [especially for citation guidelines]

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