Saturday, June 22, 2013

My e-dventures of Writing

Retrieved June 20, 2013 from here
Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade is another amazing adventure that I have just completed on Coursera. It was offered by Mt. San Jacinto College, and instructed by Lorrie Ross, Lawrence (Larry) Barkley, & Ted Blake. The course was broken into five weekly units with each unit spanning one week. Each weekly unit had the following items: video lectures, in-video quizzes, readings, journal writings, discussion forums, peer reviewed writing assignment, and weekly quiz. Our first week started with a video by Lorrie Ross giving us some tips on how to become a successful online leaner. We spent the whole week reading the syllabus, taking the course guide quiz, checking the weekly materials, creating a success list, and a calendar as an effective way to organize the work. Then, we introduced ourselves in the discussion forum. It was just as an exploration tour for learners in order to be familiar with the platform of Coursera. By clicking each week on the sidebar, one can find all the required activities and assignments with links, benchmark dates, credit points, and estimated time to complete them. This well-designed format helped us a lot to be more organized, and saved a lot of our time. Here is a screenshot of week 2 activities:

We spent the second, third, and fourth weeks analyzing parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections), clauses, phrases, and sentence types (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex). One can say that this is just a grammar course, but for me it is a course of writing basics making use of the grammatical structures effectively to construct well-designed sentences as a step towards composing a good paragraph. The last week was all bout the writing process stages: inventing, organizing, drafting, revising, and editing. Despite of its importance for writers, that week was a little bit theoretical. The readings were so helpful and detailed; however, we needed more practice and training for each stage with some examples or models. We just watched the video lectures, read the materials, and then we were asked to compose a direct paragraph of fifteen sentences about one of four topics. I think that there was a missing week that could be added to provide a unit about how to use these stages on a real basis.

One of the most interesting features of this course was the involvement of e-journals as an activity to practice writing and store assignments. It was not obligatory, but it was necessary for self-growth. We had many choices to create our blogs such as Blogger, WordPress, Google Doc, or MS Word program. I decided to use WordPress because I wanted to know more about its potential before launching my students' blog in the next semester. Really,  I was so impressed by its smooth use, and various features. We used our e-journals to apply all what we learned each week, and to draft the peer writing assignments before submission. I extremely enjoyed drafting, publishing, and responding to my readers. However, not all participants accomplished this activity effectively as it was optional. Here is a screenshot of my blog

Another great feature of this course was the main questions provided by the instructors to discuss in the forums. Although these questions had no any credit points, there were many active, and fruitful discussion threads throughout the five weeks. Among the topics we discussed together were the reason behind taking that course, the value of learning from peers around the world, writing style and how it reflects one's interests, cultural background, educational experience, ... etc., and the process we follow when composing a piece of writing. By the end of week four, I managed to identify my favorite writing styles: Teacher (i.e., expository), and Activist (i.e., persuasive). Actually, I’m good at writing explanations and tutorials to others, and I also love arguments and have some abilities to persuade others with my ideas. This explains why my descriptive and narrative writings are not creative and rich. I feel so relieved now; however, this doesn't mean I can’t write descriptions or stories. I only need to learn more and practice a variety of writings to improve these potential abilities. 

At last, I would like to talk a little bit about the peer assessment. Unfortunately, most peers were not familiar with such assessments, and there were many complaints by the participants. They lost many scores as a result of their peers' inability to evaluate using rubrics. Furthermore, they didn't use the feedback box wisely and effectively. I think that learners need to be trained before evaluating their peers, and giving them some feedback. It is preferable to teach evaluation and feedback explicitly by, for example, recording a video in which the instructor analyzes an assignment using a rubric and gives some constructive feedback focusing on both the good and bad sides. I hope they take these suggestions into consideration when offering this course again in Mid-September 2013 (You can sign up now).  

In general, I enjoyed this course so much considering it as a staring point for being an effective and creative writer. To grow and move forward, I only need to increase my vocabulary base and expose to a variety of writing styles. This can be done by reading more short stories and analyzing their genres to know more about the writers' voices and purposes. I think that there should be another adventure of writing that is coming soon!

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