Use regular informal writing as a way to create community
Writing can help create a sense of place for students and can help them feel that they belong to a group. Use discussion boards, chats, Google docs, Slack, and other online formats to facilitate interactions between you and your students and between students and other students. Written communication can be especially helpful in building community if your writing is warm, inviting, and conversational.
Use regular informal writing to assess learning
In online classes, you’ll see more of your students’ writing than ever before—formal and informal assignments and daily communication through email, chats, and other messaging platforms. You can use these interactions to assess learning. For example, you might ask students to send you a memo about their learning after a synchronous meeting or a short progress memo reporting on their paper or project. Intentionally designed communication assignments give students opportunities to write in new genres and give you important information about their learning. You can find ideas for exploratory, write-to-learn activities online or in John Bean’s excellent book Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.
Pay attention to all student writing
Because you’ll see more of your students’ writing, you can get a better sense of who they are as writers. As you see more texts (and more variety of texts), you can note patterns in students’ writing. Use these patterns to guide your responses to their formal writing assignments. Look for patterns to praise and areas where they can improve.
Respond promptly and often
Giving prompt feedback on drafts and graded assignments is even more important in online classes than in face-to-face classes. Students need a sense of where they should be going with a paper, how close they are to getting there, and what they should do next to reach the goal. Frequent feedback can keep them on track. This feedback can be short, focusing only on what students need at that point in the writing process. All feedback should be a conversation between you and your student. If you give written feedback or record feedback for asynchronous viewing, ask students to respond to your comments. Design activities that direct students to do something with your feedback. And then respond again.
– Great Writers Inspire – Resources organized by writers and themes that can be incorporated into courses under Creative Commons licenses. Includes links to e-books, images, talks, videos, and other materials.
– Writing Commons – An “encyclopedia” of information about the composing process, genre, information literacy, rhetoric, and style and links to course materials on business writing, technical writing, and others.