Blended Learning: Teaching Writing with Technology
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Statement of the Problem: Teaching academic writing has always represented an important foundation in university courses. In the past, teaching writing, especially to freshman students, seemed a challenge to many educators because of these problems: The wide spread of plagiarism: students are lured by the plethora of free online sources to copy directly the words of others. The huge amount of paper work that both students and professors have to deal with. Many students are demotivated assuming that they know enough and do not need more English courses.Though computers have revolutionized the way we teach, yet teaching academic writing remained limited to students typing their drafts on their personal computers and sending emails to their professors. Significance and relevance of the work: This paper examines the effectiveness of using Blended Learning (BL) techniques to teach freshman writing. It focuses on a course entitled ENGL 101: Approaches to Critical Reading and Writing; it is devised for freshman students to develop their critical reading and writing skills. On their admission all students take the IELTS test to determine their proficiency level. This course has been chosen because freshman writing courses are widely acknowledged because they promote engagement and enrich rhetorical knowledge and metacognition (James R. Squire Office of Policy Research, 2013).In spite of the widespread of freshman writing courses, not many studies have investigated how technology can be used to overcome the challenges highlighted above. This paper attempts to fill this void by pinpointing the advantages of BL. It adopts McDonald’s definition of BL as a term which “is commonly associated with the introduction of online media into a course or programme, while at the same time recognizing that there is merit in retaining face-to-face (F2F) contact and other traditional approaches to supporting students” (2008, p. 2). The merits of this approach are: In-class activities are more interesting, and students acquire what Yancey (2014) calls textured literacy or “the ability to comfortably use and combine print, spoken, visual, and digital processes in composing a piece of writing” (p. 38) Students can still enjoy the F2F feedback they need from their instructors, Accessing a wide range of authentic material online articles, ads, videos, podcasts, etc. This makes the course more interesting as students feel that writing is part of the world around them which according to the communicative language teaching approach will make them motivated (Freeman, 2008), and Turnitin provides originality reports which alert students against plagiarismMethodology: The study describes a fifteen-week course to teach academic writing in a lab. At the beginning of the course, a needs analysis is conducted to collect “information to be used in syllabus design” (Nunan, 1988, p. 13). The students are asked to respond to a survey and a diagnostic writing prompt. The survey provides information about their different learning styles and the tasks they prefer and the diagnostic writing reveals their weaknesses and strengths. The results of both the survey and diagnostic writing helped in shaping the contents of the course. The course depends on Moodle as a learning management system (LMS) to introduce several online media but at the same time merits from F2F interaction. The teaching methodology is based on the process genre approach (Badger & White, 2000). This approach suggests that the process, the product, and the genre approaches to writing are complementary rather than contradictory. For every assignment the first step is the genre approach, students will be exposed to authentic texts. Then the process approach comes in as students’ practice planning and drafting which enable them to write better paragraphs. The product approach is the final step; students have controlled and guided writing sections which develop their appropriate use of vocabulary and syntax.Results: By the end of the course, the use of BL approach to teach freshman writing is evaluated according to the five Sloan-C pillars learning effectiveness, student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, cost effectiveness, and access (Lorenzo & Moore, 2002). BL proves effective because students’ writing develops and plagiarism almost disappears. Both students and professors are relieved from the paper work burden as everything is done online. Finally, students find the feedback they receive via Turnitin more useful and easier to integrate; and professors report shorter grading time. This proves that BL techniques satisfy both faculty and students. However, some issues related to cost effectiveness and access remain unresolved.Conclusion: Adopting a BL approach to teach academic writing opens new horizons for dealing with old problems. Faculty should consider new ways of presenting traditionally taught modules. Students would enjoy a new way of learning that is based on technology. Institutions, in turn, are required to adapt new technology, train their staff, and develop new courses to accommodate this change (Hogarth, 2010). Technology makes a writing course more interesting, which motivates students who often times consider writing courses a meaningless burden. It is high time we make our writing courses electronic ones.