Learning Online

The Stretch program itself contains no particular curricular element that addresses online learning. In the interviews, though, I asked students about this aspect of their classes as I knew that faculty were using the Blackboard platform as a part of the course work. As with the other areas of the class that we discussed, students found the online component of their classes both stimulating and rewarding. Even Dan, the one student who expresses frustration, admits that he would be able to master this approach to teaching and learning if he were given the opportunity.

Perhaps Ben sums some of the positive aspects to online learning when he says that posting his own essays online and responding to other students' writing was "like a class out of class." When we move our discussions to an online platform, we are hoping to create a class out of class. Among other things, this arrangement allows students to save time by not having to commute to class, and it also allows them to organize their schedule around the demands of childcare and employment. The online learning environment in the Stretch program also performs the essential function of introducing new students to the possibilities that exist at the University. Ben notes that he's heard of online classes, and now knows "what it'd be kind of like."

All of the students note multiple advantages to the online platform, from ease of access to the reduction of classroom anxiety. Jason appreciates the ease with which a student can share his work: "you can post it after you're done writing it at home . . . you can come into class and review it there . . . I just think it just makes it easier." Joe appreciates how having one day of class a week online allows him to focus on the lessons learned earlier in the week: "I would definitely want to do it this way because . . . in class . . . there's so many things you learn in a week's period of time. . . . I would say the first two classes of the week . . . you learn what you need to do, what should be done, and what needs to be done of course . . . whereas on the Friday you actually get to apply all that and not waste an hour in class . . . you can put that hour towards effective writing."

Pamela and Sean address different aspects of freedom from intimidation that the online platform allows. Pamela notes that the Blackboard platform opens up opportunities for students to share: "if students aren't forced to participate . . . you have three or four students who primarily discuss class, who know the material, and it's frustrating that nobody else . . . or even if they're shy. The computer removes the intimidating element for people that don't want to speak up in class." Sean makes the same observation applied to peer feedback: "It's useful . . . . you can get messages and what people think really quick. I think it's better because you're more comfortable when you're . . . at home. . . . Everybody likes to be nice . . . you don't want to offend people. . . . When you're on the computer you can just be a little more . . . it's not face to face. You don't have to feel as bad about saying something . . . it makes it easier. And when people write to you, I think it's easier for me to read it than saying it to my face. It makes it easier."

Pamela notes that the online platform also allows her to explore other students' writing much more freely: "You can read what other students are doing which gives you an idea if you're doing it correctly . . . especially with this class I think it's a great way to go. I read other writings just to see what other students are writing . . . so that I know I'm in the right direction."

The convenience offered by the online platform as well as the enhancements to students' engagement with each other's work both as peer reviews and as readers all suggest that online learning should play a central role in basic writing pedagogy. These interviews suggest that while some students find online learning difficult, most students, from a wide variety of backgrounds, find the experience informative, useful, and engaging.