by Anita Helle, Interim WIC Director

I am passing along an additional resource for OSU WIC faculty as you migrate to teaching WIC courses online in response to OSU directives on COVID-19.  The information below is posted on the Writing Across the Curriculum National Clearinghouse ( 

On March 8th,  the leadership of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE— met to discuss how GSOLE might help faculty who teach writing and are faced with  emergency migration to online writing instruction at many universities. While OSU’s Canvas IT offers excellent support and guidance for migration to online instruction, you may find yourself with emerging questions that require quick responses in a pinch. (For example, I just found an answer at the “Just Ask GSOLE” link on how to toggle between Canvas display of instructional slides and Zoom-based lectures).

Scott Warnock, President of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators has posted the following links targeted to teachers of writing across disciplines. I have previewed these links. I offer these with the caveat that, as Warnock reminds us, transition to any new instructional modality compels thoughtful planning. The project is ongoing and evolving, and is likely to morph in coming weeks.  The intention of these resources is to provide our WIC faculty an additional resource in a pinch. 

  • The Just In Time Hub is a gateway to various resources, including those below as well as excellent written materials to help you think through course conversion/migration; we’ll be updating with other materials on the fly: 
  • Just Ask GSOLE provides a direct link to discussion forums moderated by GSOLE online writing/literacy instruction experts who can answer your specific questions: 
  • Walk-In Webinars is a direct link to live Zoom sessions hosted by GSOLE members; the schedule of facilitators is listed there along with specific topics: 

If you have questions, please direct them to You can also follow GSOLE on twitter @gsoleducators for updates on GSOLE’s efforts to assist university response to COVID-19 and visit the general website at for other material and information. 

In addition to these resources, any questions about moving WIC-specific writing assignments online can be directed to the WIC Team through WIC GTA, Marisa Yerace, at We are always happy to collaborate with you on your WIC Courses.

  –Anita Helle/Interim WIC Director

WIC Winter Workshop Revisited: “Improve Your Writing Assignments in Real Time– Five Easy Steps”

By Lindsay Schwehr, WIC GTA

On Monday, February 4, the WIC Winter Workshop titled, “Improve Your Writing Assignments in Real Time—Five Easy Steps” drew participants from across the university. Participants represented disciplines such as Applied Economics, Human Development and Family Sciences, Biochemistry and Biophysics, and the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences. Faculty participants are teaching anywhere from 20 to 300 students this academic year.

Participants brought writing assignments from their courses—these assignments covered both those that do and do not have a WIC designation. For those that did not have a WIC designation, discussion centered on how to apply WIC pedagogy to any assignment.  Design elements include the use of scaffolding, the incorporation of peer review, choosing a descriptive assignment title, and using timelines for student deadlines to get the best out of student revision based on both peer and instructor feedback. Many ideas were mentioned surrounding the assignment handout itself, especially around the intended audiences for students to consider and the order of information conveyed in the handout.

Participants noted that they found the workshop helpful. Having the ability to see what their colleagues were doing and incorporating in their assignments across the disciplines provided sufficient time for collaboration and fresh eyes for their assignments. By getting an outside look on their assignments, participants were able to better organize and develop their course assignments, allowing for extra feedback and new perspectives.

Faculty who participated in this workshop were provided with several assignment review guides: “A Heuristic for Designing Writing Assignments,” from Erika Lindemann’s book, A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers; “Questions for Collegial Peer Review of an Assignment Handout,” from John C. Bean’s book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom; as well as the WIC Learning Outcomes Matrix.

Thank you to our participants for providing invigorating discussion, and the WIC Team hopes to see you all at our spring lunch series.

Microbiology Writing Guide’s Greatest Hits

By Ruth Sylvester, WIC Intern (MA Rhetoric, Writing, and Cultures)
Among the countable aspects of the WIC program are hits on pages of the WIC website. We were delighted to learn that pages from various departmental writing guides are among out most viewed pages. Currently, the WIC Survival Guide provides students with access to departmental writing guides from 10 disciplines: Anthropology; Chemistry; Difference, Power, and DiscriminationHuman Development and Family Sciences; Mathematics; Microbiology; Music; PhilosophyPolitical Science; and Sociology.


Google Analytics, looking at a period of about 18 months, reports notably high viewer engagement with individually accessible pages for the writing guides in Microbiology, Chemistry, and Music. We learned that writing guides with individually searchable pages are accessed much more often that guides that exist only as a PDF. Within the Microbiology Writing Guide, the most popular pages are “Presenting Data” (25,757 hits) “Lab Report Format” (16,652), “Scientific Style” (6,224), “Citing Sources” (2,508), “Understanding Journal Articles” (525), and “Ethics” (230). We plan to use this information to rename/reformat other writing guides to improve student access. We asked Microbiology Writing Guide co-author Linda Bruslind, who teaches WIC courses in that discipline, if she knew what might account for the dazzling popularity of the MB Writing Guide. She said she links to it on her syllabus, but she is not sure other OSU MB teachers are aware of the guide. The hits to the MB guide come from all over the world. If any readers can help us unpack this mystery, please let us know.


Other frequently accessed pages on the WIC website are “Find WIC Courses” (636), “Making Peer Review Work” (576), “The WIC Culture of Writing Awards” (535) and “Grammar Errors and Solutions” (506). But they can’t compete with the Microbiology  Writing Guide’s greatest hits.

excerpts from Critical Thinking: Multiple Models for Teaching and Learning

By Aubrae Vanderpool and Tracy Ann Robinson

“A great truth wants to be criticized, not idolized.”


The development of critical thinking skills increasingly is being identified not only as an essential component of writing courses but even more broadly, as a desired outcome of an undergraduate education. In this article, adapted from a paper by Aubrae Vanderpool that focuses on critical thinking in first-year writing classes, we take a look at what critical thinking means, offer some strategies and suggestions for incorporating critical thinking pedagogy into subject-matter courses, and comment on assessment issues and strategies.

Critical Thinking Defined…Or Not…

For some critical thinking has a lot to do with understanding one’s own perspective and those of others. Another model [of critical thinking] is dialectic, an idea or work is critiqued in a way that produces a counter-perspective and ultimately leads to a synthesis. For some critical thinking evokes a synthetic or inductive model based on testing evidence and making arguments. The exercise of reflective judgment is also a form of critical thinking.  (“Critical Thinking and Broad Knowledge”)

While widely accepted as an educational imperative, critical thinking, as the above statement (excerpted from meeting notes for a Critical Thinking dialogue group at Western Washington University) indicates, is quite variously conceived and described. . . . Clearly, however, how an institution or department defines this intellectual practice will influence where in the curriculum critical thinking is taught, how it is taught, and, equally importantly, how it is assessed. For those in the process of formulating a working definition, familiarity with the following widely utilized models may serve as a helpful starting point.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

According to Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956)—a cross-disciplinary model for developing higher-order thinking in students—learning how to think critically involves the mastery of six increasingly complex cognitive skills: knowledge (i.e., possession of specific facts or pieces of information), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. See sidebar for details.

Bloom’s Taxonomy conceives critical thinking mastery as a sequential process, that is, one cannot move to the next cognitive tier without successfully negotiating the previous level.  (“Teaching Critical Thinking”). Thus, some view the taxonomy as “a set of microlevel skills which may be used in critical thinking but do not represent critical thinking” (French and Rhoder 195). Philosopher Richard Paul objects to the taxonomy’s product-oriented conceptualization of thinking as a “one-way hierarchy” as opposed to thinking being a process that involves the recursive use of interrelated skills (French and Rhoder 195).  Nonetheless, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been and continues to be an influential model for those developing critical thinking programs, as its inclusion in the Dartmouth College Composition Center’s critical thinking web page attests (Gocsik).

Knowledge: the remembering (recalling) of appropriate, previously learned terminology/specific facts/ways and means of dealing with specifics (conventions, trends and sequences, classifications and categories, criteria, methodology)/universals and abstractions in a field (principles and generalizations, theories and structures). defines; describes; enumerates; identifies; labels; lists; matches; names; reads; records; reproduces; selects; states; views.

Comprehension: Grasping (understanding) the meaning of informational materials. classifies; cites; converts; describes; discusses; estimates; explains; generalizes; gives examples; makes sense out of; paraphrases; restates (in own words); summarizes; traces; understands.

Application: The use of previously learned information in new and concrete situations to solve problems that have single or best answers. acts; administers; articulates; assesses; charts; collects; computes; constructs; contributes; controls; determines; develops; discovers; establishes; extends; implements; includes; informs; instructs; operationalizes; participates; predicts; prepares; preserves; produces; projects; provides; relates; reports; shows; solves; teaches; transfers; uses; utilizes.

Analysis: The breaking down of informational materials into their component parts, examining (and trying to understand the organizational structure of) such information to develop divergent conclusions by identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and/or finding evidence to support generalizations. breaks down; correlates; diagrams; differentiates; discriminates; distinguishes; focuses; illustrates; infers; limits; outlines; points out; prioritizes; recognizes; separates; subdivides.

Synthesis: Creatively or divergently applying prior knowledge and skills to produce a new or original whole. adapts; anticipates; categorizes; collaborates; combines; communicates; compares; compiles; composes; contrasts; creates; designs; devises; expresses; facilitates; formulates; generates; incorporates; individualizes; initiates; integrates; intervenes; models; modifies; negotiates; plans; progresses; rearranges; reconstructs; reinforces; reorganizes; revises; structures; substitutes; validates.

Evaluation: Judging the value of material based on personal values/opinions, resulting in an end product, with a given purpose, without real right or wrong answers. appraises; compares & contrasts; concludes; criticizes; critiques; decides; defends; interprets; judges; justifies; reframes; supports.

SOURCE: (no longer available)

Beyer’s evaluative thinking model

Barry Beyer, a prominent contemporary thinking skills theorist and teacher, interprets critical thinking as a more specifically evaluative activity than Bloom’s Taxonomy would imply:

Critical thinking is not making decisions or solving problems. It is not the same as reflective thinking, creative thinking, or conceptualizing. Each of these other types of thinking serves a specific purpose. We make decisions in order to choose among alternatives. We solve problems when we encounter an obstacle to a preferred condition. We engage in creative or conceptual thinking to invent or improve things. Critical thinking serves a purpose quite different from these other types of thinking. (Beyer 1995, 8)

For Beyer, the crux of critical thinking is criteria: “The word critical in critical thinking comes from the Greek word for criterion, kriterion, which means a benchmark for judging” (Beyer 1995, 8-9). Thus, critical (or, to use Beyer’s preferred term, evaluative) thinking provides the means to assess the “accuracy, authenticity, plausibility, or sufficiency of claims” (Beyer 1995, 10).

Beyer asserts that critical thinking involves 10 cognitive operations, which can be employed in any sequence or combination as needed for the thinking task at hand:

  1. Distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims
  2. Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information, claims, or reasons
  3. Determining the factual accuracy of a statement
  4. Determining the credibility of a source
  5. Identifying ambiguous claims or arguments
  6. Identifying unstated assumptions
  7. Detecting bias
  8. Recognizing logical fallacies
  9. Recognizing logical inconsistencies in a line of reasoning
  10. Determining the strength of an argument or claim (Beyer 1988, 57)

Further, Beyer argues that successful critical thinking requires “complex and often simultaneous interaction” of the following six elements:

o Dispositions. Critical thinkers develop habits of mind that “guide and sustain critical thinking”, including skepticism, fairmindedness, openmindedness, respect for evidence and reasoning, respect for clarity and precision, ability to consider different points of view, and a willingness to alter one’s position when reason and evidence call for such a shift.

o Criteria. Critical thinkers know about and have the ability to construct appropriate benchmarks for judging the issue at hand.

o Argument—defined as “a proposition with its supporting evidence and reasoning.” Critical thinkers are skillful at constructing, identifying, and evaluating the strength of arguments.

o Reasoning—the “cement that holds an argument together.” Critical thinkers determine the strength and validity of a conclusion by examining the soundness of the inductive or deductive process through which the conclusion was reached.

o Point of View. Critical thinkers are aware of their own point of view and capable of examining other points of view in order to better evaluate an issue.

o Procedures for applying criteria and judging. Critical thinkers have a repertoire of strategies appropriate to the subject matter and type of judgment to be made (Beyer 1995, 10-20)

In other words, critical thinkers habitually question the authenticity of anything that confronts them to ascertain exactly the extent to which it is an authentic instance of what it purports to be. In addition, they make judgments based on certain standards or other measures that serve as criteria for plausibility and truthfulness. And they pay special attention to the reasons and reasoning that undergird conclusions and claims.” (Beyer 1995, 22)

Critical thinking as a divergent process

While Beyer depicts critical thinking as a “convergent,” narrowing process, others prefer to view it as a divergent, expanding, exploratory practice (French and Rhoder, 184-85) —a way to open  up new solutions as well as evaluate those that have already been identified.  For example, consider this statement from Peter Taylor of the UMass/Boston Graduate College of Education’s Critical and Creative Thinking Program. (In February, 2001, Taylor led a critical thinking workshop at OSU, sponsored jointly by the College of Liberal Arts’ Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Research, the Center for Water and Environmental Sustain-ability, and the Office of Academic Affairs; and organized by Anita Helle [English] and Denise Lach [CWest].)

My sense of critical thinking […] depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. Critical thinking at this level should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted.

This view suggests a much closer connection between critical and creative thinking than Beyer, for instance, would subscribe to. However, many of the concerns that underlie the current interest in furthering college students’ critical thinking skills recognize and affirm this connection.

Teaching Considerations and Strategies

. . .  B. Lehman and D. Hayes propose the following strategies for promoting critical thinking in the classroom:

o Help students recognize what they already know about a topic. [For suggestions, see next section.]

o Help students learn to recognize their biases and keep an open mind about the topic. Have students list and share opinions on the subject, but postpone evaluation until more information is gathered.

o Formulate open-ended questions to help students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the topic.

o Guide students in finding and using diverse sources to explain and support their ideas.

o Have students check the validity of sources and qualifications of authors.

o Help students see there is no single, final authority. By reading several sources on the same topic, students will discover that information is often conflicting and contradictory.

o Help students develop criteria for evaluation. As students learn to support their opinions with logical thinking and comparison of sources, they [develop] critical thinking skills. (Smith 350) . . . .

 The Writing–Critical Thinking Connection

For centuries, the rhetorical assumption about language was that “one first finds knowledge and then puts it into words” (Bizzell, Herzberg, and Reynolds 1)—in other words, thinking always precedes writing or speaking. Today, however, we recognize that “knowledge is actually created by words” (Bizzell, Herzberg, and Reynolds 1) and that writing and thinking are recursive, interdependent processes that promote and enhance one another.

James Sheridan  points out that “the act of generating written discourse is not merely a result of critical thinking but also a stimulus to new thinking and new discoveries” (52). This claim echoes Linda Flower’s assertion that “writing is a generative act—a process of not just ‘expressing’ but ‘making’ meaning” (193-94). The fact is that “when students write, they cannot remain passive players in the learning game” (Gocsik-source no longer available). As Peter Elbow suggests, “writing helps us achieve the perennially difficult task of standing outside our own thinking” (27). Hence, the concept of “writing to learn,” which has become so integral to Writing Across the Curriculum courses and programs.

Using writing to uncover knowledge

As well as using writing to reinforce and integrate new information, writing can be a way of discovering existing knowledge. Many critical thinking experts advocate beginning any new learning unit by identifying what students already know (but often don’t know they know) about the topic.  This strategy promotes critical thinking and active learning by allowing students to “establish a context for new information and share ideas with others” (Smith 350). Two writing strategies that can assist in this discovery process are freewriting and the “write-and-pass” exercise:

Freewriting. Describing freewriting as an activity that “helps students break the writing-is-grammar chain [, which] stultifies the freedom and risk-taking necessary for innovative critical thinking” (53), James Sheridan suggests the process has only two requirements:

(1) “You cannot stop writing during the 10-minute exercise.” (2) “You are forbidden to think. [. . .] Write whatever comes into your right (or left) hand. You must keep on writing. Even if you say ‘I don’t know what to write,’ write that. You cannot scratch your head. You cannot gaze pensively at the ceiling. Just write. You are not responsible for what you say; your hand is doing it all. Say anything. Say ‘This is the worst exercise I ever heard of and I can’t believe they’re paying this guy good bucks to have us do it.’ Yell, scream, shout, kick (in written words). Say anything, but keep writing” (52)

With unfocused freewriting, students write about whatever they want. With focused, or directed, freewriting, students are given a topic or question to write on.

Write-and-pass.  Another informal writing assignment that helps students discover what they already know is to ask them to spend a few minutes writing everything they can think of about a given topic or question (for example, “What is critical thinking?”). After several minutes, students pass what they’ve written to the person next to them, and that person reads and expands on the original response. The process is repeated a few more times; generally, with each pass, adding new information becomes more challenging..  The exercise provides a way both for students to focus their thoughts on a particular topic and to benefit from one another’s stores of knowledge.


Assessing Critical Thinking: Current Models

[A]n informed choice of an approach to assessing critical thinking can be made only after faculty have [asked and answered] these questions: What do we think critical thinking is? How do the critical thinking skills, processes, and strategies work together, and what aspects or combinations of them do we wish to assess? What are our students like? What are their motivations [and] environments? What are our assumptions relative to the knowledge and abilities that students need prior to engaging in college-level critical thinking? (Carpenter and Doig 34-35)

Carpenter and Doig’s observation comes from a 1988 review of assessment instruments developed for specific critical thinking courses and programs. Alternatively, the  rubric developed in 2002 by Washington State University’s Critical Thinking Project can be used in subject-matter courses across the curriculum that focus on critical thinking. This rubric includes the following criteria for student writing:

  1. Identifies and summarizes the problem/question at issue.
  2. Identifies and presents the student’s own perspective and position as it is important to the analysis of the issue.
  3. Identifies and considers other salient perspectives and positions that are important to the analysis of the issue.
  4. Identifies and assesses the key assumptions.
  5. Identifies and assesses the quality of supporting data/evidence and provides additional data/evidence related to the issue.
  6. Identifies and considers the influence of the context (e.g. cultural/social, scientific, educational, economic, technological, ethical, political, personal, and so on) on the issue.
  7. Identifies and assesses conclusions, implications, and consequences. “Critical Thinking Rubric” no longer available online.

Each item in the rubric includes a description of what would be considered “scant” vs “substantially developed” coverage of that item. The Washington State Critical Thinking Project website is no longer available online.


A Final Note

In this article, we have focused on what Kerry S. Walters describes as the “logicistic” model of critical thinking—that is (according to Walters) “the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking” (1). In Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, Walters explores an alternative model being forwarded by an emerging “second-wave” of critical thinking research and pedagogy. Second-wave advocates argue that while “logical skills are essential functions of good thinking, […] so are non-analytic ones such as imagination and intuition, and the good thinker knows how to utilize both types” (2).  This reconception of critical thinking is grounded in current scholarship in the fields of philosophy, psychology, education, feminist theory, and critical pedagogy; Walters’s book serves as an introduction to and dialogue among some of the proponents and practitioners of this alternative. While beyond the scope of this article, the second-wave perspective on critical thinking deserves our serious attention and consideration as well.


This article was previously published in entirety in Teaching with Writing, Winter 2004.


Works Cited (some sources no longer available)

Beyer, Barry K. Critical Thinking. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1995.

________. Developing a Thinking Skills Program. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1988.

Bizzell, Patricia, Bruce Hertzberg, and Nedra Reynolds. The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing. 5th Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Carpenter, C. Blaine, and James C. Doig. “Assessing Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum.” Assessing Student’s Learning 34 (Summer 1988): 33-46.

“Critical Thinking and Broad Knowledge Meeting Notes.” 2 Nov. 2001. Center for Instructional Innovation, Western Washington University. 4 March 2003. Source no longer available.

Elbow, Peter. “Teaching Two Kinds of Thinking by Teaching Writing.” Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking. Ed. Kerry S. Walters. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994. 25-31.

Flower, Linda. “Taking Thought: The Role of Conscious Processing in the Making of Meaning.” Thinking, Reasoning, and Writing. Ed. Elaine P. Maimon, Barbara F. Nodine, and Finbarr W. O’Connor. NY: Longman, 1989. 185-212.

French, Joyce N. and Carol Rhoder. Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice. NY: Garland, 1992.

Gocsik, Karen. “Teaching Critical Thinking.: 1997 Dartmouth College Composition Center. Source no longer available.

Scriven, Michael and Richard Paul. “Defining Critical Thinking.” Draft Statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. Foundation for Critical Thinking. 27 Feb. 2003. <>

Sheridan, James J. “Skipping on the Brink of the Abyss: Teaching Thinking Through Writing.” Critical Thinking: Educational Imperative. Ed. Cynthia A. Barnes. New Directions for Community Colleges, No. 77. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. 51-61.

Smith, Carl B. “Two Approaches to Critical Thinking.” The Reading Teacher 4.4  (Dec. 1990): 350-51.

Stewart, Ruth. “Teaching Critical Thinking in First-Year Composition: Sometimes More Is More.” Teaching English at the Two-Year College 29 (Dec. 2001): 162-171.

Taylor, Peter. “We Know More Than We Are, At First, Prepared To Acknowledge: Journeying to Develop Critical Thinking.” 12 March 2003 <>

Walters, Kerry S. Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.


By WIC Team

You are invited to take part in the first ever Writing Assignment Tune-up Workshop for WIC faculty and hosted by the WIC program staff! Writing assignments in WIC courses often involve multiple layers of complicated scaffolding, draft sequencing, and peer reviews. To help students understand, we write assignment sheets and descriptions on Canvas to explain what we expect, why we expect it, and when work must be completed. Sometimes our writing assignments could use a second pair of eyes to catch moments of potential confusion before our students encounter them. At the request of several seminar participants, the WIC Program is organizing an informal workshop for opportunities to connect with colleagues willing to give and receive feedback.

Come on over to Milam 215 on January 24th any time between 3:15-5:00pm (open house). There will be refreshments. Join WIC faculty from across our campus to work toward making writing assignments better!

We will send out an email announcement as the workshop draws near. If you are not on the events list but would like to be added, please contact Claire Roth:

canvas2By Jacob Day, WIC GTA
Special thanks: Brooke Howland and Sara Jameson

As many of you may already know, OSU is transitioning from Blackboard to Canvas. Many instructors have already started using Canvas, but everyone will be required to make the leap by the fall of 2015. These types of transitions can be difficult for some instructors, especially if they are a little less tech savvy or comfortable with the current system. To ease this transition, OSU is periodically offering campus-wide presentations and workshops. Additionally, Lynn Greenough and Brooke Howland are holding open labs in Waldo 320b every Tuesday and Friday at 9am and every Wednesday at noon. These two women are extremely helpful and can answer many of your Canvas questions.

I sat down with Brooke Howland with a few questions of my own. I wanted to know how Canvas was going to help the WIC instructors with their online and face-to-face courses. Brooke kindly showed me many of Canvas’s useful functions for writing instructors. To begin, Brooke explained that Canvas is more student-centric than blackboard, which is very useful for writing instructors because it allows for students to collaborate with each other and the instructor more easily.

These collaboration tools are easy to access and use. Once the user logs in to Canvas, a series of tabs appear on the left of the screen. Some of these tabs are: Announcements, People, Conference, Pages, Collaboration, and Chat. The Announcement and Discussion tabs are similar to Blackboard, but they also offer new options. For example, in the spirit of student-teacher collaboration, the Announcement feature allows for students to respond. These student responses can be seen by the entire class, which is beneficial if a student’s questions and comments are shared by other students. And as Brooke Howland adds, seeing questions and answers in a thread can lessen the amount of repeat questions an instructor will directly receive.

The Discussion tab operates much like the Discussion feature in Blackboard, but threads can now be pinned and video, text, and even voice can be incorporated. What this means for instructors who use discussion boards for collaborative learning exercises is that really important or reoccurring threads can be pinned, which permanently places them at the top of the thread list. Additionally, any discussion thread can be used with traditional digital text, but now students and instructors can respond with video or audio. One Oregon State writing instructor, Sara Jameson, uses this feature in her online writing course to introduce students who would otherwise never see each other. Jameson explains that students in her online class, who live all over the country, upload videos introducing themselves, and then they are asked to comment on other student’s videos to acquaint themselves with each other.

Video and audio are actually available in many of Canvas’s features. Brooke explained to me that the conference, chat, and peer review features all offer video collaboration. The Conferences tab uses the “Bigbluebutton” feature (I suggest looking at the YouTube tutorial: , which allows an instructor to video conference with just one student, or simultaneously with several students. This feature is extremely helpful in online courses, because the instructor can see the student’s computer screen, if they allow it, which enables students to look at their work with their instructor. The student and instructor can use digital drawing tools to mark on the documents together, as well. Sara Jameson also uses this feature in her online course for office hours, required conferences, and even peer review (students can use this feature without an instructor present).

There is a separate peer review tab, which includes the options to randomly assign peer review groups and manually assign peer review groups. Sara Jameson uses the conferencing feature to do peer review, however, because it offers the ability to chat and review work in real time, where the peer review feature only allows for documents and videos to be uploaded into more of a discussion board type platform. Both of these features are sure to be helpful in assisting in peer-to-peer collaboration, depending on the instructor’s preference and style.

The Pages and Collaboration features also aid in collaborative learning. The Collaboration feature links to each student’s gmail account (students can choose which one, but Jameson recalls that most will link it to their onid account), a function that aids students in sharing documents and links via Google docs. Pages acts just like a Wiki page, where the instructor creates a thread, adds students to the thread, after which students can add and delete information from the page. Sara uses the Etherpad function in the Pages tab to create collaborative wikis, where all student changes can be tracked.

Grading also becomes quite a lot easier with Canvas. In the SpeedGrader tab, instructors who have students turn writing assignments in digitally can comment and mark on the document itself. There is also a rubric function that can be used to score and comment on student assignments. Instructors can even respond via video or audio message, whereby student can respond—if the instructor so desires.

As mentioned earlier, Canvas is truly a student-centered program. Centering students in writing is one of the main principles of collaborative learning and Writing Intensive courses. Even though transitioning to a whole new teaching system can be daunting, we believe it will be worth any temporary inconvenience in the end. We should all be excited for this transition, because Canvas is sure to ease the burden of a large class size, the grading of process/iterative writing assignments, peer-to-peer collaboration, and the limitations of online courses.

1237706_704419146362_665296403_n-e1398835969769By Jacob Day, WIC GTA

As the digital world becomes more and more a part of the academic landscape, the ways in which we teach writing must adapt. Many instructors already teach online courses, and almost everyone uses Blackboard or Canvas in some way to supplement face-to-face teaching. Yet, as the climate of the university changes, shouldn’t our pedagogical methods also change? In some cases, this question is completely rhetorical, especially for those who are already teaching online courses and now must change some of their tried and true teaching strategies; some assignments and activities just simply cannot be done online. As more and more instructors find themselves trying to adapt their writing activities and assignments to digital formats, the WIC staff has been frequently asked for suggestions to ease this transition.

While there are many available online resources for the teaching of writing, the wiki is one we would like to spotlight today. According to, the best known wiki, wikis are web applications that allow people “to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others.” Unlike blogs and similar applications, wikis have no defined leader or owner, and they use a very simple markup language to add content and to structure the site.

For tips and suggestions on how to effectively use wikis in the classroom, we asked Oregon State’s Dr. Ehren Pflugfelder, who is an assistant professor in the school of Writing, Literature, and Film, and focuses primarily on technical/professional writing, rhetoric, and the teaching of writing ( We sat down with Ehren to discuss simple ways wikis can be used in the classroom, online or face-to-face, to better promote a collaborative, virtual atmosphere.

Pflugfelder began by explaining to us that there are many types of wikis, including Wikipedia wikis, which catalogue information in specific ways. Encyclopedic wikis can be used for collaborative projects, but they are best used for editing already existing pages and teaching structure and style, because they have “talk” pages where people can discuss how pages are organized and structured. Pflugfelder cautioned, however: “If instructors want students to create Wikipedia pages, there are a lot of resources on Wikipedia, but they should have students create actual Wikipedia pages—not idiosyncratic assignments that don’t fit the Wikipedia mold. Wiki pages that are not in the Wikipedia style will likely be radically changed or taken down.” If instructors do choose to use the Wikipedia genre as an assignment, there are Wikipedia pages that explain how to write effectively on Wikipedia. Wikipedia assignments could potentially include “meta” elements, where students can reflect on why they decided to keep the information they kept and why they organized information in specific ways.

If instructors do not want to have students create Wikipedia pages, but rather use blank wikis to create new content and pages, there are many types of appropriate wiki applications. There are many websites that can be used to build wiki pages, but some of the easiest and more frequently used are: Wikispaces ( ), Wikia (, and Pbworks’ wiki ( These wiki building websites require creating an account, but they are all free. Once a blank wiki is created, the instructor can then share the url of the newly created page or give students the appropriate login and password. After students access the course’s specific Wiki page, they can then add, edit, and structure content online in that virtual space.

Pflugfelder explained that assignments can be made with these types of wikis to talk about definitions, say in a science course like biology. Students working in groups can, for example, build definitions of something like a plant cell in order to develop a wiki page. If students have differing opinions, then they can choose the definition they believe is most accurate. Those types of changes will be tracked, so all students get credit for participating even if some of their contributions don’t make the final cut.

Pflugfelder also recommended teaching the importance of citations through wiki pages. An instructor can use a wiki page as a repository for information uploaded by students that, for example, might be on an exam—a study guide generated by the students. The instructor can obviously control some of the content if it is not relevant or accurate. But the students would need to provide citations for their information in order to gain credibility with their peers and instructor.

Group research projects can also be assigned using wikis. Pflugfelder explained that many group projects are successful in wiki pages because students can see the structure of assignments and information, and use subsections and links to create additional structure. For example, if the topics of different group projects are completely different, then they can use separate wikis. If topics are related, however, the separate wiki pages can be linked together as subsections. In an engineering course, to give one example, an instructor could have students generate a page about factors of safety. Students could construct the page throughout the term, while the instructor monitors their progress, like journal writing. The instructor can then see if they edited, what they contributed, and when the work was done. Almost any group assignment that requires students to collaborate and contribute information to a singular or scaffold project can utilize wikis in a virtual space.

There are many ways to use wikis for educational purposes. We have provided just a few examples, but please do not feel limited to these suggestions. If wikis might be something you would like to try, and the above examples wouldn’t work in your courses or with your pedagogical approach, consider assignments you already use and try and adapt them to the wiki format in a way that best suits you and your students.

By Uta Hussong-Christian, Teaching & Engagement Department

In early December, OSU Libraries is transitioning to a new library system for finding books, articles and other information resources.
Our change to the new system has been postponed from the original December 1st date but we will soOSU_Valley_Library_(Benton_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(benDA0041)on have a separate link to the new library search tool on our web site to encourage exploration prior to the complete switchover sometime in mid-December. We will announce the new date soon. After the switchover library users will note the following changes:

  • There will no longer be a separate link to the library catalog; searching of catalog records will happen in the new 1Search (yes, the name is staying);
  • The new 1Search will have multiple scopes that allow users to limit their search to specific collections of materials. For example, the scope “At OSU Libraries” searches for books and other materials owned by OSU Libraries (it is the replacement for the library catalog). Other scopes include Everything; OSU Libraries + Summit; Articles; Special Collections and Archives; and WorldCat (libraries worldwide);
  • The new search interface will search 9 million books and journal articles, audiovisual materials and more;
  • Library users will need to login with their ONID credentials to have full access to all the content OSU has available and to see the full range of request options available for items the library cannot access or does not own;
  • Summit item requests will happen via Interlibrary Loan, rather than through Summit, for the time being (until a new Summit system comes online during the first quarter of the year)

While the new system will look and work a bit differently, all the same content and services are available. Library users will still be able to get full-text content via 1Search and request delivery of books and articles where immediate access is not available. Perhaps the biggest change will be learning to search the catalog via 1Search. This is a big transition for OSU Libraries and its 36 Summit partner libraries. It was designed to improve resource sharing among the libraries, thus making it easier for all of our patrons to access a wide variety of resources. As always, please Ask Us when questions arise.