By Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Directorvicki_crop

Faculty who have taken the WIC Seminar may remember Donald A. Daiker’s powerful article, “Learning to Praise” (1989). Examining studies of comments written on
student writing, Daiker notes, for example, that in a set of freshman essays, of 864 comments, only 51 were comments of praise. In another study, 89.4% of comments cited errors or criticized the writing, while only 10.6% of comments offered affirmation or praise. Daiker says, “Perhaps we need to go back to school ourselves to learn how to recognize what merits praise in student writing.”

Every OSU department or unit with an undergraduate major has the annual opportunity to praise and celebrate strong student writing by awarding the WIC Culture of Writing Award in their discipline to their top undergraduate writer. This recognition is very significant to our students. They are not used to being praised for their writing, much less winning and award. Despite the impact on students, typically, only about fifteen to eighteen departments/units, of a possible 70+ majors, nominate an undergrad for this award. This is not an extensive competition: if the unit nominates the student, the student wins the award. This is an easy, inexpensive (unit contributes $50, WIC matches) way to send the message to our undergraduates that the faculty and the university value excellent writing.

In addition to honoring a student writer, the selection process within the unit gives faculty an opportunity to identify the qualities of good writing in their particular discipline, information that should be communicated to students in every course.

Please consider nominating one of your upper division student writers for the WIC Culture of Writing Award in your discipline—and persuading your unit to participate in the awards. Let’s practice praising excellence in undergraduate writing. Information on the nomination process appears elsewhere in this issue.

In praise of praise, Daiker quotes novelist Raymond Carver who remembers his own teacher John Gardner’s generous (though exacting) comments:  “He was always looking to find something to praise. When there was a sentence, a line of dialogue, or a narrative passage that he liked, something that he thought ‘worked’ and moved the story along in some pleasant or unexpected way, he’d write ‘Nice’ in the margin or else ‘Good!’ And seeing these comments, my heart would lift. (quoted in Daiker 111)

Let’s lift the hearts of OSU writers across the curriculum with Culture of Writing awards and well deserved praise.

Daiker, Donald S. “Learning to Praise.” Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Chris Anson, Ed. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1989.

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.

By Jordan Terriere, WIC Intern

On Friday, February 13, the WIC Advisory Board met. Faculty from departments across the university were in attendance, along with the Writing Intensive Curriculum team. Topics covered in the board meeting included the Baccalaureate Core review of the College of Engineering’s writing intensive courses, writing intensive class sizes, and thesis as WIC.

The Baccalaureate Core review of Engineering WIC courses is underway. The WIC team is reviewing the submissions before they go to the Baccalaureate Core Committee for review in order to assure all WIC courses meet category requirements. The Board discussed ways in which the Engineering WIC courses can be strengthened, including by reducing class size and improving opportunities for feedback on writing for students. Additionally, the board discussed a course in the Engineering department that is using an innovative approach to teaching WIC in a large class. The course utilizes undergraduate mentors to help assess straight forward formatting requirements and conventions. The engineering content and style of the writing is evaluated by the instructor.

WIC guidelines specify a class size maximum of twenty, but due to enrollment growth, the Baccalaureate Core Committee currently gives leeway to the upper twenties. Course sizes going far over the required range is a current problem. As class sizes get larger, the benefits of the WIC course are jeopardized. The Board discussed ways this could be improved, including supporting the Baccalaureate Core Committee in restricting class size.

Finally, the Board discussed the thesis option for WIC that is used by Physics, Biology Resource Research, the International degree, and the Honors College. This option can be very successful. The Honors College has a new thesis WIC model for biology, and is open to helping other departments as they consider a WIC thesis course designed for their Honors majors.

Board members in attendance: Kevin Boston, Kate Lajtha, Phil Harding, Karen Hooker, Ken Winograd, Tracy Ann Robinson, Jonathan Katz, Dan Edge, Eugene Young, Janet Tate, Andrea Marks, and WIC Director Vicki Tolar Burton. Absent members: James Foster, Stefanie Buck, Tara Williams, Rebecca Warner, Anthony Wilcox, and Jon Dorbolo. Members of the WIC team include Jacob Day, GTA; August Baunach, SWLF Faculty Volunteer; Jordan Terriere, Intern; and Julie Howard, Office Specialist.

WIC Culture of Writing AwardAs spring term arrives, please remember to nominate outstanding undergraduate student essays for a WIC Culture of Writing Award. Recognizing exceptional student
writing communicates to our students and the university that good writing matters in every discipline. Participating units (schools, departments) seek nominations from the faculty and select the best paper from the major. WIC then awards $50, matched by $50 for the unit, for the writing prize winner. What a great way to acknowledge the hard work and talent of our undergraduate writers!

Once your department or unit has chosen a paper to nominate, fill out the nomination form and submit it to Julie Howard by 5:00 p.m. PST, June 1, 2015. The complete policy and submission instructions are on the WIC website.

Here are a few tips and models for the award nomination process:

Model 1: the academic unit might use the department or school awards committee, who asks faculty to nominate and submit their best undergraduate paper for the year. The committee chooses   the awardee.
Model 2: the academic unit wants the awardee to be from a WIC course, so one or more WIC instructors select the best paper.
Model 3: the top academic writing occurs in a capstone course with a team project. The unit selects the team with the best-written capstone project for the award. When the award goes to a team or four, some units divide the $100 award 4 ways, while other units contribute more than $50 so that individuals will receive a more substantial award.
• Because the only way a student at OSU can receive a monetary award is through a deposit in the student’s account, the award is typically given to a student who is currently enrolled. Thus, we have a deadline that enables us to process all awards to student accounts before the end of spring term. Units with special considerations regarding the due date should contact Vicki Tolar Burton, copying Jacob Day. If a student winner has graduated prior to June 2015, additional paperwork will be required.

pic-pizzaWe at WIC are excited to announce that our Spring Lunch Series is coming up quickly. This year’s topics are lively, and we are looking forward to the conversations ahead. All lunches this year are being held on Fridays in Milam 215 from 12 to 1pm. To RSVP for one or more of the lunches, please click here. If you have any questions regarding the seminars, please contact Jacob day at As always, delicious American Dream pizza and beverages will be provided.

This year’s series includes:

April 10th–Writing with an Accent: WIC, “World Englishes” and INTO OSU
April 17th—Multi-Lingual Writers and OSU
May 1st—College Writing Profiles: Updated Uses and Needed Change
May 15th—Using Canvass in the Writing Classroom