RCL Team Awarded $50K Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant for MOOC “Writing II: Rhetorical Composition.”

January 16, 2013

Kay Halasek leads a group of five Ohio State faculty in English, including Susan Delagrange, Scott DeWitt, Ben McCorkle, and Cynthia Selfe that was recently awarded a $50,000 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant for creating a Massive Open Online Course entitled “Writing II: Rhetorical Composition.”  One of only four programs nationally to receive the award (the others include programs at Duke, Georgia Tech, and Mt. San Jacinto), the second-level writing program under Kay’s leadership is now poised to bring national—perhaps international—attention to the writing programs at OSU.  The course will go “live” on Coursera (coursera.org) on April 22, 2013 and run though June 30, 2013.

Writing II emphasizes instruction in and extensive practice in composing, responding, viewing, reading, and researching in alphabetic, digital, and visual environments. In the class, students will work independently and collaboratively as writers, reviewers, and editors through the innovative, collaborative WEx, The Writers’ Exchange.  An academically sanctioned idea-networking website, developed by OSU faculty, WEx serves as a forum for the exchange of compositions on a variety of topics and in a variety of media.  Students participate as authors, reviewers, and editors in WEx, submitting assignments and projects for peer review, conducting peer review activities, and participating periodically in online discussion forums and peer conferences. The MOOC format, Coursera platform, and WEx technology together create a dynamic learning environment in which students engage one another in a sustained, rigorous review process that mimics the blind peer review processes characteristic of academic or professional contexts. The course also emphasizes reflective practice and self-assessment and will give students the opportunity to showcase their work publicly.


As an advanced course emphasizing many of the learning outcomes that inform English 2367, Writing II focuses on material typically emphasized in sophomore or junior level writing courses.  Although the content and focus for many of these courses differs from state to state, the course objectives and learning outcomes typically focus on refining rhetorical skills and developing research skills—skills fundamental to re-entering college or other post-secondary learning environments and continued success in the workplace. As such, Writing II is intended for students who have background knowledge of and/or experiences comparable to those that inform Writing I courses at U.S. universities and colleges. In other words, students who have previous writing experience in advanced high school college preparatory curricula, post-secondary environments, or business settings, are likely find Writing II more accessible than those who have not had comparable experiences. The class includes a wide and diverse range of pedagogical elements including 10-15 minute lecture videos, demonstrations, and modeling activities accompanied by integrated and stand-alone quizzes, diagnostic exercises, and research tutorials. Discussion boards, blogs, and social networking technologies will also be used to enhance reflective learning.


Writing Studies, a traditionally print-based discipline, faces an uncertain future in our increasingly mashed-up, socially networked, digital-visual culture. College writing programs, administrators, and teachers also often face the brunt of public frustration directed toward U.S. higher education as a whole: Criticism of the Academy’s lack of academic accountability, perceived political biases, and generally lackluster response to the decline of democratic involvement among young people.  And with roughly one million college students enrolling in college writing courses each year, writing programs also face an inevitable question: How are we teaching these students to write?  Ben, Cindy, Kay, Susan, and Scott are creating Writing II as a means by which to address these issues.  


The faculty creating Writing II are members of the Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies (RCL) program in the English Department at Ohio State University, a group committed to enhancing writing instruction through digital technologies outreach programming. Collectively, they have authored or edited more than thirty books and been awarded some of the discipline’s highest honors, including the College Composition and Communication Outstanding Book Award and Computers & Composition Distinguished Book Award (twice). Their work has been recognized with the Kairos Best Webtext Award, The Computers and Composition Michelle Kendrick Outstanding Digital  Production/Scholarship Award, the  Rhetoric Review Charles Kneupper  Outstanding Article Award, the Ellen Nold Award for the Best Article in Computers and Composition Studies, and the W. E. Wickenden Award for the best article in Engineering Education. Their authored and edited collections include Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century, Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times, Literate Lives in the Information Age, Technologies of Wonder, Writing Inventions, Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse, and A Pedagogy of Possibility. They regularly publish on and teach courses in digital media studies, digital media production, composition, rhetoric and communication, histories and theories of rhetoric, and professional communication.