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Moving Beyond Moving Online

When was the last time you found yourself thumbing through a writing handbook? Whether it’s a style manual, a new standard such as They Say, I Say (Graff & Birkenstein), or even the time-honored Strunk & White, such handbooks are still very much a part of how we learn (and teach our students) to write. All writers need such a reference occasionally, and for maturing writers, guidelines about how to structure arguments, smooth and strengthen transitions, and properly cite evidence can be absolutely vital. But, as Joe Essid, Director of the University of Richmond’s Writing Center, pointed out in a recent ACS webinar, the printed handbook is perhaps no longer the most effective way to reach today’s learners.

This was a lessen well learned for Joe and the other creators of the University of Richmond’s Writers’s Web, an online reference for Richmond’s students. When Writer’s Web first began, in 1992, it looked much like the pages of a print handbook, with topic pages accessible through a listing of links. Indeed, at that point, many of the resources were designed with printing in mind. But within a few years, this idea began to evolve: rather than a digital version of a print-oriented text, Joe and his colleagues envisioned resource that would, in some measure, duplicate the experience of being in the classroom. Instead of many paragraphs of text, it could have a lively mini-lecture; instead of a form to print and fill out, it could have a short quiz. Assisted in part by and ACS Blended Learning Grant, Joe and his colleague David Wright (Furman University) began to produce items such as The Thesis Statement: Where to End, Not Begin and The Thesis Statement Exercise, which give us an exciting look at the interactive possibilities of web resources.

The Transition to College WritingThis change in form also brought with it some important assumptions about how students would use Writer’s Web. Beyond learning how to argue, cite, and structure sentences, students may have even more basic questions about what writing means within a particular writing context.  A student may be confused, for example, about why what “works” in a history paper does not work in a writing assignment for biology class.   Influenced by the research of, among others, Keith Hjortshoj (The Transition to College Writing)–who argues that we should understand students’ perspective on first year of college writing as a web of occasionally conflicting obligations and expectations–Writer’s Web sought to become a space where faculty can articulate disciplinary expectations. The Writing in the Disciplines section provides a wealth of written resources and student-produced videos that help outline these important conventions. Before the conversation had ended, too, participants had suggested even more perspectives to add: what, for instance, might seniors or majors be able to offer in the way of advice to first year writers? Look for more additions as the web continues to grow.

And for now, enjoy paging–or clicking–through this exciting new handbook: The University of Richmond’s Writer’s Web.

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