Students and PWR instructors create ‘Adventures in Writing’ online course

Jan. 14, 2015, 11:40 p.m.
(MEGAN O'CONNOR/Stanford News Service)
(MEGAN O’CONNOR/Stanford News Service)

High school and college students can learn the tenets of college-level writing online through the new Adventures in Writing course being offered on the Stanford OpenX platform.

Developed by a group of students and professionals from the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), the class presents five modules on writing lessons in the style of graphic novels. Although a PWR team initially wrote the course, Stanford students illustrated and colored the final product.

According to John Peterson, PWR lecturer and PWR 1 coordinator, PWR had been asked by Stanford Continuing Studies to make some modules that would be helpful for people looking to improve their writing at the college level.

Megan O’Connor, Academic Technology Specialist in PWR and producer for the course, remembers that the original intention was to release animated videos.

“We had imagined originally [producing] animated videos, but then as we got farther into the project, we found ourselves making storyboards, and we realized that the storyboards were actually really compelling,” O’Connor said.

The five modules follow the fictional adventures of Chris, Maya and their friends in a number of different adventures that highlight different facets of academic writing. The first sees Chris and Maya at a baseball game and explores the concept of academic writing.

“We wanted to start by making it clear that this was about academic writing primarily and that there was something that happens in academic writing that is special or particular to academic writing,” Peterson said.

The characters were designed to engage students so that students would stay with the modules until completion.

“We chose Maya and Chris because we thought they were smart and curious, and some of the things that they do are kind of funny,” Peterson said.

“Those are some of the elements that we’re going for, is curious people who could laugh at themselves and laugh at the situation,” he added.

The production of the course was exciting for teachers. Christine Alfano, Associate Director of the PWR program, has taught PWR courses about video games and other digital rhetoric. This prepared her to translate her skills in textbook writing into a new format.

“Since I had taught video games, I’ve thought for a long time about the way in which arguments in general are not necessarily always disseminated through traditional academic writing and there are a lot of other ways to be instructive and be persuasive,” Alfano said.

The five modules were illustrated by five different students and then colored by other students. Holly Hernandez ’17, a colorist for the project, was able to give input throughout the process.

“I came in with fresh eyes and checked out to make sure that it actually all made sense and was coherent and also user-friendly and also something that people would actually want to view,” Hernandez said. “And so my favorite part was probably getting to actually have a hand in it.”

Alfano anticipates that the primary audience for the course will be later high school students and college students, roughly between age 16 and their early twenties.

“One main message is that a writer gains power by taking stock of their situation and making their choices according to the purposes of the situation and the audience,” Peterson said.

Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’

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