Scott Warnock, PhD, is a Professor of English and the Director of the University Writing Program at Drexel University. Warnock is the author of Teaching Writing Online: How and Why; Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course, with Diana Gasiewski; and numerous chapters and journal articles about online writing instruction, computers and composition, and education technology. He has spoken about teaching and technology issues and opportunities at many institutions and conferences and has conducted faculty development workshops across the United States. Warnock was a cofounder of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators in 2016, and he has served as president of the organization since 2018, and he was Co-Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee for Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction from 2011 to 2016. He has taught and developed a variety of courses in various modalities and contexts at Drexel, including onsite, hybrid, and online and ranging from first-year writing to the senior literature seminar to a graduate course. Warnock was a co-founder of Subjective Metrics, Inc. a company created to develop Waypoint writing assessment and peer review software. He maintains two blogs, Virtual Children, which appears on the site When Falls the Coliseum, and Online Writing Teacher.
Sushil: Thanks for agreeing to interview with the Western ABC Bulletin at this busy time. Our readers will appreciate any help they can get from GSOLE in teaching what the university administrators are calling “remote classes”.
Scott, could we start with a brief description of what GSOLE is and what sort of work it does for those of our readers who might not be familiar with the organization?
Scott: I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you. According to our mission statement, GSOLE, The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators, aims to connect those who teach reading, alphabetic writing, and digital literacy in online educational settings. Dedicated to diversity, inclusivity, and access in literacy-based online education, GSOLE disseminates peer-reviewed research and information through educational and community-building events and resources. A key aspect of GSOLE, one that I must attribute to founding president and my good friend Beth Hewett, is to attempt to broaden the “W” of online writing instruction to the “L” of online literacy instruction, with literacy including reading and the technological literacy experiences of online learning. Although our organization is still young—we were founded in 2016—we offer a robust array of resources and support for those interested in online writing and literacy instruction: webinars, two publications, an annual fully online conference, grants for research support, and general access to like-minded teacher-scholars. We have developed affiliate relationships with many other organizations. We’re close to launching an instructor OLI certification process. We’re active as an organization. We’re inexpensive to join. We want new people to contact us and see what we’re all about.
Sushil: What does it mean to be the president of an international organization in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic? How has this crisis added to your role as the GSOLE leader?
Scott: In mid February, I was contacted by a colleague and invited to conduct a half-day virtual training about migrating writing instruction online for faculty from NYU Shanghai. I was told their campus was closing because of this virus that some of us in the States were starting to hear about. On Valentine’s Day we had a great, fully online workshop with dedicated faculty who were spread around the world and were unable to come to their home campus in Shanghai. Well, that seems like a decade ago now. Right after that workshop, of course, the world started to close up. As institutions scrambled to move to remote—and we’re differentiating “emergency remote” from online instruction—teaching, I thought GSOLE might be uniquely positioned to contribute, to help. I had a meeting with one of our leaders, Jenae Druckman Cohn, about some GSOLE matters, and at the end, we talked over what GSOLE might do about COVID-19. This conversation expanded into another meeting including others members of GSOLE’s leadership team, and we launched our Just-In-Time Support site (at https://www.glosole.org/justintime.html) to help faculty and institutions dealing with the sudden transition to remote instruction: Well-curated materials, live “Walk-in Webinars” that are like walk-in office hours, and a JustAskGSOLE@glosole.org email/contact to receive customized information about teaching remotely. I’ll say this over and over, but I’m extremely proud of the selfless efforts of the people who did this work. Keep in mind that these people, because of their skill set, are being called on by their own campuses. It is quite an extraordinary effort, and we were able to connect with people around the world.
The world is different now for sure, and I think GSOLE is positioned to do a lot of ongoing good to help people teaching literacy online. That, of course means that the GSOLE leadership, including myself, has been spending even more time than normal working for the organization. I’ve put a lot of hours into GSOLE since February, but that’s been made easier because, simply put, I’m not the only one. Our all-volunteer group just keeps coming up with great ideas and putting in the hours to see those ideas come to fruition.
Sushil: What does it mean for the GSOLE leadership to work remotely as an online literacy organization? Are there some new challenges? What are the changes in how you function on the day-to-day basis that even the GSOLE membership might not be aware of from a distance?
Scott: You can ask an interesting question about how we work remotely. It is important for me to say this: We are a very active organization. We have an Executive Board meeting every month with a fully-stocked agenda, and we have more than a dozen committees and task forces that meet regularly and have clearly defined objectives and jobs. Every week, I’m on the phone or Zoom with many GSOLE leaders. Almost all of this work happens remotely anyway, so our operations haven’t been disrupted that much.
However, we have had our annual meetings each year at CCCC. Of course, this year, CCCC in Milwaukee was canceled. We decided that as an organization dedicated to online teaching, we had to represent effective practices, to model these organizational behaviors, by having our annual meeting remotely, so we smoothly moved it to Zoom with follow-up Slack asynchronous discussions about three key topic areas. There are definitely some new challenges. For one, with the COVID-19 crisis, we had one of those “dark nights of the soul,” where we considered that now all of a sudden everyone was teaching online. What did that mean for us and what was once, perhaps, a particular niche of expertise that we had? We quickly got over that, though, recognizing that in many ways, people need organizations like ours more than ever. Also, underlying everything we have done—and this carries over from our roots with the CCCC—is a goal of access: We have a set of OLI Principles, and number one is access and inclusivity. We must stay active in promoting that goal in online learning.
My time as the GSOLE President is coming to a close: Dan Seward, our current VP, moves into the Presidency on July 1. We have a strong, active leadership core, and little will change about our activities and work level.
Sushil: Organizations around the globe are struggling to remain viable. How is GSOLE different in this matter as an organization?
Scott: I guess we’re really not that different in many ways. We’re trying to find our space. Even though we are inexpensive to join—and that is very much by design because we want to be accessible to contingent faculty at all levels—it’s still a challenge to create the critical mass of membership that allows your organization to be a powerful force for good in the field. One thing we do is quite simple: We meet. As I said, our Exec Board meets every month, and we have many initiatives going. There are many ways to walk in the door, virtual or otherwise, and get involved with GSOLE. Under the leadership of Amy Cicchino, our Affiliates Chair, we are rapidly establishing affiliations with other organizations, and we think that is a great way to connect with more people. Like many academic organizations, we still struggle with issues of diversity of membership, but we do have a lot of ways you can become part of meanwhile work and initiatives with GSOLE right away.
Sushil: Both as an administrator and as a scholar, what are your major dilemmas—ethical, as well as, social—amidst this pandemic in this organization’s history?
Scott: These types of dilemmas are so different on the “continuum of woe.” Some are big-picture and crucial to my whole professional identity: How can I do my part to help our students continue to get the education they signed up for? Others are specific: How do I get these darn books that I left in my office at Drexel and need for a book I’m trying to finish? I do want to be clear: I can’t complain too much. We’re all safe here in my family. I don’t even have a child who’s on the cusp of a new educational experience, like graduating. Administratively, in my role as Director of Drexel’s University Writing Program, I’m fortunate to have smart, hard-working colleagues who have been able to put in place remote operations for our program, particularly writing center director Janel McCloskey and director of curricular initiatives Dan Driscoll. Our writing center is not only tutoring online, but the tutor training has migrated into that format as well. We are still able to work with faculty in writing across the curriculum-type initiatives. I have several scholarly projects going on, and to be honest, they are going along as usual.
Socially, it all still hasn’t hit me. I do have the good fortune to work at home at times anyway, but being locked away on quarantine for nearly two months now has been surreal. I was struck by how much I missed going to CCCCs to get together with my GSOLE friends.
Sushil: Philosophically speaking as a professor, how is your relationship with the students you teach has been affected by this pandemic?
Scott: Drexel, for a number of reasons, was positioned better than many institutions to move teaching into remote environments. I have an administrative job at Drexel, but I still teach three courses a year—we are on the quarter system. Many years, I get to teach online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses. This spring I was slated to teach a new face-to-face, three-day-a-week course: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Interestingly, people are like, “You’re this online writing instruction expert, so you had no problem when things went haywire and everyone had to teach remotely.” However, that wasn’t true. Most of my teaching and the subject of my research has been about asynchronous writing courses, with heavy use of writing-focused tools like message boards. Now, I’m in Zoom environments like many teachers, and I am learning a ton about how to teach in those ways using synchronous interactions. Of course, my students’ lives, particularly here in the Delaware Valley (New Jersey and the Philadelphia area), are very disrupted. They’ve been, for the most part, solid in making the shift. They log in to Zoom three days a week ready to go. I want to think of myself as an empathetic teacher anyway, but I’ve tried to make that really the case now. Faculty have to be much more forgiving. Tens of thousands of people have died. Hundreds of thousands are sick. Who knows what is going on in our students’ lives right now? I mentioned the faculty support efforts of GSOLE, and we’re doing similar things of course on campus, and those efforts have tried to have both faculty and student understanding at their core. I have three kids, two in college at Drexel and one who’s a sophomore in high school. I see how it is for them education-wise. I try to see my students in them.
Sushil: What else would you like to add?
Scott: I think I’ve said a lot!
Sushil: Possibly, we could conclude this conversation with a message from GSOLE to the Western Region ABC membership? Any teaching-related links you could provide our readers?
Scott: One thing that has struck me over the past two months has been the problem of “curation”: The sea of links, support sites, free use of apps, has just been overwhelming. I’d just like to reiterate that GSOLE’s Just-In-Time Support site is https://www.glosole.org/justintime.html. Please stop “in” to see what we have. I’d also like to end by saying that we are looking for people with specialties in business and technical writing—part of the diversifying the organization is in terms of teaching focus and background. Check us out—I think you’ll find a welcoming community.
Recommended Citation: Sushil Oswal with Scott Warnock. (2020). Organizational Focus: an Interview with Scott Warnock. the Western ABC Bulletin, 2.1.