A message from Bill Hart-Davidson

This is a note of thanks and solidarity to our colleagues and friends, from me, Bill H-D, one of Eli Review’s founders. As a company, we find ourselves in the odd position to be helpful in a time of international crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. But we also want to be clear: this is not a moment to be opportunistic.

I’m writing here with a message that I think is going to be useful in the coming days about a key challenge in teaching remotely. This is something that is so powerfully associated with learning in a university setting that we can take it for granted. It is the way we, humans, learn together.

Students learn from one another.

That, in one sentence, is the heart of what is now an almost 15 year project to create Eli Review and make it available to teachers and learners around the world. Peer learning, and especially the chance for students to give and receive feedback on their work, their practice, is what Eli supports.

As we see an unprecedented and sudden shift to what my university is calling “remote teaching,” I am reminded all over again of the reasons we made Eli. When students are more distant from one another, in space or in time, it is harder for them to see, hear, and learn from each other.

Most digital means of delivery make the teacher-to-student channel overwhelmingly dominant. The default mode of interaction is one-to-many. The teacher is usually the “one.” And that’s not all bad. But it’s also not sufficient OR efficient. Students who can’t see or clarify things with each other will need to go somewhere to get the feedback that learning requires. And so that same one-to-many channel gets quickly overrun, becoming a many-to-one deluge.

For a lot of our colleagues about to shift for the first time to online teaching, that wave is coming. Pity your inboxes! When it hits, my advice is do not try to drink the firehose! Rather, consider how to create a many-to-many means of interaction for your students, restoring the ability for students to access the most powerful resource for learning available to them in our f2f classrooms: each other. Help them see, hear, and learn together. There are many good ways to do that. Eli is just one tool among many.

Speaking on behalf of the four writing teachers who founded and lead Eli Review, if we can help you — our peers, colleagues, and friends — we would like to do that. We have an offer for folks who want to use Eli at no cost in their classrooms to get through the semester. We have free resources for planning and offering online peer learning for teachers, and also some for students.

Ordinarily, we’d be seeing many of you at our upcoming conferences such as CCCC and ATTW. We’ll miss that this year. But Melissa and I are happy to jump on a Zoom call to talk to you or your colleagues too. I, along with Jeff Grabill and many of you, will be hard at work solving problems on my own campus over the next few weeks, so my ability to respond is a bit more limited than Melissa’s will be. But we are here to help. Thanks for the support from so many over the last decade and half. We welcome the chance to give some of that back.

Hyphenated, father, academic, juggler, cyclist, cook. Philosophy of life: give.

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