The Online Writing Conference: A Guide for Teachers and Tutors
An Interview with Beth L. Hewett

Interviewed by Geoffrey C. MiddlebrookWebtext design by John M. Bonham
University of Southern CaliforniaUniversity of Southern California

The Book

Among the multitude of compositionists with Internet expertise, Beth Hewett is certainly a name that most would recognize. Well known for her 2004 book co-authored with Christa Ehmann Powers and devoted to preparing educators for online writing instruction, or OWI, Hewett presently serves as chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction. These qualifications are fully displayed in The Online Writing Conference, an eight-chapter text organized into the benefits of online conferencing; practical matters; establishing trust; theories for online writing instruction; responding to students; the orneriness of language; using what works; and having effective conferences (the chapters are trailed by a postscript and two appendices). I heartily agree with Michael Pemberton, who in the Foreword described the book as "smartly constructed and deeply grounded" (p. xi); indeed, Hewett draws from published literature, research that she and others have conducted, and hands-on knowledge to make a compelling case for the importance and potential of one-to-one OWI instruction.

Hewett's tome is governed by several animating themes, and I would here like to identify them as a way of arriving at her core argument. To begin, Hewett acknowledges the value of audio-video tools, but with the principal aim of a conference being to "intervene in […students'] writing activities" (p. 16), she insists on the fundamentally "textual nature of OWI" (p. xvii). If one accepts that formulation, then Hewett's call for "semantic integrity" follows naturally. This refers to instructor input that is "explicit and directive" (p. 72), "systematic and problem-centered" (p. 82), well placed and formatted (p. 126), and set in a transactional, goal-oriented ambit of trust and engagement. In order for faculty to meet these standards, Hewett is convinced that they cannot simply migrate "traditional instructional theory and practice to online settings" (p. xvii). More to the point, faculty must recognize the OWI difficulties that may arise from three less interventionist pedagogies: expressivist, social constructionist, and post-process. However, Hewett does not call for a complete abandonment of these approaches (noting in passing the "good" they have accomplished), but rather advocates a consciously held eclecticism, or the use of "any and all effective strategies from any and all epistemologies" (p. 79), including classical, process, rhetorical, and cognitive, provided the result is faculty feedback characterized by "accuracy, brevity, and instructional ethos" (p. 102).