Developing the Online Developmental Writing Course

Several years ago I became quite interested in online learning/teaching, and presented the idea of developing a developmental writing course for Oakton students. Several people in the department were quite excited by the prospect and I was able to proceed with my interest. I am at this time working towards a Masters Certificate in Online Teaching, and find the learning process extremely useful in what I hope will be a continuation of designing and teaching online courses.

When I first thought that the idea of an online course for this student population might have some merit, I was immediately faced with several key questions. How can one teach a student to write better online, when they are facing limited ability, vocabulary, or structure and grammar? It is my optimistic belief that students who are immersed in the subject of writing, cannot help but become better writers. The mere fact that the online environment is a written one, becomes one of the key elements for a developmental writing student. What better way to ensure that a student is literally forced to communicate via the written word than through the online medium.

Another area which I pondered was whether students should have a text in hand with traditional homework requirements posted online or prepared lectures read off the screen. Pedagogically, I decided that I would prefer the student to have both. That is to say, a text from which he/she reads the materials, and works on exercises, as well as the possibility of communicating the learning process online along with his/her peers. I researched texts available for the developmental writing online student, and decided to use English Skills by John Langan. I found it to be a very comprehensive text, which includes skill building exercises, as well as a supplementary CD which gives the student an opportunity to earn extra credit, and extra writing possibilities. My hope is that by allowing students to be creative in their attempt to master their new language, it will generate enthusiasm and better communication skills.

I would like to outline the course for you by discussing the overall structure of the first Module. All subsequent Modules follow this general pattern.

Each individual module’s Objectives is formulated at the beginning of the Module. For example, the goal of Module 1 is to learn the five basics of effective writing, which according to Langan are: Unity, Support ,Coherence,Transitions and Sentence Skills. The objective is to learn to write a simple paragraph using these structures. More paragraphs are added as the semester continues.

Next is the Selected Reading section which gives the assigned reading for each individual Module.


Along with the required reading from the text, each Module requests that the student do some outside reading as well. In Module 1 the story of the “Ants and the Grasshopper” from Aesops Fables is the suggested reading. The website address is included, and students can go directly to the site and read the fable. The point is to create a variety of activities for the student which is a mixture of online work in an asynchronous environment, as well as using a physical text from which they must do their homework, post online for discussion, revision, and receive instructor’s comments and assessment. I think this approach reaches more students, while giving them a sense of accomplishment and movement.

So, the way it works is that the student begins by posting a brief introduction of themselves to the class. Then they follow the syllabus. Each assignment that is required of them (done at home in their text) is posted to a forum. They work in pairs, and each person is responsible to post their part. All students read each other’s work and comment on the work. They are then able to check their answers and self correct. Students are asked to read both from the text, and from online readings. Again, each students is asked to produce a particular aspect of their assignment and post for discussion. For example: write a paragraph on what is the moral of “The Ants and the Grasshopper Fable”. Once again all students will be involved with reading and discussion each other’s work.

Each student is paired up with a partner for a period of time, and peer editing, as well as general comments are required for each writing assignment from their peers. After this is done, the students are given an opportunity to rewrite and post to private email for instructor’s comments and/or grade.

Another activity which they seem to enjoy is the assignment whereby I ask them to go and visit an online museum exhibit (in pairs), and then come back and “tell” the group what they “saw” and experienced. It is an interesting multicultural look at various cultures, and provides a sense of inclusion.

The possibilities are endless, and the online environment is a great resource for students learning to write. After each module, I have additional interactive website addresses such as the ESL café or OWLS for them to go to further explore writing skills.

I hope this conveys a little bit of the process that I went through to design this course. I taught the online only version once, and a hybrid version several times. Both worked well, but the hybrid version I think is a little more comfortable for the students, simply because it allows for some face to face time for questions regarding assignment clarification.

I hope I have conveyed a sense of the process. The pedagogical point I am trying to make is that these students need variety, and a sense of enjoyment while they are learning the process of writing. Of course the fact that an online environment gives them the maximum opportunity to use this medium is a big plus. I hope that this lecture brings about a good discussion for those interested in the developmental writing student.

 

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