Remote learning has been on the rise over the last decade, and even more-so this year. With significant growth enabled by increased access to a reliable internet connection, the growing sophistication of online learning platforms, and the ability to learn from any location, online education draws interest for a variety of reasons – besides convenience, it appeals to learners who appreciate a private and flexible approach to education.
Writing, which traditionally involves peer-reviews, multiple drafts, and in-class exercises, proves to be one of the more challenging forms of online lesson planning. Unlike other subjects that may be simpler to modularize into lecture videos and multiple-choice worksheets, there are distinct challenges associated with fostering a nuanced skill like writing through an online curriculum. Despite these potential hurdles, we’ve compiled the following guide for keeping your students engaged online while encouraging a strong learning outcome:
1. Organize the Instruction and Deadline
Some students mix up due-dates and misunderstand assignment instructions even in live classes, making it imperative to provide a detailed and organized syllabus. Provide an easy-to-read downloadable syllabus, in addition to organizing important class information on whichever platform you’re using (Google Classroom, Blackboard, Zoom, etc.)
2. Implement Accountability
For some students, writing is already seen as a tedious task; this can often lead students to their first run-in with “writers block”, an inability to focus, and feeling stressed about the quality of their writing. An external motivation to write, including deadlines, regular meetings, and interaction with others in the class can ensure that students write more often and become accustomed to the process.
3. Maintain Peer-Review and Collaboration
Although counterintuitive, social interaction is one of the benefits of the online learning environment, with the opportunity for otherwise shy students to interject during online classes, or through an online message board. You can encourage even more peer collaboration by providing message boards for writing prompts, requiring draft reviews with other students, and, with the student’s permission, sharing their writing and critiques through Google Drive for others to learn from and comment on.
4. Include Valuable Resources
There are many free materials to help your students formulate their understanding of proper punctuation, mood, tense, and more. One of these classics, the Elements of Style, is provided free through the University of Washington. Chuck Palahniuk, the author behind Fight Club and other famous works, has published multiple essays to help writers improve, including this popular piece on practicing how to write without using “thought verbs”. If you’re teaching creative writing and storytelling, award-winning author and professor Brandon Anderson provides many lectures for free on YouTube. Providing resources like these will provide your students with multiple creativity-inspiring outlets. The idea is that by challenging your students and posing a writing assignment as an chance to express themselves creatively, they will be less likely to willingly give up that opportunity.
5. Instill Good Habits
Practice makes better. Overlapping with previous points, a major aspect of improving one’s writing skills is to have students write every day. Remember, you’re implementing accountability, and a great way to encourage this is to require interaction with other students on message boards, peer-review, and other forms of engagement. At first, the comments and reviews from your students may seem subpar, but each day is a new opportunity to provide thoughtful critiques and guide your students into writing more engaging and considered content. Additionally, as mentioned above, requiring regular writing activities will help your students get accustomed to overcoming writers block, diversify their understanding of writing styles, and ultimately make plagiarism much less necessary and appealing.
Lastly, keep in mind one of the most important habits to encourage is for students to check their final draft for proper citation to prevent any unintentional plagiarism. It’s a good idea to require your students to check their work through a reliable software like Quetext. By integrating these steps, you will create an online writing curriculum that will suit various learning styles and complement the online classroom.
For more tips on transitioning from in-class to online instruction check out our article Developing an Ideal Online Learning Environment.