By David E. Hubler
English is one of the basic course requirements toward any higher education degree. Whether one is working toward a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science, undergraduates most often start with the equivalent of English 101, a standard course primarily devoted to teaching the elements of good grammar and the basics of writing well.
At American Public University, the first cited goal of the online Bachelor of Arts degree in English is to demonstrate “the ability to effectively express ideas and evidence in writing.”
A degree in English is particularly well suited for students seeking a career in teaching, writing, editing, film and television, public relations, desktop publishing, journalism and law, among others. An English degree also serves as a path for those interested in pursuing a variety of advanced degree programs.
Being Able to Communicate Well in English Is an Asset for Just about Everyone
But above all, being able to communicate well in English is an asset for just about everyone.
During the years I taught Freshman Composition at a Virginia community college, I developed a number of techniques to make my students better writers. Fortunately, these techniques are easily adaptable to online learning.
I required students to submit weekly papers that mirrored the rhetorical style of the works we read and discussed in class. Essay examples included descriptive, narrative, cause and effect, argumentative, persuasive, and others.
When I reviewed, graded and commented on their work, the students would then submit a rewrite the next week to correct any grammatical errors and improve the content.
One Benefit of Online Learning Is Classes Are Typically Asynchronous
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, an associate professor at APU for more than a decade, says one of the benefits of online learning is that classes are typically asynchronous. In other words, the instructor and the students are not required to be in the online class at the same time. This asynchronous format enables everyone to have flexibility in their schedules and to more easily manage different responsibilities, such as full-time work and their families.
Clarity Is the Essence of Good Writing
The essence of all good writing is clarity. It’s an acquired skill that requires discipline. As APU faculty member Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt notes, “There is no clear-cut path to discipline, but discipline breeds success.”
In composing essays and term papers, a student’s ability to know what elements of the draft to retain and what to throw away is critical. But it takes time and practice to be discerning about how we properly structure our own written work and how we say it.
Reading One’s Writing Out Loud Is Also Helpful
I always told my students to read their work aloud before turning it in. That’s when our ears supplant our eyes in the editing process.
This tactic holds true for online chat rooms. English instructors should tell their students to check their work orally and aurally. Listening to what they’ve written students often find errors that they missed while reading their work.
Reading selected works of prose or poetry aloud loses none of its impact online. Online chat rooms, Zoom conferences and similar platforms are excellent ways for students to communicate and prepare team exercises for in-class online presentations.
Teachers Must Adapt to Ensure Lessons Achieve the Main Goals of Teaching a Language
Problems do arise, however, when teaching English online. According to English teacher Coleen Monroe, “You can’t simply cross the room and point to a place in a book where an answer ought to be written; you need to be able to troubleshoot at a safe distance. As teachers, we must adapt to make sure our lessons still achieve the main goals of teaching a language.”
Monroe acknowledges that “it’s hard to stay motivated” when you are on week 4 of online classes, and the online classroom begins to feel a bit stale. She says, “We are living in unprecedented times and the situation is likely to be quite stressful in many ways, outside of just teaching.”
She advises online teachers to make sure they are taking care of their mental and physical health, especially during the continuing spread of the coronavirus pandemic. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Your online classes are going to decrease in quality if you don’t keep your brain sharp,” Monroe warns.
Routine is the most important weapon in the battle against brain fog, she says. Keep a schedule and make sure that you stick to it every day and take more breaks than you normally do. Monroe observes, “Use caffeine strategically. If you take care of yourself during this time, you will be able to help your students and plan better lessons.”
One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, the pandemic will be behind us. Yet online education is expected only to increase in popularity and demand. And online degree programs will continue to include English as a basic step toward that degree.