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Writing for Online Courses, an Often Solitary but Necessary Skill

Writing for Online Courses, an Often Solitary but Necessary Skill

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Learning Tips

A common misperception of online education is that it is an isolating experience for students. That may be true for students who have spent their formative education in classrooms with 25 to 30 of their peers. In many case, these students have known one another for a decade or so and rely on their in-class colleagues for friendship and sometimes academic support.

While these students today are totally computer savvy, moving on to higher education at an online university may feel like an isolated, even foreign experience.

Older students who are in the workforce or serving in the military are more accustomed to relying on their own innate skills and intellect, and may adapt to online education more rapidly and successfully.

Eric Fredericksen writes in the academic website The Conversation that online class discussions are not constrained to a small, 50-minute window of time. Online discussions can extend for a week or two, allowing all students to engage and actively participate.

Fredericksen notes that “expanding the time for discussion permits students to reflect and explore additional information, thoughtfully consider the views of their classmates, and then take the time to construct their own contribution, which can lead to higher quality responses.”

Understanding the three main academic writing styles is one of the first skills to master, says the Center for Online Education.

  • Argument papers require you to support a position, claim or opinion. These papers are framed with a thesis statement, which introduces a focused assertion. Examples include: “Fast food consumption is linked to heart disease in low-income communities.”
  • Research papers typically include formal sections, such as an introduction, review of existing research literature, analysis, discussion of results and conclusion.
  • Expository papers require you to research an idea or concept and provide supporting evidence. This type of writing includes a thesis statement, as well as the logical presentation of sources that address the idea you are exploring in your paper.

Researching and Writing College Papers Are Often Mostly Solitary Endeavors

Researching and writing college papers, and theses are often mostly solitary endeavors, regardless whether the student is enrolled in a traditional classroom or an online course.

“I cannot overemphasize the value of excellent writing skills when taking an online class,” says Bradley Fuster, associate vice president of institutional effectiveness at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

“Unlike face-to-face classes, which often credit oral participation, online courses generally rely more on written work for grading and assessment purposes,” Fuster says. Academic writing style, ability and formality in online classes are critical skills for students if they are to be successful.

Here’s a modified list of Fuster’s tips for students to improve their writing for online classes:

1.Understand the writing style expected for each type of online assignment

For example, discussion forum posts may encourage a conversational tone; reflection, journal entry or dialogue assignments may permit the use of sentence fragments; term papers usually require formal academic writing. Your ability to write appropriately for the assignment’s context will positively influence your class performance. When in doubt of the appropriate style, err on the side of formal writing.

2. Remember that professors have advanced degrees for which they had to write a thesis​Instructors do not expect thesis-quality writing on a regular basis from their students, but they do appreciate formal, clear, crisp writing free of colloquialism, jargon (such as military or business acronyms) and conversational tone. Correct spelling, punctuation, grammar and excellent word choice are essential.

3. Use one device, in one place, exclusively for your academic writing
For example, limit social media use to a mobile phone and use a tablet or laptop to write for your online classes. Separating your classwork from the writing you for your job to a designated device and location can help you focus on your academic writing.

4. Actively schedule time to write your online class assignments:Resist the temptation to write class assignments while you’re at work or on a military assignment. Switching back and forth between academic writing and replying to office email or preparing a business report is bad for both.​

In general, online students’ days are spent split between their workaday world or military duties and their online class studies. Wearing two hats simultaneously is a demanding task. But mastering standard academic writing for your online classes will give you a leg up academically and keep you on track toward your degree.

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