Grading Standards for Writing Assignments in an Online Course. In theory, living in the web world would lead to improved writing skills. After all, most of the communication is done through e-mail, discussion boards, instant messaging, and chat.
Most instructors of online courses point out that in many cases, just the opposite has occurred. Instead of fully formed thoughts supported by plausible evidence, the average paper becomes a sketchy affair written in a kind of e-mail-ese that consists of rants and choppy, disconnected thoughts, non-standard spelling, and pseudo-plagiaristic “borrowing” that manifests as unreferenced segments of online articles copied and pasted into the body of a paper.
In addition, it is important to help students come to realize that the standards for non-Internet-based writing should apply to Internet-based writing. Online courses should not have different standards than onsite or traditional courses. If anything, there should be higher standards, given that the writer is potentially writing for a larger audience who will read the work on the screen as well as on paper.
The first step in writing is learning how to organize one’s thoughts. Writing is all about thinking. It is not about mechanistic goose-stepping to grammar.
For an essay, such as those required in college first-year composition courses, the criteria may be summarized in the following manner:
Content: The essay reflects the original thought of the writer, centered around a central point, idea, or thesis. The idea and key terms are clearly defined, and the points are supported by relevant, credible, and referenced evidence. The concepts cover ideas from more than a single field or source, and cross disciplines.
Organization: The essay is organized in a manner that can be followed by the average reader. Whether the structure follows inductive or deductive logic is not as important as overall coherence of the argument. Each point is well-developed and balanced. Sentences are correctly constructed, and follow established norms of syntax and grammar.
Presentation: The presentation should be appropriate for reading on the screen or on paper. Ideally, paragraphs are short, font size is readable, and subheadings are used to cue the reader and organize the thoughts and points.
Diction: Word Choices and Tone: The essay contains word choices that are appropriate for the topic, with a tone that is appropriate for the audience and the subject matter. Wrong words and awkward constructions are avoided.
Mechanics: Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling: The essay follows the standard grammar, punctuation, and spelling of American English.
Citing Sources: Sources are cited in a consistent manner, following the conventions in an agreed-upon style guide. Citations are not presented in a back-to-back manner. The author’s original thoughts dominate, and citations serve to reinforce or support the primary thesis.
Because the standards are fairly subject to interpretation, it is important to provide examples of successful essays. However, there is a danger in this. The more insecure student will use the sample as a model and will not deviate from it. Such slavish adherence to the model of the sample essay leads to a less than ideal learning experience. Deep learning takes place when the individual makes connections between the subject of his or her essay and her own experience and life.
More useful is a template, guide or flowchart. This will help the student structure the initial draft, but does not constrain him or her in terms of subject, style, ideology, or overall tone.
The key to success is the human touch. The student will gain confidence as the instructor provides timely and relevant feedback. Instead of punishing and “correcting”, the instructor should guide and encourage intellectual risk-taking. Grading guidelines and standards are fluid and flexible. They are meant to be applied in an appropriate way that leads the student to introspection and deeper learning, in addition to enhanced skills in writing.
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