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The Care and Feeding of Online Instructors

By Kenneth Maxey

Kenneth MaxeyThey call me "Maxey the Merciless." I use the highlighter tool on my MS Word program to critique, correct, cajole and (occasionally) compliment my online students as I assess and grade their work. I admit, however, I sink to the depths of sarcasm late at night, when the student has butchered the first page of his or her paper so badly, that I am greatly distracted from the content and sorely irritated at the lack of decent grammar.

Is it a good idea to irritate the instructor as he reads your online submittal and admires your creative use of the King's English? Probably not. Yet, I continue to be amazed that many of my online students, virtually all of whom are adult learners, cannot write to a standard that would be expected in middle school. Undoubtedly, the intervening years between high school or college, and the inevitable rusting of grammatical brain cells, contribute to the lack of quality. However, it's also knowing that they did not bother to read over what they wrote, and that is the time when the irritability quotient rises to where it is grade-affecting.

Having written online courses and taught them for a small university for some years, I have seen just about everything. As adult learners re-entering the education arena, it is to your advantage to pay attention to those practices which will cause the instructor to look beyond the exceptional content of your prose and either slide your grade a little higher or hammer it down for some irritating collection of transgressions.

Use a spell checker program, but don't rely on it completely! I correct plenty of spelling -- often, the wrong work (see!) spelled correctly. Most word processing programs have spell checkers and grammar checking tools that take, at most, a few minutes to run for most assignments. Beyond that, however, read what you have wrought! Believe me, the one complaint I hear from my colleagues and that I share is our impatience with students who excessively violate the rules of grammar.

Some examples in ascending order of grammatical sinfulness are:

"For that reason I believe the North American Free Trade Agreement has been a net benefit to the United States." (no comma after "reason").

"The Federal Reserves decision negatively effected the stock market yesterday." (no apostrophe in "Reserves" to show possession; "affected", not "effected").

"It is apparent that there actions will led to lower interest rates, and that they has made that decision because of pressure from the white house. ("their", not "there"; "lead", not "led"; "have", not "has"; capitalize "white house"; sentence obviously not reviewed and edited, but everything was spelled correctly!).

As I advise my students, "Due knot iritate the instruktor; by ussing lousy Englisch!"

Better yet, I often recommend that students strongly consider taking a writing course which, of course, can be delivered online. There are excellent writing guides also on the Internet. Two sites worth checking out are the Guide to Grammar and Writing and The Nuts and Bolts Guide to College Writing. Also, a good grammar guide should be an easily reachable resource in your library. The two I have on my bookshelf are the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Joseph Gibaldi, The Modern Language Association of America) and The Bedford Handbook for Writers (Diana Hacker, Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press). Don't forget that dictionaries and thesauruses are still widely available in print!

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