The Care and Feeding
of Online Instructors
By Kenneth Maxey
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
"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
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
Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Joseph
Gibaldi, The Modern Language Association of America)
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!