Using Principles of Andragogy to Teach Writing to Graduate Students Online

Using Principles of Andragogy to Teach Writing to Graduate Students Online

Beth Kania-Gosche (Lindenwood University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch068
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While online courses may be more convenient and fulfilling for adult learners, they pose an additional challenge because much of the communication between student and instructor is in writing. This is in addition to more formal, traditional written assignments like research papers. The challenge multiplies with graduate students, who may be years or even decades distant from their undergraduate writing courses, while the expectations for their writing are higher. Many graduate programs culminate with a final project, thesis, or dissertation, which often involves extensive research and writing. Many similarities exist between the literature on teaching writing and teaching adult learners; however, teaching writing within the contest of an online graduate course is an area of research that still needs to be expanded.
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Teaching graduate students is both an honor and a burden. The preparation and assignments are more extensive, but often instructor and student form lasting relationships because of shared interest in the content of the course, smaller class sizes, and the mentoring that comes with participation on a thesis or dissertation committee. These culminating projects involve complex, sophisticated writing and research. If students’ writing skills are lacking, they may struggle in coursework and especially in completion of the final thesis or dissertation. Many instructors of graduate courses assume that students have the necessary writing skills, and few universities offer support for graduate students or instructors to improve writing or writing instruction, although this is gradually changing (Rose & McClafferty, 2001). This is similar to the assumptions often made about online courses. Universities may assume that students have the necessary skills to succeed in this environment and instructors have the necessary training to support their success, while this may not always be the case, especially if training has not been provided (Hewett & Ehman, 2004).

Teaching online and teaching writing are closely linked. Online teaching presents new challenges, as most communication between instructor and student or student to student occurs in writing, either through email, discussion boards, instant messaging, wikis, or more formal papers (Warnock, 2009). Again, if students lack the necessary writing skills, they may struggle with this type of course delivery. In a face to face discussion, students must simply raise their hands and express a thought verbally. Online, students must compose a response in writing, a much more complex and time consuming task. “The OWcourse forces an environment that is not just writing intensive but also writing exclusive” (Warnock, p. xi). As online courses and programs gain popularity, instructors must ensure that they are providing appropriate support to students who struggle to express themselves in writing. Thus, instructors of an online course, or truly any graduate level course, must consider themselves teachers of writing, even though that is not necessarily the content of the course.

As many graduate students are working adults, instructors should integrate adult learning principles into their teaching, online or face to face. Many of the best practices for adult learners overlap with those for effectively teaching writing, although little literature exists that makes this connection. Most research on graduate student writing consists of firsthand accounts of graduate classes (Belcher, 2009; Rose & McClafferty, 2001) or writing centers created specifically to improve writing skills (Alter & Adkins, 2001). Literature on teaching writing to adults is often focused on those who are learning to read and write for the first time rather than graduate students who clearly can read and write enough to function in society but not necessarily thrive in the academic culture of graduate school. Faculty often lament the lack of writing skills students possess, especially those in graduate school (Lovitts, 2007).

In this chapter, the author compares the principles of adult learning to those of teaching writing. While many of these best practices work effectively in all environments, specific recommendations for online course instruction at the graduate level are given, including creating and assessing writing assignments. The author also gives some recommendations for thesis and dissertation committee advisors, as this is often a requirement of graduate school faculty. Finally, the author discusses emerging trends in these fields of research, especially in online writing instruction (OWI).

Key Terms in this Chapter

National Writing Project: The National Writing Project (NWP) is a professional development network dedicated to improving student writing and learning . . . NWP sites use a teacher-teaching-teachers model that draws on the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of successful classroom teachers to serve more than one hundred thousand teachers annually, grades K-16, in all disciplines. (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. xi)

Revision: “In revising, a writer approaches a rough draft with an editorial eye, identifying and deleting extraneous subject matter, focusing the material, determining what needs to be amplified and what needs to be cut” (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. 26).

Teacherless Writing Class: [The teacherless writing class] is a class of seven to twelve people. It meets at least once a week. Everyone reads everyone else’s writing. Everyone tries to give each writer a sense of how his words were experienced. The goal is for the writer to come as close as possible to being able to see and experience his own words through seven or more people. That’s all. (Elbow, 1973, p. 77)

Peer Revision: A classroom technique designed to help the student develop editing skills and a sense of authentic audience. The teacher first models a process of supportive critique that sets the tone for positive and useful comments. Students then read and review one another’s work in pairs or groups. (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. 27)

Writing Process: Any of the activities or thinking strategies used to compose a piece of writing. These are sometimes described as cycles of planning (generating ideas, setting goals, and organizing), translating (putting a plan into writing) and reviewing (evaluating and revising); or they can be categorized into activities such as prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. 26)

Writing as Inquiry: A writing curriculum that incorporates inquiry strategies (collecting and evaluating evidence, comparing and contrasting cases to infer similarities and differences, explaining how evidence supports or does not support a claim, creating a hypothetical example to clarify an idea, imagining a situation from a perspective other than one’s own, and so on). . . (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. 23)

Prewriting: “Any planning activity that helps the writer invent content and generate ideas, images, viewpoints, and so on, to be developed into a piece of writing” (NWP & Nagin, 2006, p. 26).

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