An online composition course presents numerous challenges for both the instructor and students: not the least of these concerns the quantity and quality of work required. The quantity depends in large part upon the intrinsic and extrinsic goals established by the institution and by an institution’s English department for those students that institution draws. For English composition courses and for other online courses that require written compositions as part of the drill, most all instructors and college students, even most junior and senior high school students, can recognize quality compositions. If a group of high school or college students are asked first to read sample student essays, and then to define criteria for an A paper, a B, a C, a D, and a F, after some discussion and negotiating, they, even without instructor input, can usually agree upon grading classifications, name the criteria, describe the characteristics that define those criteria, and then classify those sample student papers according to those designated grades. (Composition theorists do investigate the extent of influence that cultural expectations and languages or languages of origin have upon those students’ compositions: student attempts to conform to prescriptive cultural standards regarding the essay’s form and substance for particular classes.) The problem in college composition courses concerns students’ identifying those lack of characteristics in their own works. Another issue concerns misconceptions: the misconception that all students do desire to improve their writing skills in order to secure Bs or As when in fact only a few embrace the process while still desiring the grades, and most instructors’ misconception that students’ composition skills advance during a semester.
Often I have chastised myself for commenting too much on students’ final drafts, mainly because after the first few weeks when committee work increases and assignments for all courses stack upon desks or inboxes, the workload becomes overwhelming. I also have been questioned by peers regarding my not accepting rewrites of major papers. I do expect revisions, or what some call drafts, prior to students submitting their final drafts. Initially I do extensively comment on at least one of those revisions of the first papers. For the subsequent papers, I expect that students actively pursue correcting major errors in correctness and composition techniques that I have pointed out in previous papers. If students require tutoring help, I repeatedly suggest such; however, quite a few students fear their being noticed in a writing lab. I suppose one might conclude that their embarrassment really is a plus, but I don’t think so. An instructor needs to help students recognize that tutoring does not mean that they lack something that others can recognize. (I often tell students about my C in a college statistics course.)
Then again another component–individual student psychology–what makes each student tick. How much information, how much constructive criticism, how much of the same constructive criticism, how to structure assignments in order to build on knowledge, when to be blunt, etc., can be proffered to maintain student curiosity and thus encourage them to proceed?