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Instructional Design and Technology in Education

Fulfilling writing requirements in an online environment

One advantage that most asynchronous online courses have over face-to-face courses is that historically, there are more requirements asking  students to submit multiple writing assignments. Both informal writing that can be captured through an online discussion, and formal  writing, as in short- and long- formatted papers, are often core assessments in an online class. Most online courses have a much higher ratio of student effort based on submitting assessments through writing then the percentage of student effort for writing in a face-to-face course. Fulfilling the  upper-division writing intensive requirements for the baccalaureate core at UAF, requires that students complete two Writing Intensive designated courses (hereafter known as “W”). The Faculty Senate guidelines for Writing Intensive Courses  have been in effect since 1990. For those classes that are designated as “W”   there are five  basic requirements to fulfill:

  • students write an ungraded diagnostic essay that can be used as a baseline
  • instructors regularly evaluate student writing throughout the course
  • student and instructor are required to  have one personal meeting  to talk about the student’s writing
  • instructor and/or  peers  evaluate  drafts of paper(s)
  • a  majority of the assessment in the course is to be done through submission of  written material

All of these elements can easily be accomplished in an online course, often times more efficiently then in a face-to-face course.

Baseline Essay

eCampus-supported instructors are encouraged to begin their classes with an assignment that is due within the first week of classes. This strategy not only sets expectations that the online course is rigorous, but also is a way to evaluate whether or not  the student is prepared to fulfill the class expectations early enough in the semester as to be able to drop the course with a tuition refund and with enough time to enroll in another class. Setting the stage with the first ungraded essay can be a great way to begin engaging students in your online course. Upon review of the first composition, if the instructor thinks the student could benefit from additional remedial tutoring, the student can be referred to the appropriate services. There are currently two different writing centers (UAF and CTC) that offer tutoring services through online mechanisms.

Regular Evaluation

Students submit homework assignments throughout the semester on a regular basis. Giving feedback is essential, especially in an asynchronous course where students can feel very isolated without instructor or peer interaction. In a book called, “500 Tips on Assessment,” the authors say, “Nothing that we do to, or for, our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give them on it. The results of our assessment influence our students for the rest of their lives and careers—fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong’ (Brown, Race & Smith. 2005. p. xi). Keeping this in mind, instructor’s should be giving detailed constructive feedback. (more on feedback)

There are multiple online tools available to help instructors quickly make editing suggestions and comments on writing style.


  • video everywhere
  • comments and feedback
  • inline grading
  • rubrics
  • auto-graded quizzes using pools
  • blackboard collaborate for live conversations


  • document markup
  • add comments and insert notes
  • use the chat tool to have a synchronous conversation
  • start a hangout and share the document
  • use a Drive add-ons like  or  Track Changes


  • enable track changes
  • add comments
  • add audio files using notes view
  • convert the text to a table and make your comments in a new column
  • save as a PDF and make comments using Adobe Reader commenting tools or in Preview (MAC) using the preview tools

Adobe PDF/Preview

  • leave audio notes
  • annotation and commenting tools
    pdf-annotation tools
  • create a fillable form to use as a rubric

Personal Meeting

Meeting  with students to have a one-on-one conversation can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Those who are in the area could come to your office for a face-to-face meeting. Other options include phone, online using Google Hangout, Skype, or Blackboard Collaborate. Each of the online options allow for sharing documents so you and the student can point to different areas to make comments.

Set up a meeting schedule using the Appointment slots in Google Calendar or through a shared sheet or document in Google Drive for easier management and to allow students to set a time that works best for them.

Instructor/Peer Feedback

Creating opportunities for peers to give feedback to each other can be handled efficiently through online tools that the students are already familiar with. Create Groups in Bb so that they can share a discussion board, blogs, wikis, journals or share files. Have students upload their papers to a shared Google Drive folder and make comments  on  their peers’ papers asynchronously through comments and mark-up or synchronously using Google Hangout. Create an open-ended Blackboard Collaborate “classroom” when students can meet and share files. Students can also post drafts to a class discussion forum and receive comments through the discussion board.

Large variety of  writing options

There is a large variety of assessments (more on assessments) that might fulfill this requirement. Here are a few examples:

  • short answer questions in quizzes/exams
  • short reading response papers
  • abstracts
  • reflection response papers
  • short (3-5 page) research papers or essays
  • research/term papers (break the process down into several smaller assignments with deadlines due throughout the semester: brainstorm potential topics, research your topic, literature cited/bibliography, draft, peer review, final)
  • script for audio or video recording
  • storyboarding
  • discussion posts (give an example of what you are expecting)
  • presentation
  • twitter responses (for practicing concise writing)
  • alternative scholarship

The requirements for  offering  a Writing Intensive course through online delivery can be fully met and as seen through some of these examples, and can provide a rich learning experience for your students and for you.



(2012). 500 Tips on Assessment – Google Books. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from

Author: Heidi Olson

Heidi enjoys working with content experts in developing eCampus courses to provide alternatives for students. Her other interests include faculty training in best practices for eCampus and researching eCampus tools to help fulfill learning outcomes. Having worked in the distance education arena for over 20 years, she has a wide range of experiences in supporting students and faculty as technology and pedagogy evolve.

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