Wrapping up the semester with distance learning

This week and next, I’m wrapping up the semester. Think I’ll use festive beaded ribbon.

'Tis pretty, but not entirely cooperative in the area of tying

To wrap up my work as a teaching assistant this semester, I will be adapting two of my Professor’s ENG 272 (Technical Communication) units to a distance learning (online) format. This is an interesting task because motivating undergraduate students and sustaining their engagement is challenging in person, and the distance learning approach makes these crucial tasks even more difficult.

In teaching technical communication (TC) at the undergraduate level for non TC majors, the most critical element is impressing upon students its importance in their future career. It’s hard for them to see that. If their major is construction engineering, automotive engineering, dietetics, biology, or the like, they may not see how learning to write technical business proposals and do oral presentations has any bearing on their future success as an engineer, dietician, or biologist.

It’s our job as teachers to make the curriculum relevant. Also, the skills we teach non-majors in undergraduate TC become more applicable when students progress in their careers to become leaders and visionaries. If we can help students identify (Burke, 1969) with the vision of themselves as future leaders and visionaries in their field, the learning becomes relevant and the success rate of absorbing material is higher (McArdle, 2007; Stolovitch and Keeps, 2002).

These are some of the strategies I’ll use when adapting course material to distance learning:

  • Before the class begins, provide guidance about how to be a successful distance learner. I really like the style of this guidance by Micah Tillman called How to Survive a Philosophy Course Without Going Insane. The style is fun, and the document reassures the student that they can achieve the goals of the class.
  • On the first day of class, share guidance about peer review and online course etiquette along with the syllabus. I think peer review is a lost art. It can be very helpful to all students if it is done properly.
  • Develop and cultivate a learning community among the students
  • Provide timely constructive feedback

There are a lot of great ideas in 101 Ways to Make Training Active about engaging distance learners. Particularly, they say,“Get participants involved. The most frequent complaint of online learners is a feeling of isolation from the learning community. Using online groups, engaging activities, frequent discussion topics, and other active learning strategies can reduce the anxiety of participants by helping them establish online relationships with their peers.” (loc 1296…sorry, I read it on my Kindle).


Burke, K. (1969). A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkely, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

McArdle, G. E. (2007). Training Design and Delivery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD.

Silberman, M. L. (2005). 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Pfieffer.

Stolovitch, H. D., & Keeps, E. J. (2002). Telling Ain’t Training. Alexandria, VA: ASTD.

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4 Responses to Wrapping up the semester with distance learning

  1. Pingback: Micah Tillman » Blog Archive » Some Thoughts on Distance Learning

  2. Nathan says:

    I loved Micah’s “syllabus” / course overview, too!

    Sounds like you’re doing the things that I’m doing in the corporate world, too- trying to make your work relevant to the learner. I like it!

  3. Pingback: Distance learning: encouraging a learning community through peer review | A very focused blog about school and work

  4. Thanks for the resources. Good info.

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