How to make an online lab successful

The goal was not limited to inserting multimedia into traditional writing instruction materials, however. As researchers, such as Ally (2004) point out, it is not simply the multimedia that supports learners. Multimedia that makes sense with content and is scaffolded from one concept to the next is the most effective.

This research guided a team of writing teachers and instructional designers to develop the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab in a way that supports beginning writers by providing them with open-access online writing support that is far more accessible than previous models.

A guiding principal in the development of the OWL was that every important lesson would be supported by multimedia in multiple ways; these would include visuals and images, videos, and interactions.

One example is the lesson on establishing a thesis or focus in Locating Information & Writing with Sources. In this lesson, students are provided with short textual lessons on developing a thesis or focus and then an activity allowing them to practice with thesis statements.

In the activity, students select the best possible thesis statement based on a given topic and are given immediate feedback, not only about the correct or incorrect response but also about why a response would be correct or incorrect. This activity is followed by a short video in which a student, using a sample research paper assignment, talks through her process of creating and revising a working thesis statement.

The team knew multimedia would become particularly important in terms of grammar instruction. Decades of research in writing instruction indicate grammar instruction is particularly problematic for students and that traditional grammar exercises may even be harmful to some students’ writing process. Some of this early research was summarized in Hillocks (1986), but research in grammar instruction is ongoing as writing teachers continue to look for more effective ways to teach correctness.

(Next page: What experts say about the Online Writing Lab)

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