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Japan, India, Online English Writing

Anecdotes and experiences of a language services entrepreneur from India

July 02, 2010

Online Teaching and Learning – Relevant for Writing?

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of fortnightly posts that outlines our experiences and learnings in teaching writing online.

When we set up the written English education division of the company (Cactus Communications) in early 2005, we were driven more by idealism than by market research. We felt that writing could certainly be taught online: assignments and teachers’ evaluations can be easily passed back and forth over a learning management system, and MS Word allows teachers to give really detailed evaluations of learners’ writing. However, we didn’t know if anyone else was doing that. We also weren’t sure if an online learning model would appeal to Japanese learners. Still, we got started. We had a bunch of talented and budding English teachers, and they did a lot of work in the first few months to develop writing courses, course materials, the teaching medium, etc.

Five years later, I can look back and say that online teaching and learning of written English certainly works. We’ve not only grown in the number of learners from Japan that we impact every month, but also had numerous interesting opportunities to develop customized writing courses, especially for universities and companies.

I think a key advantage of teaching written English using a computer is the opportunity for the teacher to go deep into the learners’ writing. Teachers can edit the learners’ writing, use macros to quickly insert correction codes, insert comments neatly in any part, and of course write out detailed suggestions. Imagine doing all that on paper: the resulting evaluation may not even be legible!

Then, the online medium forces the learner to interact in writing with the teacher. Our teachers use the private, one-to-one forums to interact with learners, breaking the ice, and motivating and supporting learners. As learners communicate in writing with their instructor, whether to clarify their doubts or to simply converse (often they write about their lives), they begin to experience its purpose as a practical tool for communication, building their fluency in the process.

I think more teachers and educational institutions should start using computers and the Internet to teach writing. It’s not difficult to get started, and the teaching and learning process could become more enjoyable and effective.



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