Canadian College's Online Courses Stress Grammar, Writing Skills

The Owen Sound Campus of Georgian College is located at the southern tip of Georgian Bay and the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. The campus began modestly in a former church dwelling in 1968.

Today, the 20-acre site houses the latest in computer-driven marine simulators, used to provide training to deck and engine room cadets as well as to marine officers from Canada and around the world.

The multimillion-dollar complex can simulate a wide range of vessels ó from fishing trawlers to large tankers ó and a variety of power plants. Specialized academic programs include Marine Engineering Technology and Marine Navigation.

Not Just for Mariners

Not all of Owen Soundís 700 students engage in marine training, however. Many pursue degrees in accounting, marketing, business administration, nursing and food preparation.

In the fall of 1996, instructors offered their first series of online courses, delivered entirely over the Internet. Any student at Owen Sound or its two sister campuses could enroll in courses for full college credit.

During the first semester, 136 students registered for an online course titled ìTechniques of Writing and Speaking,î taught by Kathryn Cook and Trevor Davies. Class members never met the two instructors face-to-face.

Instead, students reviewed the assignments listed on the courseís Web site, completed the necessary reading ó on- and offline ó and submitted their homework electronically. Students also participated in online discussions using FirstClass conferencing software from SoftArc (Markham, Ontario).

According to Cook, those who completed the course reported that the lack of human contact did not hinder their learning. Indeed, most students said they enjoyed working in the privacy of their homes or dormitories rather than in a crowded laboratory.

Sharing Experiences

One student even successfully took the class from a distance of 300 miles. Cook and Davies shared their experiences with colleagues at the annual conference for the League for Innovation in the Community College last November.

The presentation, called ìIntegrating Grammar Tutorials and Testing with Online Course Delivery,î explained how the instructors utilized Perfect Copy, a software package from Logicus Incorporated (Schomberg, Ontario) that allows students to practice their grammar, punctuation and proofreading skills.

Logicus actually developed a special version of the program for Georgian College that could operate over the Web. Previously, the software could run only on individual Windows, DOS or Macintosh computers.

For the past three years, everyone enrolled in a Communications course has been required to use Perfect Copy. Those who take online courses in this field read articles directly on the Web, correcting grammatical errors as appropriate. The software sends a record of their work to the instructors for evaluation.

Teachers can modify Perfect Copy by creating new articles or arranging separate assignments for different groups of students. They also may print articles, student records and certificates of success.

Plans for Expansion

Cook says that she expects to incorporate Perfect Copy in more online courses. This spring, for instance, Georgian College offered ìFundamentals of Communication, an introductory course designed for freshmen.

One assignment required students to read an essay online and respond to a number of questions, such as ìWhat is the subject and main idea/point?î and ìWhat are the three examples the author uses to illustrate his point?î

Other online courses cover technology and public relations. For the fall of 1997, instructors are planning two new offerings: ìDig Pix,î a digital photography primer for ordinary people, and ìShip Stability,î a mandatory course for Engineering and Navigation students.

Representatives from Logicus have monitored the use of Perfect Copy at Georgian College and may make enhancements to the program over the summer.

Cook says she looks forward to exploring new ways that students can improve their writing skills outside of traditional classroom environments.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.