Distance Learning

Online Business Writing (ENGL 42000Y) and Technical Writing (42100Y) Courses Offered through Continuing Education

Professional Writing offers two popular online courses to students at Purdue and elsewhere through Continuing Education: ENGL 420Y (Business Writing – Online) or ENGL 421Y (Technical Writing – Online). Both courses have been carefully designed to provide students with rich learning opportunities. Instructors have carefully studied online teaching methods and are experts at electronic communication.

What Students Learn

The course websites are networked learning spaces designed with Blackboard. During both courses, students practice the art of professional communication. As they learn various strategies and conventions for effective professional writing, they apply these concepts to all writing for the course: the graded projects, email correspondence with the instructor and fellow classmates, weblog and comment postings on the course website, and more. In this sense, both of these courses are “live,” real-world instances of professional communication, not unlike what students will find as they learn to write in business and technical fields. The courses are not self-paced or self-study courses but require students to actively engage with their instructor and peers on issues of writing in business and technical writing contexts.

We want students to be well prepared for ENGL 420Y and ENGL 421Y, so we provide here some background information on these courses that may be useful to know before the semester begins. We want to be sure that all students understand the nature of these courses and their expectations, as well as what to do near the start of each semester so that the first week of class is a productive one.

About ENGL 42000Y and 42100Y

ENGL 42000Y and 42100Y are Business and Technical Writing classes offered by distance. While there are no face-to-face meetings scheduled, some instructors encourage students to attend video office hours—either through Skype, Google Hangouts, or other online communication. Time differences should be taken into account: more than a few hours would make such synchronous communication a challenge, but students have successfully completed these courses with time zone differences of 15 hours and more. Exchange email with your instructor as soon as possible to discuss the challenges and limitations you are facing.

Many instructors upload parts or all lecture materials and class presentations online, but as writing-intensive courses, both traditional face-to-face and distance classroom time is more about writing activities and peer-to-peer communication. Students are encouraged to interact asynchronously, that is, through time-shifted communication like email, where messages are sent and responded to at different times as students and the instructor are able to respond. In other words, this is not a correspondence course: students are required to interact frequently online with the materials, the instructor, and their peers.

Therefore, students have to be able to assess their technical skills, persistence, ability to work independently, and commitment to completing the course. The withdrawal and incomplete rate of distance classes is higher than on-campus classes, but for some students, the distance offerings are exactly what they need. The University of Florida offers a self-assessment tool we recommended you complete (and you can Google “Are you ready for distance education?” for additional resources): http://www.distance.ufl.edu/self-assessment/

Summer classes take 8 weeks and there are deadlines periodically set throughout the 8-week session. In short, the distance education offerings in professional writing are flexible, but not self-paced.

How to Prepare for Your Online Course

1. Every class starts on the first day of the given semester. Each student will receive an email message from the instructor about a week before the start of the semester directing them to this page for initial instructions and general information about the course. This is not your course homepage. Students will not be able to register on their course website until a few days before the semester starts. Watch for a second email from your instructor that lets you know where your course site is and when you may sign-on for an account. If you do not receive an expected email, you should contact your instructor first, then Continuing Education. Some distance courses are run through Blackboard or Canvas that will add you automatically to the site, but others are run through other platforms (e.g., WordPress) where you may be given instructions to sign up for the course site. Follow whatever instructions come from your instructor.
2. Make sure you are visiting the right website or course section for your class. You should see your section number and instructor listed.
3. English 420Y and 421Y never meet face-to-face. Students must be comfortable working online because all communication for the classes will occur electronically. In fact, the online communication in these courses models professional communication and should not be considered incidental or routine, but a major aspect of course content.
4. It is the student’s responsibility to check their email and the class website daily. During group projects, students will likely need to check email more than once a day.
5. Instructors will provide some guidance for students as they learn to use the course website, but students should already be proficient with email, word processing, and Internet applications.
6. Online classes require more individual work than in face-to-face classes. ENGL 420Y and 421Y make up for the absent face-to-face time with reading and responding on the course website. Students should expect to read and write at least a couple of hours a week more than they would in the equivalent face-to-face version of this class. In summer courses, which are compressed, the number of time students spend per week will be about double what it would be for the courses during the fall or spring semesters.
7. Successful students in online classes are typically self-motivated and eager to ask questions as they come up. They are good at working and accomplishing tasks on their own. They are comfortable reading and digesting textual information without the auditory feedback that face-to-face classes provide. If you need one-on-one, face-to-face contact with an instructor, consider taking ENGL 420 or ENGL 421 on campus.
8. You are responsible for regular access to a computer and the Internet. You should make sure that your Web browser (for example Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome, or Internet Explorer) is up-to-date and functions properly. (We recommend Firefox or Safari.) You will also need to have access to your email, through Purdue’s system or another, that allows you to send and receive attachments reliably and conveys a professional ethos.
9. You must have a functioning email address at the start of class.
10. By midnight on the first scheduled day of your class, you should sign up for a new account and complete registration on the course website. Follow the “Getting Started” links that usually appear with a welcome message on your course website.
11. Other readings for ENGL 420Y and ENGL 421Y are either available on the course website or freely available elsewhere on the Internet. They will be listed on the course calendar.
12. Once students have registered on their course website, they should read the course’s description and calendar carefully. Then follow the Week 1 link. It may take a while to get comfortable with the course site layout and the interactive software.
13. Respond promptly to emails from your instructor.