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This content was published: February 29, 2016. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Commas Do Matter – Even Virtually!

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Do you teach a class that you just don’t know how to make exciting? Do you wish both you and your students were more engaged in a class? For me, that class was Business Editing which teaches punctuation, grammar, and spelling to administrative assistant students. I found my coursework on punctuation to be especially dry, and I know my students weren’t excited by it either. What could I do to kick start this class for everyone, and do it virtually?

In many of my on-campus classes, I add a Community-Based Learning (CBL) component which allows students to put their course skills to work in a real, community setting. CBL is a hands-on, doing teaching approach. But how would this work virtually… and with punctuation? I read an article about an instructor who was having his students work with non-profit websites, and that gave me an idea. My students could proofread websites for non-profit agencies in the greater Portland area. I wasn’t exactly sure what we were getting into, but I thought had to be better than the textbook assignments that were boring all of us.


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At the start of the term, my students each picked a non-profit agency they were passionate about and wrote them an email message (perfectly proofread, of course) asking if they could proofread the agency’s website. Then they dug into the website questioning punctuation and spelling while not even realizing they were applying the rules they were learning in class. Suddenly, commas mattered! They wanted to help their agency, so they were getting excited about making sure the grammar and punctuation was correct. Were we actually enjoying this?

This project ended up doing much more than I hoped. Not only did it reinforce the skills in this class, it hit home in powerful ways. One term I had a student who had been homeless, and his family was helped by the Portland Mission. For our class project, he chose the Portland Mission and was able to give back to them. His self-esteem clearly increased as he worked to improve their website. He couldn’t believe he could actually do something for them.

Want to try adding CBL to your own DL class, but don’t know where to get started? As a CBL Faculty Coordinator, one of my roles is to assist other faculty in successfully integrating CBL into their classes. Think it can’t be done in your class?  Let’s talk about it…. I love a good challenge!

About Diane Shingledecker

Diane is a full-time Computer Applications Instructor on the Sylvania campus, as well as, the district-wide CBL Faculty Coordinator specializing in CTE programs. She has incorporated CBL into both her on-campus and online class for the past 12 years.

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x (Comment #20561) by Andy Freed 6 years ago (Comment #20561)

What a great idea. Learning to write for the web is a challenge, and I know a lot of non-profits especially aren’t staffed to spend the time on care & feeding that a website requires.