Rethinking Online Writing and Communication Skills as a Process: Teaching Skills through Interactive, Learning Style Based Modeling Barbara Fedock Elizabeth Young Charles Butcher SAS Online Doctoral Program University of Phoenix United States [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] Abstract: Online instructors must accommodate the visual, verbal, and auditory learning style needs of different generations of learners (Meyer & McNeal, 2011). To help Generations X, Y, and Z transfer effective elements of the traditional writing and communication process, online instructors must rethink how to use conventional best practices for online writing and communications (Edwards-Grove, 2012). Online writing and communication skills must be modeled and become more of an interactive, learning style based presentation rather than a process. Introduction All teachers must teach and reinforce effective writing and communication skills (Mason & Graham, 2008). Though not all online instructors teach communication courses, all online instructors post assignments that require the usage of effective writing and communication skills (Bailey & Card, 2009). In face to face classrooms, writing and communication skills are taught and reinforced from subject to subject as a process; however, writing and communicating effectively online is more than a process (Conti, 2012). Online instructors must accommodate the visual, verbal, and auditory learning style needs of different generations of learners (Meyer & McNeal, 2011). To help Generations X, Y, and Z transfer effective elements of the traditional writing and communication process, online instructors must rethink how to use conventional best practices for online writing and communications (Edwards-Grove, 2012). Online writing and communication skills must be modeled and become more of an interactive, learning style based presentation rather than a process. Modeling As a Metacognition Process Online instructors often fail to model written assignment and communication objectives and expectations (Meyer & McNeal, 2011). Across the curriculum, effective face to face classroom teachers model each assignment. In the modeling process, teachers present a step by step approach and make personal connections to the topic. Modeling is a metacognition process for teachers (Smith, Rook, & Smith, 2007). During modeling, teachers think aloud about a topic in order to clarify how they feel and why they think the way they think. When teachers model, students form their own frameworks for critical thinking and problem solving (Redondo, Torrance, & Robeldo, 2011). Modeling to Make Connections During online modeling presentations, online teachers must make connections to written assignments and succinctly share real life experiences that are related to lesson purpose or objectives. Rather than just tell a story, online teachers must model how to synthesize and evaluate how to utilize real world writing and communication skills (Jones, Jones, & Murk, 2012). During or after the modeling, online students should be invited to make real world connections and share personal applications. Making connections increases online student learning outcomes (Cercone, 2008). In online classrooms, learners often fail to connect to or define a specific audience for their writing or for their communications. If the online instructor has not modeled how he or she thinks or feels, learners cannot form a visual image of a potential audience for whom they are writing or communicating (Goldberg, Russell, & Cook, 2003). In traditional classrooms, students write for an audience and that audience is generally the instructor. Online students who do not actually see the instructor must conjure up an audience (Cross, 2009). Online instructors need to help learners realize that the audience during written discussions is not only the instructor, but the entire classroom and, sometimes, beyond (Abdullah, 2003). Modeling Real World Applications Online instructors must model real world application strategies that ensure all generations of learners can transfer their online learning to the real world, especially to the workplace (Berge, 2008). Online learners are often a mixture of Generation X, Y, and Z (Williams & Page, 2009). Generation Y students grew up in the 1980s to the late 1990s using technology. The mindset of many Generation Y learners is that technology usage is regulated and perimeters for connectivity are well defined (Halse & Mallinson, 2009). Generation Y peer relationships are often formed through technology , and Generation Y learners are more peer conscious than Generation X, who were born from 1965 to 1983 (Donnelly, 2008). Generation X learners use technology as a tool, but this generation does not rely on technology for establishing relationships (Lager, 2006). Generation Z Learners Generation Z learners born from the late 1990s onward were raised in a digital age that includes widely accepted usage of technological advances and the Internet. Generation Z learners constantly seek connectivity and technological engagements that influence their perspectives and focus. Relationships are generally built through connectivity (Matthews, 2008). Face to face personal relationships are more difficult to develop, and Generation Z students prefer to work individually rather than on teams. These students generally spend at least three hours per day on the phone. The attention spans of Generation Z are different that the attention spans of former generations (Labi, 2008b). Generation Z learners are technologically savvy, and, since they are used to receiving fast transmissions, they want instant gratification. For Generation Z learners, the proclivity to connectivity influences their abilities to relate to an unknown audience and the appropriateness of their writing and communication styles (Levickaite, 2010). Online instructors must rethink writing and communication modeling techniques for Generation Z learners (Williams, 2008). To address the writing skills and communication preferences of different generations, online instructors must create a new interactive approach to the writing process (Anstey & Bull, 2006). In the modeling stage, face to face classroom teachers demonstrate writing and communication skills in a step by step process (Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008). In the online classroom, visual students need models that help them form visual images that guide them in writing or communicating (Kolb, 1984). Generation Y and Z learners often prefer to text. Online instructors may use texting as a mode of writing and communicating. The use of visual technology may increase learning outcomes (Rakap, 2010). Modeling As a Form of Differentiated Learning Effective online instructors must model alternative writing and communication presentations that address differentiated learning (Chang, Kao, Chu, & Chiu, 2009). Instructors may include an auditory demonstration, a message recorded on a phone, or phone discussions for auditory learners or for Generation Z students who constantly engage in cell phone conversations and prefer immediate results (Matthews, 2008). Generation Z learners spend hours each week on the phone (Benjamin, 2008). Auditory online learners learn from hearing the thinking process, and verbal learners need to ask questions and make connections (Loertscher, & Koechlin, 2012) . Modeling for Different Learning Styles For concrete sequential auditory learners, step by step oral instructions and explanations via recorded messages may increase cognitive learning and retention. For abstract random learners, listening is important (Kolb, 1984). Abstract random thinkers and many Generation Z learners find it difficult to work in an educational environment in which too many boundaries are established. These learners need time to process information without having to explain how they feel (Richmond & Cummings, 2005). Online instructors seldom model optional writing and communication instructional delivery strategies that meet the needs of students who do not work well in a restrictive environment (Carter, Foulgar, & Ewbank, 2008). Concrete random learners need an unrestricted learning environment in which they can explore and use intuition to discover ideas and concepts that produce effective writing (Kolb, 1984). Concrete random and Generation Z learners like to feel that they have options for learning (Rakap, 2010). Concrete abstract and Generation Z learners prefer to work through assignments by themselves and to not be restricted by boundaries. For Generation Z learners, online instructors may include YouTube videos, teleconferences, or Skype options for discussions or demonstrations of effective writing for assignments (Saeed, N., Yang, Y. & Sinnappan, S., 2009). Concrete abstract learners may prefer exploring evaluations of case studies or scenarios (Kolb, 1984). In contrast, abstract sequential learners need a learning forum in which they can communicate with the instructor and the learning community to express their views (Kerr, Rynearson, & Kerr, 2006). Effective online instructors use Socratic dialogues to engage abstract sequential students in critical thinking writing and logical organization discussions based on the assignment in which all students have the opportunity to support and justify ideas and premises (Gose, 2009). Avoid Writing Process Driven Best Practices To meet the needs of technology savvy learners, online instructors must avoid creating assignments that are writing process driven (Walsh, 2010b). Generation Y and Z learners need a more interactive, technological, real world presentation approach. Assignment writing and communications may be written as a blog. During the blogging, online instructors must model professional and effective writing and communication standards. Students should be able to access the blogs via their phones (Tryon, 2006). When modeling, online instructors must set high student expectation that include substantial, academic comments and real world application of effective writing and communication skills (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 2005). Twenty First Century employers communicate with employees through emails, texting, Skype, and Webinars. Employee communications to employers may include PowerPoints, Voci presentations, or simulations that include music (Saeed, N., Yang, Y. & Sinnappan, S., 2009). Online instructors must model assignment options that demonstrate how to effectively write appropriate communications for technological based global audiences and employers (McLawhon & Cutright, 2012). Creating Sense of Community Effective online instructors create and model a sense of community (Ting, 2009). Learners are encouraged and expected to interact in modeling presentations, in discussions, or in technological based activities (Regan & Berkeley, 2012). When online instructors promote positive and meaningful communications, they build trust and create a sense of community in which all students share an equal voice (Lassitter, 2009). Online Generation Y learners need to feel like they are part of a learning community of peers (Imig, 2010). Generation Z learners interact more fully when they are connected to a Web community (Simon, 2009). Modeling Online students often lack the critical thinking skills to understand broad concepts (Gose, 2009). Through the modeling process, online instructors set a purpose for each communication activity and written assignment. When students know and understand the purpose for an activity or assignment, learning outcomes increase (Guzel-Oxmen, 2009). Modeling provides opportunities for online instructors to ask students meaningful why and what questions about the purpose of an assignment. Concrete sequential learners need clarifications (Kohl, 1984), and Generation Z students expect instant clarifications (Labi, 2008b). Concrete sequential learners prefer a structured, purpose driven environment in which questions can be clarified (Richmond & Cummings, 2005). Generation Z students need immediate feedback and clarifications (Matthews, 2008). Online instructors must use multiple strategies to help students visualize the purpose of an assignment and how to effectively utilize writing strategies. Instructions may use charts, graphic organizers, or frameworks to breakdown and visualize concepts (Sangineto, Capuano, Gaeta, & Micarelli, 2008). Online instructors model appropriate and academic language during presentations. Through the use of specific and content oriented language, instructors set the tone for writing (Mason & Graham, 2008). Terms are explained or clarified. Students better understand learning perimeters and theoretical frameworks that support assignments (Graham & Perin, 2007). Generation Z students must learn to transfer academic writing skills to texting and technological communications (Matthews, 2008). Conclusion Writing and communication skills are taught in all online classes; therefore, online instructors must create and model a real world audience to which students can connect when writing and communicating (Anstey & Bull, (2006). Face to face teacher directed writing process best practices do not address the needs of online learners. 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