TOWSON, Md. (Nov. 8, 2006)–The questions pour in from people of all ages and occupations, as near as Tower B or as far away as Peru. What they have in common is a desire to master the challenges of written English.
The Online Writing Support Web site, launched in 2000 to support the English department’s Writing Support Program, averages about 1,000 visitors per week. Among them are the TU students for whom it was intended, as well as students from other schools, parents, lawyers, business owners and others seeking to hone their writing skills.
More than 72,000 have visited to date.
Director Peggy Benner says she developed the site as a CIAT Fellowship project. “My goal was to create an online resource that was thorough, clear, efficient and delightful,” she says. “I received an enormous amount of help from CIAT.”
Benner says she intended to create an accessible, online version of the self-teaching units she’d written to help students better understand English grammar, punctuation and usage. “It’s basically a handbook on parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation and usage, she adds, “but the fact that it’s online makes it possible to do all sorts of wonderful things with graphics and with links that anticipate students’ questions.
“It’s easy to navigate, and I think they get almost as much from the site as they would if I were present.”
Benner enlarged and improved the site over the years, expanding its reach to students in Stretch 102, her department’s writing-skills “bridge” course, in addition to classes in other disciplines.
“The students do the online work before I visit the classroom,” she says. “Then I follow up with face-to-face instruction.”
But the site's 24-hour hotline, which enables visitors to ask Benner questions, has been an enormous—if somewhat unexpected—hit. Recent examples include an undergraduate struggling with comma placement, a Pakistani requesting “easier solutions for English writing to improve,” a job-seeker needing help with a cover letter and a funeral-home employee asking for guidance on subject/verb agreement.
Benner credits the burgeoning interest in her site to the public's growing awareness of the importance of correct grammar, usage and punctuation. “Some of it is being driven by the SAT II essay,” she says, noting that some schools are teaching grammar again in response to student demand.
But whatever brings visitors to the Online Writing Support site, Benner finds the interest heartening. “I wish I had more time to devote to it,” she adds. “Clearly there’s a great need for this service.”