We often judge the intelligence of people by observing how they use language. Aside from content knowledge, it is often the first basis on which personal and professional competence is determined. Our students' success in both an academic and professional context depends on their understanding of, conformity to, and competence in the social conventions of language usage.
And yet, few of us would agree that teaching grammar and fundamental writing skills are a part of the business communication curriculum. We expect our students to have mastered the basics of writing by the time they arrive in our classrooms. The reality, however, is that our students rarely come to us prepared to begin learning the principles of business communication (content knowledge). We spend valuable instructional time and energy in correcting grammar and usage in an effort to reach the stage where we can teach them to analyze communication scenarios and strategically plan and execute a business message.
How then can we then bring our students up to speed quickly in the area of grammar and usage so that we can concentrate our efforts in teaching the principles behind effective business communication? This study investigates the use of online writing software as a partial means of assessing student progress in writing skill development, and further, its use as a supplemental tool in the business communication classroom to review and to develop grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice, sentence structure, and paragraph development skills.
Following a semester of Web-assisted writing instruction during the spring of 2008, we surveyed 155 students at an AACSB-accredited university to determine the impact of the instruction in 1) improving the students' perception of the quality of their business writing, 2) allowing more classroom time for writing practice and the development of business messages, and 3) improving student satisfaction with and confidence in the writing process.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Web-based or online instruction has been a popular topic of pedagogical inquiry over recent years, and its merits have been debated by scholars who, on the one hand, praise its ability to engage learners without the social censures of age, gender, race, or underdeveloped interpersonal skills like shyness (Bowman, 2001) and to reach individuals who might not have access to learning opportunities in higher education otherwise ( McEwen, 2001). Other critics, however, recognize that distance learning can be socially isolating for students (Dyrud, 2000). They maintain that distance learners are perhaps more likely to disengage or drop out more easily than traditional students (Worley, 2000), or that such students lack sufficient motivation to complete online courses (Dyrud, 2000; LaRose and Whitten, 2000). Distance learning can also fail to address apprehension about communicating (Wardrope, 2001) and the oral and non-verbal communication skills that are essential to social and business success.
In light of these limitations, however, many educators recommend Web-based instruction as a supplemental tool, rather than a replacement for traditional teaching methods. McEwen calls this blending of online and traditional instruction, Web-assisted instruction, and maintains that it "offers a richer learning environment than either one offered alone" (McEwen, p. 103).
The topic of Web-assisted instruction assumes various forms. Sauer and Walker, for example, compare improvement in writing skills between students enrolled in a traditional classroom course in business communication and students enrolled in a hybrid course using Blackboard course management software to promote communication and foster active learning. Pre- and post-assessment surveys indicate that students enrolled in the online hybrid business communication course show a higher level of active learning than the students in the traditional course. …