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Ways to Engage, Offline and Online

~ by Susan Gavell, MA; MAT, Writing Program, Department of Language, Culture, and Communication (LCA), University of Michigan – Dearborn (UMD)

This post is part of a series from the Hub Department Liaisons Program, Winter 2023 Focus: Offline/Online Teaching Strategies


As a department liaison between the LCA and the Hub, I had the opportunity to chat with some of my colleagues, and they shared some of their assignments for in-person and remote instruction. We all want to reach out to our students, connect with them, and allow them to prosper as students and individuals. Much has changed since COVID, and my peers have developed inventive instructional techniques for offline and online classrooms.

Jerrice Renita Donelson, PhD, “Using Google and Scholar,” Composition 106, Writing and Rhetoric II, Offline/Online

In this assignment, Jerrice builds upon the Google search skills that students already know. She invites them to expand these skills using Google Scholar. First, students create questions about the kinds of writing involved in their major, field of interest, and their career. Students create a list of source titles and URLs. Then students move on to Google Scholar, perform their search, and list one title for each question. This engaging assignment introduces students to research in a non-threatening way, building upon what they already know, and using clear guidelines for completion of the process.

Thom Foy, MA, “Understanding a Subculture,” Composition 105, Writing and Rhetoric I, Offline/Online

Thom gives students a clear structure to follow in writing about assigned readings in the text American Subcultures, a themed reader compiled by Eric Rawson. Following detailed directions, students select an assigned reading and use the study questions which accompany each selection. There are three categories of questions: “Understanding the Text;” Reflection and Response;” and “Making Connections.” Thom gives clear directions about the structure of the essay, teaching them about the inclusion of a signal phrase, and asking them to create distinct paragraphs to discuss one question from each of the three categories. In this way, students are guided through an analysis of an academic text. They have clear guidelines about how to structure a three-page essay, and a rubric is included for their benefit.

Mike MacDonald, PhD, “Instructions and Definitions,” Composition 270, Technical Writing for Engineers, Online

Mike asks students to write up instructions for performing a task or activity that they themselves find interesting. These could be instructions for playing a video game, cooking, working on a car, or anything of interest. 

There are four components of the assignment: a set of directions; a Frequently Asked Questions sheet; a glossary of vocabulary terms; and a concluding memo. Mike has created guidelines for each section, emphasizing the difficulty of writing clear instructions and mentioning the importance of point-of-view, tone, accuracy, and voice. 

Very noticeable in the assignment is the directness of the instructions. Each step is broken down clearly, making it easy for students to complete the project step by step. It also serves as a model for students to follow, illustrating the clear presentation of directions. The assignment is engaging because it allows students to choose a topic of personal interest. It is also an example of a real-life writing requirement and the need for accurate documentation. Students are required to rely upon course readings to develop effective writing strategies, and metacognition is required in the evaluation of the learning and writing process.

Alicia Schaeffer, MFA, “Short Story Workshop,” Composition 223, Introduction to Creative Writing, Online

Alicia Schaeffer’s assignment gives structure and clear directions to students writing a short story. The story unfolds in measured drafts, including an introduction, middle, and end to the story. Students submit a draft to other students who are part of a small group. The rules for the class are very inclusive, using the framework from Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA), which explicitly calls for only constructive and supportive comments. 

As Alicia points out, students never meet their classmates, and this provides a form of anonymity and seclusion, allowing writers to express themselves freely and without pre-assumptions. Students work in pairs to build upon each other’s thoughts and writing techniques. As the assignment states, “You are not trying to submit the perfect story. Instead, your goal is to complete an entire story…” This kind of input allows students to feel included in the class and in the writing process, without the fear of failure, rejection, embarrassment, and peer criticism. This will be a great benefit, especially for sensitive students, those who have suffered during previous writing classes, and students who are new to creative writing.

Alicia’s assignment encourages students to give thoughtful feedback to their peers. The philosophy of the AWA is very humane and inclusive, respecting the ability and uniqueness of every writer. Alicia includes the following in her assignment:

The Five Essential Affirmations of the AWA Method are:

  • Everyone has a strong unique voice.
  • Everyone is born with creative genius.
  • Writing belongs to all people.
  • Teaching can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or self-esteem.
  • A writer is someone who writes.

These requirements are an invitation for a student to feel welcomed and respected.

Pamela Todoroff, MA; MLS, “Usability Unit/Writing Instructions,” Composition 270, Technical Writing for Engineers, Offline/Online

Pamela stresses that collaboration is the most important aspect of online and in-person instruction. A description of this assignment was presented during Digital Education Week, 2023. In this assignment, the instructor gives each student a different image. One student (the generator) must give directions to a peer about how to draw the image. Another student (the receiver) draws the image, sends the image to the generator, and gives comments about the instructions. The generators are often surprised when receivers cannot understand their instructions well. The learning goal of the assignment is to enable students to address the needs of an audience. 

Ashley Whitmore, PhD, “Documentary 2023,” Composition/English 327, Advanced Composition. Online 

Ashley’s assignment originates from the constraints imposed by the COVID pandemic. Students create an Instagram account exclusively for her class. Students are required to post photos weekly. Sometimes students are assigned a specific topic, and sometimes they have the liberty to choose whatever interests them. The assignment highlights how various genres can tell a story in a particular way. Very importantly, students created a close bond and sense of community through their contributions to Instagram, and they have expressed their appreciation for the assignment in their feedback.


To meet the challenges of our students, UMD instructors have developed engaging assignments to serve instructional needs for in-person and online students. The human factor is present, even with remote instruction. Clear directions and approachable instructors allow students to maximize their learning.

Photo by Jonathan Goodman on Unsplash

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