115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Improving the Final Paper Writing Process in the Online Spanish Classroom

Rachel VanWieren, National University

This is a case study of our experiences working to improve outcomes on final papers written for advanced online Spanish courses. After discussing the strategies that we implemented in the courses, we explore whether greater levels of instructor involvement in the writing process improved the quality of the papers.


Teaching language in the 21st century means being flexible and willing to adapt our methods to address new contexts. This is especially true when teaching a foreign language in the online setting, and even more so when the courses are offered in a compressed four or eight week format. As Spanish professors working in this context we find ourselves continually challenged to find new ways to engage our students in the learning process and improve their outcomes in a short amount of time with limited to no face to face interaction. A mini-grant from our Dean’s office inspired us to consider ways in which we could improve the effectiveness of the design of our final paper writing assignments to achieve higher quality student writing. We hypothesized that greater levels of instructor guidance would improve student success in writing. For example, we imagined that early, step by step deadlines for the writing process, along with individual meetings with the instructor, would result in better organization and more thoughtful expression of ideas. We found that a number of sources recommended this approach, albeit in other types of classrooms (Huskin; Saberi and Rahimi; Booth, et al.). For our study we focused on three upper division Spanish courses that form part of the National University online BA program in Spanish.

Literature and Culture 1: In our pilot course the students were provided with suggestions of paper topics, research tips, and a sample format for writing their thesis proposal. Then they submitted their title, a 7-15 sentence explanation of their paper topic and a bibliography. The final draft was submitted early enough to allow for a rewrite if needed.

Literature and Culture II: Our control course included minimal guidance for writing. There was some instruction on how to write a literary analysis, and students turned in a title, brief thesis statement and bibliography.

Spanish Program Capstone: This course included the greatest amount of guidance. In addition to 3 individual meetings with the instructor, students completed the following steps before submitting their final draft:

1) Participate in a threaded class discussion of paper topics.

2) Attend a live class session with a librarian to review best research practices.

3) Submit a preliminary title, thesis statement and bibliography.

4) Prepare an annotated bibliography.

5) Turn in a free form outline.

6) Submit a first draft of their final paper.

After the courses concluded we did a quantitative statistical analysis of the students’ scores in the ideas and organization sections of our grading rubric, which revealed no significant difference between the three courses. However, our sample size was small, which meant that differing student abilities affected the results, and the increased expectations of the capstone course may have led to stricter grading. In reflecting on our experiences, we found that increasing instructor involvement in the writing process led to greater student engagement, impressive results with some of our strongest students and increased instructor satisfaction. In addition, some students commented that they appreciated the process.