Online courses often require students to write emails, discussion board posts, responses to prompts (e.g., introductions and journals), academic papers that may also be converted into larger multimedia projects, synchronous chat messages, and other such compositions. Students also need to be able to understand written course materials, such as the syllabus, assignment instructions, textbooks, academic sources, and other such materials. Add in the common multimedia components like audio files, videos, and lecture capture, and there is another whole dimension of content to understand. The information overload can be overwhelming, even leading students to withdraw from class.
Even if students do not withdraw or fail, all of this information must be juggled successfully if they want to do well. If only a magic key of some sort existed that would allow students to manage the content more efficiently and effectively, so that they could achieve greater academic success. The good news is that the key exists, and there’s no magic involved. In fact, it merely takes applying a tried and true technique in new ways.
The thesis statement is your key to online class success.
A thesis statement provides a clear articulation of an idea that unifies a piece of writing. It’s important to keep in mind that this sentence must be direct and understandable. The word ‘thesis’ actually derives from an ancient Greek word meaning “to put something in place.” It originally had kinetic connotations to it. If you take a pencil, for example, and slam it down on your desk, that is an example of a “thesis” in the original context. No one in the room would have any doubts about where that pencil was placed.
Similarly, when writing an academic paper, a discussion board post in an online class, an email to a professor, or any of the other tasks to be performed as an online student, you should take the time to clearly articulate and express a main point. Beyond that, anything else written in the submission should focus on that idea. Often it helps to think of taking an object, clearly putting it in place (thesis), and then breaking it into smaller pieces. A pizza placed on a table for a hungry family typically comes cut into pieces that include smaller ingredients like pepperoni to make it easier to digest. In the same way, your compositions should be unified and broken down into smaller, supportive segments to help your audience comprehend your point.
Now reverse the above to help your reading comprehension. Can you focus on finding the thesis statement or main point of a recorded lecture? Some professors will state this directly; for others, you may have to take advantage of the rewind feature in lecture capture to formulate what you believe is the main point of the talk. If you do this, why not try running your interpretation by your professor to make sure your understanding is accurate?
Breaking the thesis into smaller, easier to digest parts also helps you control the information both as a writer and as a reader. If you have a tendency to go on too many tangents in your compositions, include too much information, or experience difficulty knowing where to start or when to stop writing your reply, thinking of the thesis statement as a technique to manage a composition can help. Not only can you plan your reply along the formula of a main point broken down into supporting pieces, but you can also revise with this in mind. For instance, when you look back at your first draft of a submission, can you identify a sentence that clearly expresses your main point? Can you see where you break it down into supporting sentences and details that back up that one idea?
Another area many students struggle with is inserting information from academic sources. You may have a requirement in an online discussion board or academic paper that demands the incorporation of evidence from resources like professional journal articles. If so, keep in mind that the thesis—the placing of a clearly expressed idea into the composition—should be in your own voice as the writer. You should also control the breaking down of this idea. Lastly, the information from other sources should provide some of the details you use as evidence to back up that idea, and it all must be cited.
Again, you can reverse this to help with your reading comprehension. For example, when you read an article from a professional journal or the prompt for an online discussion, see if you can identify a main point or goal. Then try to make a list of the supporting statements and details provided by the author or your instructor. Consider how the journal article’s author proves his or her point by breaking it down into evidence. Think about the specifics of what the instructor is asking for in the directions for the discussion post you must write.
In addition to the above functions, a thesis statement is key to your success in class because it allows you to provide a pitch to your audience with the hope of getting a response. This is often referred to as an “elevator pitch,” meaning writers should think about what they would say to win someone over during the short ride from one floor to the next in an elevator.
In an online discussion, for example, you will not have time or space to post a comprehensive response to a question. In fact, online discussions are often used for exploring topics and ideas as a class. Therefore, as Chris O’Leary, author of Elevator Pitch Essentials, defined it: “An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea, product, service, project, person, or other solution and is designed to just get a conversation started” (2008). As O’Leary reminded readers, however, the pitch must still be concise, clear, concrete, and credible to be effective (2008).
As a student, consider what pitch is being delivered to you in an instructor’s assignment or an assigned classroom material (e.g., an article to read or a video to watch). Think about whether or not you can agree with the idea being shared and the support being provided as the thesis is broken down for you. Then share your conclusions in the online chat or discussion board and ask others to weigh in. Sparking such discussions will help you further hone in on your own ideas within the course, which should help you improve the depth of your own assignments.
Finally, consider that a thesis statement is very user-friendly for your audience.. We’ve all read something that confused us or listened to a speaker who lost us. This may be even more common among online students, who work independently to comprehend classroom materials. This is why it is vital that you keep your own communications focused clearly around a central point that is carefully broken down for readers. Using the thesis statement and its formula is key to making sure your audience doesn’t struggle to understand your main idea..
Here I must add that, fairly often in an online class, students are evaluated in some way. For example, professors expect online discussions to be exactly that: discussions. They also expect students to respond clearly to discussion prompts. Use the thesis statement to easily demonstrate you have responded to the discussion board question and made it a pitch to encourage others to converse with you. This should improve the evaluations you receive.
The downside here is that other students or perhaps even a professor may not use a thesis statement to make their posts user-friendly. Although you can’t control that, you can be proactive in setting a good example for others and by politely restating what you believe their main point to be in a conversation. Then ask them to verify that your understanding is correct.
Overall, the concept of a thesis statement and its benefits has been around for at least two thousand years because it is an effective communication technique. Why not apply this in a new way within your online classes for greater academic success?
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