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Article Version


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In spite of benefits surrounding distance education programs, many online writing courses suffer from low student completion rates. Student retention has been identified as a concern in a number of studies of online education. We extend this discussion by examining the relationship of assessment of student work to retention, and comparing the grades students receive in online and face-to-face undergraduate writing courses. Our data point to what we call the “thrive or dive” phenomenon for student performance in online writing courses, which describes the disproportionately high percentage of students who fail or do not complete online courses compared to conventional, face-to-face courses. We extend this discussion on challenges related to student retention and propose instructional approaches for online learning that include the interpersonal accountability between teachers and students, as well as the institutional commitment necessary to ensure that students can succeed in online writing courses and programs.


Copyright 2005 Elsevier

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Computers and Composition. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Computers and Composition, 22(4), 471-489. DOI# 10.1016/j.compcom.2005.08.005

Publication Title

Computers and Composition

Published Citation

Sapp, David & Simon, James (2005). "Comparing grades in online and face-to-face writing courses: Interpersonal accountability and institutional commitment." Computers and Composition, 22(4), 471-489.



Peer Reviewed