Monday, September 29, 2014 - 11:00

More than 40,000 students from around the world have started a grammar course at The University of Queensland – and it’s not too late to join them.

The free online UQx subject, WRITE101x - English Grammar and Style, has been developed by Associate Professor Roslyn Petelin from the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History.

“They have enrolled in droves,” Dr Petelin said.

“Students range in age from 11 to more than 80, and they are from Paris, France to Paris, Texas, from Argentina to Venezuela, and from New York to Brisbane.”

Dr Petelin said the massive open online course (MOOC) encouraged students to build on their intuitive and often-unacknowledged grammar skills.

“No-one starts at zero,” she said.

“Since grammar disappeared from primary-school classrooms in the late 1950s, generations of students have been deprived of the utilitarian and recreational pleasure of understanding just how words work to create grammatically correct sentences.

“Clearly, there is a clamour for grammar.”

In developing the course, Dr Petelin was supported by “a crack team of young grammar-loving students” who present many of the course videos, and by UQx colleagues.

“The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with an avalanche of posts on the discussion board,” she said.

“Much of the discussion has been in response to journalist Dot Wordsworth’s provocative claim that ‘It’s cruel not to teach grammar to children’.”

Another source of discussion has been UQ Professor Fred D’Agostino’s video, in which he talks about “the glamour of grammar”.

“English grammar is complex, with lots of irregularities and idiosyncracies  that defy explanation,” Dr Petelin said.

In developing the course, she interviewed world-leading grammarians professor David Crystal and Professor Geoff Pullum from the University of Edinburgh, who has claimed that “public discussion of grammar is in roughly the same state that public understanding of aeronautical engineering would be if educated adults believed that airplane wings flapped and had feathers,” Dr Petelin said.

Dr Petelin said she and her UQx team taught students to absorb and apply grammatical principles, which gave them the skills to write and speak with career-enhancing confidence, competence, and style.

UQ Executive Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Tim Dunne said he was excited about Write101x.

“I already know that, at the end of the course, I will regret not having been able to take it 20 years ago when I embarked on my career as an academic and writer,” he said.

edX is a not-for-profit online education venture founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is committed to making high-quality educational experiences more widely available.

The University of Queensland is an edX partner, along with institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Texas System, Georgetown University, McGill University, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, University of Toronto, and the Australian National University.

Write101x: English Grammar and Style, is one of eight free UQx courses launched this year:

Sense101x: Sense, Control, Act: Measure the Universe, Transform the World

Crime101x: The Psychology of Criminal Justice

Think101x – The Science of Everyday Thinking

World101x: The Anthropology of Current World Issues

Hypers101x – from shock waves to scramjets

Bioimg101x – Biomedical Imaging

Tropic101x – Tropical Coastal Ecosystems

Write101x mirrors a face-to-face course that Dr Petelin teaches at UQ’s St Lucia campus in Brisbane, with about 180 students this semester, including students training to be English teachers.

Dr Petelin also convenes UQ’s postgraduate Master of Arts (Writing, Editing and Publishing) Program. Watch a four-minute video on that program here.

Dr Petelin talks about the grammar course in a two-minute video here.

Media: Associate Professor Roslyn Petelin, +61 7 3365 3212, m: 0411 459 101,