By Garrett Kroeger
To be successful in the communications fields of advertising, journalism and public relations, a firm grasp of the English language — including correct grammar usage — is obviously a must. This academic year (2016-17), Greenlee majors have a new way to test their knowledge of punctuation, pronoun, plurals and more through the Poynter Institute Exam (PIE).
This exam is offered as part of a self-directed online course, “Language Primer: Basics of Grammar, Punctuation and Word Use (Iowa State University Edition),” through Poynter’s News University. Students work through the course’s materials and practice drills on their own, and then they must take the final exam on one of three official testing dates offered each semester at Hamilton Hall. Passing the exam with a score of 80 or above is now a prerequisite for Greenlee majors who did not complete 110 before Fall 2016.
Prior to this year, students had to pass six grammar tests in Orientation to Journalism and Communication (JLMC 110) to successfully complete that course, which is offered on a satisfactory-fail basis. Lecturer Brenda Witherspoon explained the rationale behind the undergraduate committee’s decision to remove the grammar requirement from JLMC 110 and require a separate course and exam to test grammar proficiency.
“When the grammar requirement [was part of] 110, we had some students who met all of the [other] requirements in 110 but weren’t prepared yet for grammar,” Witherspoon said. “For them to retake the grammar test they had to retake all of 110.”
Now all Greenlee majors are required to pass both JLMC 110 and PIE before they can move on to another key prerequisite, Reporting and Writing for the Mass Media (JLMC 201). The courses can be taken at the same time, but they are independent of one another. Removing the grammar requirement from JLMC 110 allows instructors to focus class time on career opportunities, graduation plans, professional development, guest speakers and online portfolios.
According to NewsU.org, the Poynter course covers a wide variety of topics including the following: dangling and misplaced modifiers, the case of personal pronouns such as “I” and “me”, sentence structure concepts, apostrophe usage, comma usage, essential and nonessential clauses, general word usage, common spelling mistakes and special focus on “to/too/two” and “they’re/their/there”.
“[The modules and practice tests] are set up the same way as the exam,” Witherspoon said. “That’s the No. 1 way to study. Work through the course.”
While Witherspoon emphasizes the importance of completing the entire online course to prepare for PIE, she still offers additional grammar resources to her students. In her Blackboard files for 110, she keeps links to the Purdue Owl Writing Lab and other helpful writing sites. She also has documents that cover parts of speech and common mistakes. Witherspoon offers links to sites that have grammar videos for those who are visual learners.
It’s in a student’s best interest to adequately prepare for PIE. Students are only allowed to take the final exam once each testing date. Not passing could halt a student’s progression through the school’s curriculum requirements. Students must also pay a $12.95 fee each semester they enroll in the course.
“[PIE] has served as the gateway we wanted it to be,” said Greenlee associate director and associate professor, Michael Dahlstrom. “The instructors have said students are more prepared entering those upper-level courses.”