In 1996 Professor Charles Darling created an online instructional guide for his creative writing and literature classes at Capital Community College (CCC).
Dr. Darling, the author of several books of poetry, wanted to create a place where his students could obtain help with writing their research papers and reports, as well as look up grammatical issues for themselves.
The Guide to Grammar & Writing rapidly took on a life of its own, mushrooming into a widely popular site as use of the web for personal and educational uses became ubiquitous.
Twenty-two years later Charles Darling’s Guide To Grammar & Writing is still going strong as a free resource for teachers, students and anyone trying to get their grammar and written communication right. People from all corners of the earth call and e-mail the college with questions on grammar use and writing.
Professor Darling died in 2006 after a courageous battle with brain cancer, not long after retiring from a 35-year career at CCC. But his gifts as an extraordinary teacher live on through the Guide that he created and generously shared.
The Guide, built by Darling with an older technology and appearing much the same as in 1996, remains the helpful and free source on writing it has always been.
Anyone who “googles” or “bings” the words “grammar guide” will find Capital Community College’s site near the top of the list. In the second quarter of 2017 alone traffic totaled 5.6 million visitors and 11.1 million page views for an average of 59,200 visitors per day.
From The Beginning A “Labor of Love” And Free To All
From the start Dr. Darling encouraged “the general online community” to freely use his comprehensive self-help tutorial and a worldwide community of teachers, students and writers did. “This Guide may not be reproduced wholly or in part, by any means whatsoever, including mirroring on other Web servers, without prior written consent of the author,” read the only disclaimer. “Printing out sections for a student’s personal reference or class practice is permitted as long as the source is indicated. Linking to this site is encouraged.”
Charles Darling was an indispensable and respected colleague and teacher, a tech savvy man of letters awarded the CT Community Colleges’ Educational Excellence and Distinguished Service award in 2001 for a career that began at Greater Hartford Community College in 1970.
He earned a bachelor’s from the College of Wooster and a master’s in English from St. Louis’ Washington University in his native Midwest. A Ph.D. in English followed in 1977 from the University of Connecticut.
Underneath his imposing 6’9″ frame was a gentle and caring educator. In addition to a full teaching load, Darling was the college webmaster, the director of public relations. editor of a campus newsletter and the unofficial poet-in-residence for his The Saints of Diminished Capacity and two other volumes. And every day he looked forward to answering scores of emails on writing and grammar from a legion of Guide users.
When he died in February, 2006 Centinel Hill Hall auditorium on the campus overflowed with friends and colleagues to hear tributes and remembrances. The tributes also poured in from online visitors:
I’m a freelance journalist in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. I work for CNN and a local paper. Your site has helped me. Thank you. My sympathies for the loss of Charles Darling and my condolences to friends and family. There’s a special place in heaven for teachers.
I was sorry to hear of the passing of Dr.Charles Darling, a generous teacher who shared his knowledge and expertise with everyone on the Net. He was (and will continue to be) a great help to teachers like me. His work will live on, and those of us who refer to it will continue to appreciate him.
The Guide “was a labor of love for Charles and, when he retired in 2005, he continued working on it,” wrote Jane Bronfman, the college’s marketing director in a tribute that can be found on the Grammar site. “Charles thought it was essential that the site remain a free service, but laughed at the implications if it were otherwise. ‘If I collected a dime for every e-mail, I wouldn’t have to do the painting of my doors and walls myself in our remodeled home,” Charles told Hartford Courant reporter Bob Sudyk in 2004.'”
“It’s sort of a power trip for me,” Darling told Sudyk in the 2004 Courant story. “What teachers love to do is teach. And I have the opportunity to teach people around the world. It’s exciting. I’m very lucky. It gives me a sense of service, a sense of worth, a sense of purpose in this life I never could have imagined.”
Darling, recognizing the viral reach of the Guide, invited appreciative visitors to make a donation to the college’s non-profit foundation. The Foundation has a permanent fund at the College in his memory. In 2018 the fund will be used for the Charles Wallis Darling creative writing awards.
“Best” Online Site, “Exemplary” Honors From Peer Reviewers
The big numbers for the guide inevitably brought national accolades for Charles Darling’s site. In 2009 Good Housekeeping magazine singled out Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) and Capital’s Guide to Grammar & Writing as the two best online sites for English help.
“This site offers very in-depth explanations and has different methods for testing students’ knowledge, instead of providing only one basic quiz for each topic,” Good Housekeeping researchers concluded in naming it one of the best.
One year later in 2010, a peer review English editorial board of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) recognized the Guide with an award for Exemplary Online Learning Resources.
“It furnishes information on all levels from basic sentence structure to writing research papers,” MERLOT’s editorial board said. “It is complete, self-contained, and generally easy to use.”
More recently, in a cooperative project with a team from Algonquin College in Ottawa, the Guide was shared and adapted for freshmen English classes at the Canadian school of 21,000 full-time students on three campuses confirming again the international reach and pedagogical value of the Guide To Grammar & Writing.
In 2018 a faculty and staff team at Capital is looking to maintain and enhance the Guide as a teaching and learning resource for Capital students and, honoring the wishes of Professor Darling, continuing it as an open source “for the general online community.”
This post is one of a series marking the 50th Anniversary of Capital Community College founded in 1967 as Greater Hartford Community College.