A Bloggers Group: Uniting through Writing

By Molly Wright Starkweather

Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

One of the most unique opportunities for growing a campus culture in an online university is through clubs and societies. There are many places for students to get plugged in, whether in an honor society like Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society for Nursing or in a club like Disability Rights, Education, Advocacy, and Mentoring (DREAM). Faculty and staff can get involved in Parenting Group or Night Owls (a professional development group that meets exclusively in the evenings). Another opportunity for fostering an involved campus community is through Writing Across the Curriculum. WAC involves students and faculty focusing on improving writing skills in a supportive, even collaborative way. After all, writing is a lifelong skill that anyone at a university can grow.

What better way to cultivate writing and solidify community at our university than by hosting a group of faculty, staff, and students interested in writing?

An inclusive Bloggers Group provides this very opportunity for the academic community. The group

  • focuses on blogging as versatile, engaging writing;
  • welcomes bloggers of all interests and skill levels;
  • includes faculty, staff, and currently enrolled students at an online or brick and mortar university.

The best part of being in a blogging group is that a member’s identity– whether student, faculty, or staff member– is a badge and not a barrier. What that means is that a student can ask questions and give advice, as can a faculty or staff member, without worrying about the constraints of the classroom or writing for a grade. Bloggers read and comment on each others’ blogs, share their challenges and successes during meetings, and offer each other supportive emails with writing ideas and advice. Meetings are a place for students to participate as aspiring professionals on a more even plane with fellow bloggers who just happen to be faculty or staff members. Just as in course seminars, the expertise of a professor blends well with the experience of a student, but no one is grading anyone for his or her writing or participation. As a writing tutor,  I can give advice to a student blogger about hooking the audience, and that same student blogger can give advice to me about embedding videos into my blog.

Blogging to improve your writing is a wonderful journey that gets even better with support from fellow bloggers. Anyone in the university community can start a bloggers group. Do you have a blogging group at your institution?


When Students Write About Personal Pain

By Teresa Kelly, Kaplan University Composition Faculty

© 2014 Clipart.com

© 2014 Clipart.com

As family, friends, colleagues, and fans worldwide mourn the death of comedy legend Robin Williams from suicide on August 11, composition instructors face another of those moments where outside events bring scary and uncomfortable realities into writing classrooms. This tragedy can become a teaching moment and a chance to open a dialogue about suicide prevention and mental health issues, as long as educators remember that they are not mental health professionals and seek appropriate support.

According to the Ohio State University suicide prevention site (2014), college students face special risks for suicide – including substance abuse, stress, and isolation. Often, these students seek help in settings they perceive as safe – such as through an assignment or a relationship with a trusted instructor. The Brazelton Center for Mental Health Law (2007) notes that even students who have issues but don’t self-identify will exhibit warning signs.

Composition sees more soul-bearing work than many other disciplines because it asks students to be passionate about their subjects. An educator’s worst nightmare is the moment in class, through discussion, via a journal, or through an assignment, that a student reveals something that leads to fear for the student’s safety or that of others. Being on the receiving end of an “I think about death” post is a scary, lonely, and helpless feeling. However, there are strategies to help composition instructors intervene with students who need help.

According to Brazelton (2007), helping a potentially troubled student starts before the student even enrolls in a course. Educators should learn to identify possible warning signs and must know their institutions policies and procedures for aiding students, including student assistance services, reporting procedures, and what to do in an emergency situation. “Listen” to what students are saying in their writing. Value their words and look beneath the surface. Knowing warning signs can help identify a potential issue with a student who does not come out and write “I want to die.” Learning about resources before a student is in crisis allows an instinctive, immediate response.

Above all else, warning signs cannot be ignored. Instructors who need help identifying or responding to a potentially suicidal student should reach out to their institution before a need arises. Educators teach more than composition, history, or biology. We teach students. They are always our first concern. If anything is to be gained from the untimely death of Robin Williams, who brought joy to millions, it is that suicide does not discriminate. Know the signs and know what to do – for you and your students.



Brazelton Center for Mental Health Law. (2007). Supporting students: A model policy for colleges and universities. Retrieved from http://www.tucollaborative.org/pdfs/Toolkits_Monographs_Guidebooks/education_supported_education/Bazelon.pdf

Ohio State University. (2014). Identifying risk factors. Retrieved from http://suicideprevention.osu.edu/prevention-information/warning-signs/

BEING A PARALEGAL: Effective Legal Research and Writing

Necole Floyd-Turner, JD

Kaplan University Adjunct Instructor, School of Legal Studies

Being a paralegal can be a challenging on any given day, but being what I call a paralegal extraordinaire is a totally different ball game. Now that we have discussed navigating case law, let us turn our attention conducting legal research.



Imagine that you have been employed at a law firm as a junior paralegal for about a year. The supervising attorney comes to you and explains that they have taken on a new client that has some serious tax issues. The attorney further explains that some of the client’s issues may cross jurisdictional lines into another state wants to know the applicable law in a written brief on his desk by tomorrow afternoon. You listen intently taking notes as the issues are explained but in the back of your mind, you know that if you can nail this assignment, it could pay off big time. As you may have learned in your legal studies program, sources of law are broken down into three basic categories. Those categories are primary law, secondary law and special resources. Knowing where to start can be a confusing task. But being the professional that you are, you politely smile and say “you got it”. How do you begin the research? Here we go:

Basics and Definition

I always ask my students “how do you know where you are going, if you do not know the basics”? In legal research this means knowing all the information and things that concern a client. Here, you want to know all the pertinent facts of the client’s case. From the facts of the case you can identify the key terms, from key terms you can identify issues, from the issues you can identify the legal problem and from the legal problem you can then start your first step in legal research, finding sources. I would start with secondary sources. Secondary sources are those sources that explain or expand on the law. In this category are some of my favorites, legal dictionaries, treatises, legal encyclopedias and periodicals. Many of these sources are multi-volume and have indexes where you can look up key terms.

Primary and Function

Primary law is the law that was decided first and functions to set precedent or serve as a guide for cases that have similar issues to follow. However, finding it can prove to be a challenge. Primary laws are basically statutes that are passed by your state legislatures, congress on the federal level or written in a specific state or U.S. Constitution. Case law are decisions handed down by courts on both state and federal level that serve as persuasive authority for another jurisdiction to follow when deciding matters of their own. Cases can be found in reporters that are published according to state or regional jurisdictions. So, after the basics you will then need to move on to finding primary law. You will need to find what a statute says about a particular issue and how it is regulated. Sometimes jurisdiction warrants looking at both state and federal statutes. Statutes can be found in print in law libraries in state codes or the United States Code but more readily accessible electronically through legal databases such as Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis and Find law. Electronic resources make the process of legal research easier.

Special Issues

The third category of legal research sources are those of the special variety. In our current scenario, the client has a tax issue. The basic and the primary sources have been identified, but there are other items out there that can help if an issue is complex such as a tax issue. Administrative law is a special area of law that deals with agency rules and regulations. If a statute that is written by the state or federal government is vague or does not address the issue fully, the area of law is delegated to an administrative agency to handle. That regulation gives way to a body of rules that speak to an area of law such as tax law. There are regulatory agencies on the state and federal level, such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Internal Revenue Service. These regulations can be researched in print and electronically in the Code of Regulations.

Now that you have a roadmap, you can proceed to conduct the research you need to write the brief. You secretly smile to yourself because you are now equipped to tackle the world of legal research.



Locating The Law (5th ed). (2011). Retrieved from http://www.aallnet.org/chapter/scall/locating/ch3.pdf.

 About the Author:

Necole Floyd-Turner is an adjunct instructor in Legal Studies at Kaplan University. She graduated with a Juris Doctor from the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama and has over 12 years legal research and writing experience.

Why Isn’t My Personal Opinion Good Enough? How to Establish an Educated Opinion in Academic Writing

Terresa Fontana

Kaplan University Faculty, Department of Educational Studies

I’ve served as a professor in the online college environment, teacher in the high school English and literature classroom, and student through various degree programs. In most academic arenas, what you “feel” might be limited to personal narratives, essays, or discussions within the physical classroom, depending on the course content and the individual professor. But, one thing I’ve learned in all my time in the classroom is that professors do, indeed, want to know what you think.  They just want your thoughts to become more focused on what you’ve learned – your education – rather than on your own personal feelings or beliefs.

book with glasses


According to Dictionary.com, a personal opinion is: “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty” (Dictionary.com, 2014). The key words in this definition are insufficient grounds. One of the goals of higher education is that you begin to establish your understanding of the world (or at least the concepts within each course) based on information that has been researched by experts in the field – information that will support your newly formed and developing opinions on the subject under discussion. An educated opinion, then, might be described as “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty” on a particular topic. These “sufficient grounds” would be the research you’ve conducted or the learning you’ve experienced during your studies.

Within each course of study at the college level, you’ll be required to do some sort of research of your own – reading the course textbook or other required materials, doing research in the library or online, or even conducting experiments or doing activities that conclude with some sort of measurable results. Whatever the process may be, the product is that you become more familiar with the topics and concepts that you study and research – that you develop a more educated opinion that either expands, supports, or even changes your own personal opinion on those concepts.

So how do you establish your personal opinion versus an educated opinion in an academic paper written to meet course or school requirements? The most straightforward way of doing so is to simply cite the research that exists to support your statements.

As you do your readings, research, or experiments, keep notes of specific statements or results that stick out to you, those that challenge your thinking or make you say, “Hmmm.” Whenever you have one of these “a-ha” moments, make note of what ignited the spark inside your mind.

Then, when you write your paper(s), go back to those notes and remind yourself what triggered such a personal reaction – simply cite the source of that spark within the text of your paper. Whenever possible, include a summary of the information in your own words or, if necessary, quote the information directly from the author of the source of your inspiration. And always remember – whether you paraphrase using your own words or quote the words of another – cite your sources.

In just a few short steps, you’ve gone from relating your personal opinion to establishing and reporting an educated opinion “that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty,” a skill that will serve you well in all your academic pursuits.

For more information on personal writing in the online classroom and writing at the college level, check out these other KUWC Blog posts:

Personal Writing in the Classroom

Learning to Write at the College Level


Dictionary.com. (2014). Define Opinion. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/opinion




Should I let a student rewrite a plagiarized paper?

Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of IT

I didn’t mean to plagiarize! Can I rewrite this paper?

In a previous post, plagiarizing was compared to running a stop sign. Backing up and trying again cannot erase the fact the sign was ignored the first time! (You can’t undo a crash, either.) It’s up to the police officer to give a verbal warning, a written warning, or a ticket. The severity of the crime is considered in making that choice.

Similarly, when a student is caught plagiarizing an assignment and then asks to redo it, the severity of the crime is considered. A very high percentage of copied content may warrant a report sent to the Provost’s Office. In that case, university policies state that the student receives a zero in the gradebook, and you wait for the outcome of the Provost’s investigation.

If a report is sent up and you follow rules, a revision is not an option.

However, sometimes the plagiarized portion isn’t “high-percentage” and your decision is to issue a warning instead. The problem might have stemmed from poor paraphrasing techniques, misunderstanding of how to handle quotes, or poor pre-college preparation (a consideration for first-term students). On the other hand, it could be a lack of ethics, a lack of caring, or a lack of having previously been caught.

Some students will beg to be allowed to rewrite the paper. Excuses vary but often point to “I didn’t mean to plagiarize.” Maybe the transgression was on purpose, maybe not, and we will never truly know. We already know that intention is not a consideration in terms of plagiarism because intention cannot be proven.

Setting aside student intention, then, should a revision be allowed? On one hand, the student can practice writing correctly and has another chance to prove an understanding of the unit’s topics. Maybe this can be justified if you can be sure that the student has not had the opportunity to learn how to write properly before signing up for your class. On the other hand, the lesson about plagiarism might not be learned if there is no real penalty. A late penalty to a resubmission could be applied, but is the act of plagiarism only worth a 10% penalty, perhaps only 5 points out of a course’s 1000? There is a lot to consider, including whether or not the student has heeded any previous instruction or warnings from you about plagiarism.

I wish there was an easy answer, but I have not yet found it. The best recommendation I can offer is to look at the offending assignment again and reassess the damage caused by running that stop sign. Consider the pros and cons of allowing a revision and remember that our purpose is to educate. Will the student best be served by rewriting, or best be served by a strong reminder that honesty is important? Every situation must be evaluated on its own merits as you consider whether or not to allow a plagiarized paper to be rewritten.



The honesty threshold: It wasn’t plagiarized that much. Should I say something or let it slide?

Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of IT

Honesty is an important workplace trait. Lack of honesty can be damaging to the person and to the company. To ensure student honesty, then, the first step in grading should be to send assignments to Turn-it-In. This tool provides reports that should be scrutinized for accuracy; it’s not infallible* but provides a backbone for checking originality.



The good news is that a lion’s share of the work we send in results in low-percentage reports that erroneously label reference entries or cover page content as “copied.” We can ignore those without batting an eyelash. On the other end of the spectrum, high-percentage reports should be obvious: either give a stern warning and a zero, and let the advisor know, or send the work to the Provost for a plagiarism review. It’s a wake-up call the high-percentage student needs.

This post isn’t about those reports, though. It’s about those pesky middle-percentage papers that put the professor’s brain in overdrive: It wasn’t plagiarized that much. Maybe he didn’t realize that lists should not be copied. I think she really tried to paraphrase. There’s a citation but he left out the quotation marks. It looks like she used a thesaurus to just replace a few words. I’m not sure if he did this on purpose or not. Should I say something or let it slide?

Let’s pause for a metaphor moment. When an automobile driver runs a stop sign, he or she has broken the law. Whether intentional or not, the law was broken, and it cannot be undone. If a police officer observes the incident but chooses to look the other way, the driver feels enabled to make the same mistake – over and over again.

Plagiarism also comes in both intentional and unintentional flavors. No matter the intention, once plagiarized work is submitted for grading, the damage is done. If the professor looks the other way, the student is enabled to make the same mistake – over and over again.

This is why it is important for professors to all be good police officers and point out the student’s transgression. The officer who looks the other way becomes an enabler, complicit in breaking the law. It is our responsibility to give a warning or a ticket so that the student learns from the mistakes made. Don’t “let it slide.” Promote honesty and say something!

* I once had a student paper (no, this is not a limerick) that resulted in a 16% match to sources according to Turn-it-In. Upon further investigation via a simple Google search, the paper was determined to actually be 84% plagiarized. Always investigate!

A Review of Craig Johnson’s Death Without Company

©2014 Craig Johnson

©2014 Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson, Death Without Company (271 pages)

Reviewed by Marla Cartwright, Faculty Developer, Center for Teaching and Learning, Kaplan University

Who should read this book? Anyone who enjoys the “Longmire” television series on A&E, murder/mysteries, stories set out West, as well as stories that include an element of the supernatural or spiritual realm. Also, anyone who’s a fan of the tough yet flawed and sensitive/artistic protagonist (similar to P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh, Commander of New Scotland Yard and part-time poet).

Summary: When Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming learns of the recently deceased Mari Baroja from the local assisted living home, what appears to be death from natural causes quickly unravels into a decades-old case of spousal abuse, forced marriage, and retribution. The situation becomes more complicated because Walt’s old friend and former boss Lucian Connally also lives at the home and somehow has ties to the investigation. Will Longmire stand by Lucian his long-admired comrade and mentor? Or will he follow the letter of the law if Lucian is responsible for breaking the law?

If you’re already a “Longmire” fan, you will enjoy the crime solving and tension throughout the book. And you will be pleased to find not only Walt’s reliable yet understated dry wit, but also all of your favorite supporting characters: fiery Deputy Victoria (Vic) Moretti, lifelong friend Henry Standing Bear, dependable office manager Ruby, and all the rest. And I found it refreshing to see events through Walt’s point of view, something not quite apparent in the screen version.

Why I picked this book? I’m a fan of the “Longmire” television series on A&E and wanted to see how the novels compared; I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. All my favorite characters are here, as well as the wonderful blend of action/adventure, crime solving, the expansive Wyoming setting along with a deft touch of Native American spirituality. The book confirmed to me that the television series does ample justice to the books (which isn’t always the case with written-to-televised adaptations).

Favorite quote from the book: At the climax of the story, Walt falls into a frozen pond and encounters a vision of the deceased Mari Baroja; “Mari laughed and it was stunning. It lingered in a luxurious moment, and I studied the little laugh lines at the corners of her mouth; they were like friends I had forgotten.”