Writing Centers, Accessibility, and CRLA 2013

Molly Wright Starkweather

Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor


One of the best features of teaching and tutoring writing online is opening the doors to students of all abilities, including students who have been diagnosed with a disability. According to a 2009 guide by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as restricting day-to-day life activities, like mobility (walking or driving) or communication (hearing or seeing), among others. Online education can reduce many of the concerns that students with disabilities might have with an on-ground campus. For instance, a student with mobility limitations will not have to seek accommodations for campus parking or classroom access, since the campus is virtual. Of course, online campuses can present their own unique challenges to keeping education accessible to students with disabilities. Sometimes the prospect of accommodating students of all abilities can seem daunting, especially when the virtual education landscape (including legislation and institutional protocol) changes in response to new research in disability studies and higher education and in response to new assistive technologies. When tutors and teachers of writing consider the whole student experience for learners with disabilities, the daunting prospect becomes a promising opportunity for growing even stronger in our service to all students.

Professor of Special Education and higher education inclusion advocate David Connor (2012) reminds those working with students with disabilities to view the student’s challenge and accommodations as part of a different, not deficient, learning process. It has been common knowledge among my colleagues at different universities that an accommodation is meant to provide nothing more than an equally accessible educational experience. When I have taught composition, I have never changed my grading standards from student to student, and none of my students with accommodations have wanted an easier experience than their classmates. The goal of providing accommodations for disabilities in a higher education setting is to open access and opportunity for all students.

How can an online writing center open access and opportunity for all students? Since we are tutors as part of academic support, there are no discussions of accommodations as instructors would see in a classroom setting, but there is a responsibility for all center staff to create equal opportunity and access for students with disabilities. Some of these possibilities were explored as part of a recent conference for academic support professionals.

On November 7, 2013, three of our faculty and staff presented as part of a panel on “Faculty and Academic Learning Centers: Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities” at the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) conference in Boston, MA. My fellow panel members included Kira Shank and Sheryl Bone of Kaplan University, as well as Nita Meola of Columbia College in Chicago and Teresa Carrillo of Joliet Junior College.

During the 90-minute exchange between panelists and participants, our panel discussed the tools we use in serving students with learning and other disabilities. Here are some of the best takeaways that come to my mind:

1. Approach the task of including students with disabilities from a standpoint of hospitality. Providing accommodations is not about extra work for instructors or easier assignments for students; rather, providing accommodations is about making space for learning.

2. As professionals involved in academic support, we should be aware of the Center for Disability Services. Keep up with the center by attending staff development presentations (or even student presentations) routinely, and make room for discussing the center’s services as part of teaching and tutoring where appropriate, like in the syllabus.

3. Remember that students with disabilities need respect and privacy. While it is good to discuss campus resources like the Center for Disability Services openly to eliminate stigma and get valuable information out to students, it is also important to communicate discreetly with students about individual circumstances. Show respect for the student by listening actively and deferring to the authority of Disability Services whenever appropriate, especially when it comes to articulating accommodations.

What might be some other considerations as we continue opening access to all higher education learners?



Connor, D. (2012). Helping students with disabilities transition to college: 21 tips for students with LD and/or ADD/ADHD. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(5), 16-25.

U.S. Department of Justice. (2009). A guide to disability rights laws. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm


Deterring Students from Engaging in Plagiarism in Law Courses

By Maria Toy, J.D., M.S.

Kaplan University Adjunct Professor



During the first seminar of the term, I warn students in my law courses about the consequences of plagiarism. Students who engage in plagiarism get a zero on an assignment, fail a course, or get expelled from school. Though the consequences of plagiarism are severe, students still engage in plagiarism.  Warning my students about the consequences of plagiarism is not effective, because it does not address the root causes of the problem.

Law courses are challenging for most students. Doing well requires students to have the proper knowledge, experience, and skills. Without these requirements, students would be more likely to engage in plagiarism. When I asked a student why she had plagiarized her paper, she told me that she ran out of time as she juggled full-time work, family obligations, and a heavy course load. No matter how severe the consequences of plagiarism are, they would not have made my student write her paper. What she needed was to learn how to write a paper more efficiently, not to be scared into avoiding plagiarism.

Here are five strategies that law instructors can use to help deter their students from engaging in plagiarism:

  1. Teach students how to cite their sources

Students are required to cite their sources pursuant to APA Style in undergraduate law courses at my university. In order to help students cite their sources, I refer them to APA resources. Despite having access to these resources, students still do not cite their sources. Why? Students have often shared how confusing  APA Style is. Instructors who want their students to cite their sources pursuant to APA must walk through them through the steps that they need to take.

  1. Use hypothetical situations.

Instructors should use hypothetical situations in class, because these examples require students to apply the facts to the law in order to come up with an “original” response. When students are required to engage in an analysis, responses are likely going to differ from one person to the next. Since it is unlikely that students will find these types of responses online, hypothetical scenarios reduce the students’ “need” for plagiarism.

  1. Provide opportunities for students to practice their writing

Writing a paper is stressful for most college students, because they often have limited time to write a paper. Instead of writing their own paper, some of them resort to plagiarism. Instructors should provide students with opportunities to engage in informal writing, so they would be able to practice their writing. By practicing their writing, students would be able to write papers more efficiently in the future.

  1. Share helpful resources with students

Students who plagiarize usually do not understand what is taught in class. In order to deter students from plagiarizing, students should be provided with the resources that they need to learn more effectively. As a law school student, the law dictionary came in handy as I came across legal jargon that I never heard of!

  1. Do not send the message that there is a “model answer”

Instructors too often send the message that there is a “model answer” that they expect students to provide. Given the fact that students do not write the same way, this is an unrealistic expectation. Unable to provide a “model answer,” students will attempt to find it elsewhere.  Instead of expecting a model answer, instructors should tell students that they want a “correct answer.” Though a “correct answer” should contain the same elements, it does not have to look the same as everyone else’s.

Why do you think students in your law courses engage in plagiarism?

What strategy would you use in your class? Why?

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.