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.”



Mindful Reading and Living: A Book Review

Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (229 pages)

Reviewed by Kathleen Bishop, Adjunct Faculty, Kaplan University Health Sciences Dept.

Who should read this book? Anyone who is interested in learning how to be fully present in life, at work, at home, driving in traffic, surfing the net, or cooking dinner. Most of us walk through life totally unconscious of the world around us. This book will help you live a more “conscious life.” Doing so will increase your happiness and your productivity. It will improve your relationships with the people in your life by letting them know you are really listening, really paying attention, and really focusing on them.

Wildelephant Summary: This book is written by Jan Chosen Bays, MD who is a pediatrician, a meditation teacher, wife, mother, grandmother, and yes, the abbess of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. If you are wondering how she does it all you can find some of her secrets shared in this book. The book is based around short practices that you can do in only a few minutes or even a few seconds that bring you into the present moment and help you stay there. She defines the concept of “mindfulness” and then shares 53 exercises with you each designed to help you gain the benefits of mindfulness: mental and physical health. And I will add improved relationships with self and others.

Why I picked this book? This book was recommended to me by a member of my Zen group and a former teacher. She knew I was looking for some simple exercises to use in my classes and workshops to help teach the principles of mindfulness, to help my students concentrate, and get settled before the class begins. She was right! It is a great resource. I have used it in my life, in my classes on line, and in my face-to-face trainings and it has made a big difference. I have received the most wonderful feedback from my students and participants on how these techniques and this principle of mindfulness has helped them relax, stay focused, and get more accomplished.

Favorite quote from the book: “Mindfulness is a potent tool for training the mind, allowing us to access and use the mind’s true potential for insight, kindness, and creativity.”


In a Hurry? This Book Review Is for You

The In-Between by Jeff Goins (164 pages)

Reviewed by Chrissine Rios MA, Writing Tutor

Who should read this book? Anyone who has ever been in a hurry, said, “I can’t wait!” or feels ready for a change but is unable to do it just yet.

The_In-Between_GoinsSummary: Goins illustrates his hurried attitude in a candid memoir featuring his life’s bigger moments from studying abroad to having a baby. His narrative takes readers to the streets of Madrid, across America in his band’s van, and through Illinois cornfields on a train home for the holidays. Meanwhile, his reflections reveal another journey in progress. While his inner dialogue leading up to his marriage proposal, and later, his son’s birth expresses the tender and uneasy emotions that would resonate with any reader who has lived through similar life changes, his personal growth also becomes more apparent as his indwelling narrows in on the hand-holding and the ultra-sound blips—the more ordinary and fleeting moments in the present instead of the event up ahead. Then, when Goins sits at his ailing grandfather’s bedside, essentially waiting for his grandfather to die, he hears his grandfather pray the only prayer Goins had ever heard his grandfather say, and this is a pinnacle moment for Goins who awakens to the in-between, realizing these moments, not the big events, shape who we are.

Why I picked this book: I had already been inspired by Goins’ blog and motivational tips for writers, so I knew it would not disappoint. Now, I’m not a pray-er; I’m a good-thoughts thinker, but Goins even made his prayer epiphany one I could relate to. Read the book and judge for yourself, but I’m pretty certain that if I weren’t a member of the “In-Between Insiders”—a generous giveaway Goins offered with all pre-ordered books—and I hadn’t already known that Goins’ had a Christian following among his wayward writer fans like me who have latched onto his message that our writing matters and tribe awaits, I would not have given a second thought to the few other times God comes up in his is memoir because they are subtle and fleeting moments too. In fact, I found his anecdote about his father raising him not to be a “Jesus freak” rather refreshing, and telling. Goins is a powerful writer who has masterfully integrated his faith and art to express a clear message about how we can embrace who we are and what we are doing today, a message that has certainly benefited me. Living like the journey is more important than the destination is not a new idea, but I need all the help and inspiration I can get. Do you? Read the book. Maybe it will help you start writing again, too.

Favorite quote from the book: “All we have are these moments. What we choose to do with them is what we choose to do with our lives.”

Using Metacognition and Schema Theory to Teach Reading Skills

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor


© 2014

As educators, we realize the many positive outcomes for students who read recreationally (see The Reading and Writing Connection and The Forget Kale or Chipotle Peppers-the Best Way to Learn English Quickly is Reading Method), but what happens when students cannot read well at a college level?  ACT’s most recent annual report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013, found that 44% of students tested were prepared to meet the demands of college reading.   This number may mean that over half of students, or 56%, enrolled in our classes are not able to effectively read and understand their college texts, assignment directions, and academic research materials.  Understanding complex research methodologies and study designs, compiling literature reviews, and processing scholarly research articles are tasks that they may find too challenging.  Low reading levels negatively impacts their writing as they cannot use outside sources in their own writing if they do not understand them.   They are not able to adequately process their texts and source materials, so they cannot see how they fit in with their own ideas. This often leads to unsuccessful paraphrases, lack of integration of source material, and plagiarism.

As educators, it is up to all of us to help students improve their literacy skills. As the United States Department of Education (2006) noted, “If students cannot read close to grade level, the biology textbook, the math problems, the history documents, the novel—all will be beyond them.”  Early in my career as a college educator, I taught  developmental reading courses, and while I taught many techniques and strategies for reading and comprehending college texts and academic materials, I found that two fairly simple strategies worked extremely well for my students.

First, I encouraged students to take charge of their reading experiences. I reminded them that reading is an active meaning-making experience.  I talked to them early and often about metacognition and demonstrated it by monitoring my own reading comprehension out loud.  I also discussed setting aside enough time for reading and gave them the general formula of multiplying the number of credit hours of each of their courses by 2-3 to figure out how many hours they should be reading course materials per class each week.  This helped them set realistic expectations and actually allot the necessary amount of time to adequately comprehend course materials.  I also talked to them about minimizing the distractions around them, reminding them that if they tried to read in a room where children were playing loudly, or the television was blaring, these distractions would likely demand their attention, leaving their ability to concentrate on their reading compromised.

Secondly, I talked to students about prior knowledge and schema theory in reading.  I taught them that schema theorists suggest that we process new information by considering how it fits in with our prior knowledge on a topic. We talked about how, when we encounter new information, either through reading or other learning experiences, we examine how the new information meshes with our existing schemata on the topic, and we rearrange or reconstruct our schemata to accommodate the new information.  I demonstrated schema theory in reading comprehension by having students complete KWL (What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned) charts in class. I also helped them to understand that, if their schemata on a topic were limited, extra processing time may be needed and encouraged them to expand and build on their prior knowledge by reading vicariously and seeking out other learning experiences.

These strategies worked well for my developmental reading students, and, along with other techniques we reviewed in class, helped them improve their reading skills. What methods have you found successful in improving students’ abilities to read and comprehend their texts in order to write about them?


ACT. (2013).   The condition of college & career readiness 2013. Retrieved from

United States Department of Education. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Retrieved from

4 Practical Tips for Writing with an Academic Voice

Patricia Drown, Kaplan University Faculty, Social And Behavioral Sciences

© 2014

© 2014

Nothing can put fear in to the heart faster than the prospect of academic writing. Our mind immediately fills with pictures of quill pens, dusty libraries, and some robed and bespectacled scholar bent over parchment spilling out polysyllabic words that will ring down through the ages. Relax. Academic writing is far less complex than it sounds.

I will leave it to others to explain the nuances of in-text citations, formatting, and references. What we want to think about first is voice. The tone of your paper is what makes it academic just as assuredly as the format–perhaps more so.

We have become a world of casual writers. Online students commonly use texts, emails, and Twitter to connect with peers and faculty, which can take academic writing from the realm of formal communication to something akin to chatting over the back fence. And there is a place for that. Just not in academe.

So how do you make the switch between the writing style that makes you a hit on Facebook and a writer presenting scholarly ideas?

Here are four practical tips for writing with an academic voice:

1.   Remember for whom you are writing. You may communicate with your colleagues, classmates, and even your professor regularly, but when you communicate with any member of the academic community, you take on the responsibility of academic writing. Your academic audience expects a professional presentation of ideas–thoughtful, organized, and concise. In your own reading, who do you take more seriously–the writer who uses slang or starts a sentence with “OK” and assumes you understand, or someone who is in command of the ideas and expresses them clearly and concisely to ensure you understand?

2.   Use simple and accurate wording. You do not have to be stiff and stuffy or use big words, but you should make every attempt to incorporate the language of your discipline within your writing. This not only helps your reader to relate to the topic, but also to you as a kindred spirit in the field.

3.   Write out every word. Avoid contractions such as “didn’t” and “won’t”; write “did not” and “will not” instead. You will be surprised at how quickly using a formal style elevates the communication and overall fluidity of your writing.

4.   Finally, remember you are a scholar. You are an expert on whatever subject you are sharing if you have done the research and are prepared. Presenting it with a formal, academic voice helps to validate the good and important research you have done and the conclusions you have drawn.

So, hold your head high, and face that keyboard without fear. Apply these simple tips to hone your academic voice and believe that you are an academic writer!





Understanding the “It” in Academic Writing

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor



When I first began thinking about the concept of “It,” as one with a twisted imagination might, I pictured a creepy circus clown by the name of Pennywise that caused millions of children over the years to establish a phobia for anyone with face paint on and a pair of goofy shoes. The “It,” in this particular context, takes the form of a clown that causes a certain amount of dread in the lives of those that let it—all puns aside. Fashioned after the fantastic horror novel penned by Stephen King, the film It pushes the boundaries on establishing and overcoming fears, so I tried to imagine what a more realistic representation of this proverbial “It” would entail. Oddly enough, due to my profession, “It” hit me like a ton of bricks as the work was sprawled before my eyes: Sometimes we, as educators, write incredibly difficult—and often convoluted—instructions for our students to comprehend. But is that such a bad thing? Let me answer my own question—absolutely not, and here’s why.

Students, particularly in an online context, face the challenge of interpreting assignments based on their own reading. For some, this will come quite simply; for others, however, much like the creepy clown above, this could be the “It” that causes a great amount of stress in their lives. What is a student’s “It,” you might ask? “It” includes—but is not limited to—papers, essays, discussion board posts, journals, responses, reflections, memos, and just about any other assignment we, as educators, create for our students that causes them great amounts of anxiety. We create these assignments with sets of instructions, and sometimes, like it or not, our instructions require even further instruction, which, to students, could be the point of no return. Instead of harping at the educators and their overly-complicated instructions, I applaud you, on the contrary, and wanted to write this entire entry to support your efforts and ask you to continue doing so for as long as humanly possible.

On a much more serious note, I believe that raising the bar for your students should always be a top priority for any instructor. As students come into a collegiate setting, we expect a great deal out of them, and rightfully so—this is a place of higher learning, after all. But what if a student finds that they are unable to understand the instructions that detail how to accomplish the assignment in the first place? Instead of scoffing at the notion, why not send them to the Writing Center or Tutoring Lab at your University? Tutors often assist students with not only understanding their assignments in further detail, but we also help them develop reading strategies to ‘dissect’ some of the more dense directions.

Sometimes the sessions—oftentimes the “It” in this scenario—can seem like a rather invasive surgery practice to get to the bottom of the instructions, but what comes from this simple activity includes far more than an exercise on simplifying instructions. Instead, the student engages in deconstructing the assignment’s outline, looking at composite “parts” required, such as the requirement of a developed thesis, the integration of quality sources, and any other selection from the never-ending list we keep adding to as the years go on.

Even more important still is what occurs after we establish just what this mythical “It” turns out to be—or not to be, for that matter. When the student observes instructions in a paragraph or list format, they may shut down for a variety of reasons. Instead of tossing the issue aside, sometimes we must adjust the language to adhere to what the student can understand more effectively. In more extreme examples, we may even have to establish an outline that explores each requirement of the assignment in a fashion that speaks to the student. Whomever the student may be and whatever the activity might entail, just like clockwork, when they take a moment to read the instructions after they work with a tutor to ‘decompress the madness,’ their revelation is always the same: “Oh, is that all I have to do?”

“It” is. All you have to do, as either a struggling student or instructor looking to better your students, simply includes conquering “It.” If you find that a student struggles to get started on an assignment, “It” could very well be that s/he may be stuck at the starting line just waiting to take off. Tutors love helping students understand their assignments, and furthermore, we love to see how creatively faculty are engaging students. “It” may sound a bit strange to send your students to us for that reason, but we would rather see a student successfully wrestle with these more complex instructions with a tutor instead of being beaten before “It” even begins.