The Last Wild — Dystopian Fall Reading

The Last Wild (2013, 322 pages)

Piers Torday

Reviewed by Stephanie Thompson, Composition Department, Kaplan University Writing Center

Who should read this book? Fans of YA dystopian fiction will enjoy sharing this book with their pre-teens (the target age is 8-12). Torday’s novel ends on a cliffhanger, and the biographical note indicates he is working on the next part of the story.

Summary: Torday explores a world where the “red eye” virus has killed almost every animal except for “varmints” like roaches, crops have been destroyed out of fear that they will spread the disease, and humans live in sanitized Quarantine Zones. They survive by eating formula, a pink, goopy substance with flavors like “Chicken and Chips” manufactured by the Facto Corporation.  This formula is their only means of sustenance.

downloadYoung Kester Jaynes has been in Spectrum Hall, a facility for problem children, for almost half of his life. He thinks he is being punished for not talking, a psychological reaction to his mother’s death. One day, he realizes he can communicate with animals; a group of roaches and pigeons helps him escape from Spectrum Hall and takes him to the Ring of Trees, where a group of animals hides from humans. They need Jaynes to find his father—a famous scientist who may have a cure for the red eye—before they, too, succumb to the disease, and animals truly become extinct.

Jaynes then embarks on a quest with a stag, a wolf, and a cockroach. Along the way, he meets Polly and her cat Sidney, who have survived outside of the Quarantine Zone, and together they search for Jaynes’ father. While their journey does end, the novel’s closing pages guarantee they are not finished fighting the evil Facto Corporation.

Why I picked this book? My son and I read together nightly, and I found this book on a recent trip to Twig, San Antonio’s independent bookstore. Since my son is nonverbal, the idea of a mute lead character appealed to me, and my love of animals also made this a must-read. Parents who read aloud with their children will love creating the voices of different animals, or for those whose children are independent readers, they can discuss the novel’s intriguing issues, particularly those about humans’ relationships with and responsibilities for protecting animals and the environment. The recent stories about the pig virus outbreak also make the novel frighteningly timely.

Using Analogies to Describe Student Services: The Gym Analogy

Molly Wright Starkweather

Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor


Often when students hear about a tutoring service like a writing center, they get a vision of the center that is a little less than accurate. Some students think of a tutoring center as an exile for remedial students, a sort of leper colony for students having trouble forming a thesis statement. Instructors and administrators might see the writing center as a sort of clinic where serious grammatical and syntactic conditions are treated by caring staff. The writing center is, in fact, where students learn writing as a process in a dynamic space complementary to—and collaboratively with– the classroom. While grammar and other lower order concerns are part of the writing center’s purpose, higher order concerns like organization and thesis statements are also a big part of writing center tutoring services. Class visits, faculty presentations, and mission statements can do well to clarify the role of writing center services; however, often students, faculty, and administrators continue to see the writing center as a place for remedial work among remedial students. With analogies and metaphors describing the role of the writing center among an institution’s students and faculty, the mission statements and advertising become amplified, applied in a way that is more relatable to our campus population.

This blog entry is the first in a three-part series exploring the most effective analogies comparing writing centers with other campus entities, including gyms, clinics, and laboratories. Since these other campus services are more familiar as part of the traditional notion of a campus, it can be helpful to situate the writing center among these other services in order to demonstrate the established role of the writing center on campus. Using these analogies opens up a world of possibilities in terms of self-representation and advertising, from reaching students with clever memes to describing effective pedagogy to faculty to amplifying mission and goals to administrators.

Every college and university emphasizes the health of its community, whether student, faculty, or beyond. One of the ways that the typical institution encourages healthy living is by highlighting active living through regular exercise. A search of most colleges online will yield results showcasing gyms and recreation centers ranging from the modest to the professional sports association-quality. Gyms do not just give benefit to the body; they also give benefit to the mind and total quality of living while studying. A good workout requires focus and concentration, skills that pay dividends beyond the locker room. According to Amy Patterson Neubert, in a 2013 study by Purdue University, regular visits to the gym led to higher grade point averages. Kaplan University emphasizes healthy living by encouraging students to find creative ways to incorporate exercise in their daily lives of work, family, and study. Several archived time management presentations encourage students to seek out time for self-care, including exercise. In short, regular exercise at a gym is a familiar concept for college students of all kinds.

I have found it helpful to describe to students and faculty the role of the writing center as being like that of a gym on campus, only instead of exercising the body, we exercise writing skills. After all, the starting point of most conversations around the role of a writing center involves lower order concerns like grammar, which are most often perfected through regular exercises. From there, I can shift the focus of the conversation to how one visit to the gym does not strengthen our muscles as much as regular visits to the gym can; consequently, one visit to the writing center is not going to improve all of a student’s writing skills as much as routine visits to the writing center over time can. This point leads to discussing how writing involves a process, not just a product, and how diligent work over time produces the best results rather than short bursts of work in isolated work periods. Mental work, in this way, is very much like physical work.

At this point in the conversation, the audience understands that the writing center is like a gym in that regular work can sharpen lower order writing skills over time. We have established that writing is a process and that that process should include regular, not just remedial or emergency, visits to the writing center. How can the conversation open up to show how the writing center fits in with the classroom and the university as a whole? Often, I point out that sports teams are the groups who use the gym the most, just as whole classes (particularly composition classes) are the ones who use the writing center the most. Just like a sports team will meet to train for an upcoming game, a class will meet regularly in preparation for a big assignment. The coach sets the long and short-term goals for the team, the same way a teacher will set the long and short-term goals for a class. For the sports team, certain members might need to go to the gym to work out certain performance skills in order to improve based on their contribution to the team. (A running back, for instance, might need to do more sprinting on the field, so there will be more trips involved to the gym to practice on the treadmill.) In the same way, certain students in a class might need to polish certain writing skills, like transitioning from paragraph to paragraph, individually in the writing center. When an athlete goes to the gym, he or she will likely meet with a trainer to discuss individual goals so that that athlete improves his or her performance. When a student in a class goes to the writing center, he or she will meet with a tutor to discuss individual writing goals to improve his or her performance in the classroom and on high stakes writing assignments.

When it comes to the university as a whole, both the gym and the writing center are meant for everyone. There are faculty exercise groups, whole campus health initiatives like bicycling to class, and gym hours that serve faculty as well as students. Likewise, writing centers open themselves up for use by faculty members as well. Depending on the center, the services available to faculty might include special writing retreats or article “boot camps” where the writing center becomes a supportive environment for a weekend of writing. There are also centers, like the Kaplan University Writing Center, that offer the same services to faculty as to students, allowing faculty to send in questions or come in for live chat tutoring to double check a writing or citation question. Since learning is a lifelong process, and since professionals must still exercise skills in order to hone their craft, it makes perfect sense for writing centers to be open to all members of the campus community.

Making the comparison between a campus staple like the gym and an academic workout center like the writing center can show that both entities are more than meets the eye. A university’s gym or recreation center is a space where students exercise the mind and body for long and short-term benefits to performing physical feats. A university’s writing center is a space where students exercise the mind with respect to communication for long and short-term benefits to performing writing feats. The use of this analogy emphasizes the process-oriented, campus-wide, student-centered nature of the writing center.

Establishing Verbal Rapport to Enhance Writing Success

Kyle Harley, Tutor, Kaplan University Writing Center

Over the past few weeks, I have found that students often seek more than a simple session with a writing tutor. The writing issues vary by student, of course, but one consistency that I picked up on includes the students’ desire to feel part of the process as a whole. What I mean by this is rather simple, but even I used to overlook this aspect of tutoring from time to time: Establishing rapport with students, in sum, creates an atmosphere where each individual can feel at home and continue to do so when returning to our services.

This moment really jumped out at me when, of all things, I began discussing horror films with one of my students after our session concluded—this particular dialogue embarked on the path of ’80s slasher films, so it was nearly impossible for me to turn down. Sure, the subject matter deviated a bit off the mark, but I almost wish I would have initiated the session with this conversation due to how the student opened up a bit more and began enjoying himself. When in a tutoring scenario, the atmosphere can at times be a bit awkward for the student, especially given the online context—this in and of itself makes for a difficult task in terms of establishing rapport; however, by relating with the student on the simplest of levels, we broke down the awkward barrier that sometimes rubs students the wrong way and became that much more ‘human’ in our online world. Our tutors do a fantastic job of relating to students on a daily basis, and I now feel that, along with the activity that we conduct in the session, establishing rapport remains just as important for students’ success. As a bonus, they may well end up finding someone with similar interests, and that initially captured my interest when I first visited a writing center what seems to be decades ago.

This particular success may well be beginner’s luck, yet other centers  may share the same success—though accomplishing the task at hand takes precedence for the student’s benefit. Each educator, of course, is not required to ramble on about horror films while in a session, but establishing some sort of connectivity with students will ensure a returning, happy customer. This may not always be the case due to the fact that some students like to accomplish the task at hand and then simply move on; for the others, though, reaching out a bit may in fact make their complex assignments look a little less intimidating. I have since worked with this same student five or six times due to our little conversation after our session, and it appears that each subsequent session after our original meeting improves due to how we both feel comfortable in our surroundings, and the student, overall, appears far more confident than before. In fact, the very same process can easily be applied to the classroom, and I implore more educators to get to know their students more—even if just for a few moments. Most of us sit behind screens all day long, which can at times be a bit daunting and lacking personality, so why not extend the proverbial olive branch and see what comes of it? Creating meaningful connections can make a world of difference, especially when one begins to see progress made by the student in a comfortable, relaxed space. Sure, it is a bit more work on our end, but these are the students that we ‘see’ on a weekly basis; furthermore, I firmly believe that each of us can make a difference by simply connecting with our students while simultaneously changing their lives through education.

What I Learned From My Newspaper Editors

Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor School of IT, Kaplan University

I loved the experience of writing for a local newspaper, which I did from 2002-2009 as a weekend correspondent. It taught me how to gather information, write quickly, stay neutral in tone, and work for accuracy. Just like with school work, I was told what event I was supposed to cover, so the topics were not always known to me before starting on the assignment. Here are some lessons I learned from my editors that may be of help to the emergent academic writer:

  • When researching, keep your focus, because there’s no time a-wastin’, as they say.
  • Do your research carefully, however, to avoid misinformation or misattribution. What you write could potentially spark action by a reader, so accuracy and truthfulness are paramount.
  • Organize your thoughts before you write. Even a short article benefits from a quick outline or list.
  • Once you are organized, write at a good pace: get your ideas on the page and then go back to fix the English. Too much time is wasted in trying to be perfect with every word before moving on to the next idea.
  • Don’t start or end with a quote. It weakens your authority as the author because a quote isn’t your words.
  • Don’t take sides unless you are writing an editorial. For academic work, that means you need to know the purpose of your assignment first: is it to research and inform? If so, then stick to the facts and leave out your opinions and any emotionally-packed wording.
  • Don’t let flowery language obscure the meaning. Sometimes plain language is truly the best.
  • Refer to a person by his or her first and last names the first time you mention him or her. After that, refer to the person by last name only. Referring to a person by his or her first name only – unless it’s Madonna or Cher – is considered disrespectful. [Disclaimer:  Some newspapers are old-fashioned and still use titles such as Mr. and Mrs. Everyday titles such as those are not used in academic work, although "Dr." might be used for doctors the first time you mention them.]
  • Proofread and never put all of your faith in spell-check. For example, there’s only one letter difference between Muslim and muslin, and they are both spelled correctly, but the meanings are unquestionably different.
  • Write within the parameters you are given – for example, a given length. My articles for the paper were typically around 500 words. If I wrote a lot more, the editors would cut parts, and sometimes they would cut out what I liked best. When your professors require a minimum wording, meeting their requirement provides a minimum level of detail. When your professors state a maximum, it means you need to get to the point within that parameter.

There definitely were some differences in writing for that medium, however. It may be surprising to you, but the editor writes the headlines, not the writer! Paragraphs for newspaper articles also tend to be very short.

Additionally, there are plentiful quotes in newspaper articles that are gained from in-person interviews. For academic work, we should avoid using a lot of quotes, as quoting does not prove an understanding of the material, and again, it weakens the writer’s authority.

Lastly, the newspaper world doesn’t use the Oxford comma. That’s the one that follows the second-to-last item in a list, such as in “Bob, Alice, and Mortimer.” American newspapers write that as “Bob, Alice and Mortimer.” This can be a little confusing, depending on what you are listing! For academic work, the recommendation is to keep using that Oxford comma to avoid ambiguity (Nordquist, n.d.).

If you ever get a chance to write for a newspaper or other publication, jump for it! You’ll hone your writing skills and get to experience the real power of words.



Nordquist, R. (n.d.). What is the Oxford (or serial) comma? Retrieved from




End of Summer Reads

A Christmas Journey (180 pages)

Anne Perry

Reviewed by Marla Cartwright, Faculty Developer, Center for Teaching and Learning, Kaplan University
Who should read this book? Anyone who enjoys a strong female character, Victorian literature, or a “civilized” murder mystery. However, don’t let the Hallmark-esque cover art (complete with horse drawn carriage in the snow) fool you. The Christmas setting is fairly subdued until the ending.



Summary: Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould is the young, charming, and aristocratic protagonist who finds herself spending Christmas at Applecross, the magnificent country estate of her friend Omegus Jones. The story begins with a celebratory air with a group of interesting people arrayed around the dinner table: the elderly Lord and Lady Salchester, the young widow Gwendolen Kilmuir, her beau Bertie Rosythe, brother and sister Fenton and Blanche Twyford, and young Isobel Alvie. Unfortunately, a romantic triangle emerges between Isobel, Bertie, and Gwendolen which is quickly exacerbated by a stunningly crass remark made after dinner. The next morning reveals a dead body, a broken engagement, and a room full of suspects. Through a turn of events, Vespasia agrees to accompany her friend Isobel on a grueling December journey to Scotland by train, boat, and finally, pack ponies. The ending underscores the importance of friendship and forgiveness even in circumstances nearly beyond endurance.

Why I picked this book? We visit the library like clockwork, and I like to peruse the shelves for interesting titles and plot summaries, aiming to choose at least one book from an author I’ve never heard of. I’m currently in a murder mystery/spy novel kick (previously reading several P.D. James novels, as well as John LeCarre works) so I thought a period piece might be interesting. It’s a quick read and, overall, pretty satisfying. (I did have nagging questions about how truly Victorian women, who were customarily treated like hothouse flowers, would have survived on this extremely debilitating journey. Also Vespasia is described as “devoted” to her children but through the Christmas season she not only doesn’t seem to be, but she also doesn’t think about them, send them letters, or talk about them. But these are minor points).

On a side note: I became curious about the author, Anne Perry, since our library has several shelves of her novels. Imagine my surprise to learn that her actual name is Julie Marion Hulme, and she was convicted in 1954 of conspiring to murder her best friend’s mother (which they did by bludgeoning her to death). The was a little known fact until the movie release Heavenly Creatures  in 1994.

Favorite quote from the book: “For heaven’s sake, you look like a footman! She’s hardly going to give her favors to a servant! At least, not permanently!” This is a key turning point in the action.


Unlucky 13      (416 pages)

James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

Reviewed by  Terresa Fontana, Adjunct Faculty, Department of Educational Studies, Kaplan University

Who should read this book? Whether you are new to James Patterson and The Women’s Murder Club or have enjoyed both for years, the newest installment in the series will not disappoint. Anyone who appreciates a good murder-mystery, with a bit of suspense and intrigue along the way, will find Unlucky 13 an enjoyable read. If you read Patterson’s The 12th of Never, you’ll be especially interested in reading this latest offering in the series. If you’re looking for an easy, uncomplicated summer read, Unlucky 13 is a terrific choice.



Summary: The storyline brings in new murder, mystery, and suspense as well as the return of one of the most sinister criminals from Lindsay Boxer’s past. As with most novels in the series, the main storyline focuses on Lindsay Boxer and her struggle as a new and hard-working mom. Lindsay is one of San Francisco’s top detectives, working on a new and gruesome serial homicide-by-bombing case with her partner and one of her best friends, Dr. Claire Washburn, the chief medical examiner; at the same time, she’s struggling to juggle her duties as both wife and new mother to baby Julie. In this addition to the series, two other members of the club also find their roles in the spotlight. Trying to recover from her break-up with Lindsay’s partner, Rich Conklin, crime reporter Cindy Thomas sets out on a dangerous mission to track down and win an exclusive story with one of the nation’s most notorious and dangerous criminals. Assistant D.A. Yuki Castellano enjoys a spontaneous courthouse wedding and sets off on a cruise to Alaska with her new husband and Lindsay’s lieutenant, Jackson Brady – a trip that turns out to be much more than they had planned. In Unlucky 13, Patterson & Paetro weave together these three separate plot lines to create one intriguing story.

Why did I pick this book? While some Patterson fans may argue that the quality of his books is declining, others – like me – realize that these summer blockbusters are meant to be entertaining, fun reads. In my “spare” time, I enjoy books that are to be simply enjoyed on the beach or in the backyard – not deep scenarios that require or inspire much thought or contemplation. Both new and old fans of Patterson and The Women’s Murder Club can look forward to Unlucky 13, and spend some time with Lindsay, her little family, and her faithful friends along the way.

Favorite quote from the book: “‘She wants to give you the evil eye, she told me.’ ‘Okay. I’m wearing my invisible force field. So.’ ‘Oh, wow. Where can I get one of those?’ ‘Walmart, where else?’ Officer Walters laughed…”

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


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?