You Want Color With That?

A call for careful color consideration in the classroom

Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of Business and IT Kaplan University


Color can be exciting and fun, but identifying content in the classroom through “color coding” can be a real problem. In our quest to reach each and every student, we must be very careful where we apply color.

First, you are at this moment looking at what we call an interface; it is the screen that allows the human to interact with technology and the content contained therein. There are universally accepted design rules for this screen, which include accessibility, or developing the interface so that “people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and … they can contribute” (“Introduction to Web Accessibility”, 2005). Visual disabilities are included within this definition.

Using text in various colors can make reading a chore for students who have color blindness, also known as color deficiency. Some colors might look far too light to read easily or might make it difficult to distinguish different shapes or letters (Bailey, 2015). Since there are several kinds of color deficiencies, too, it is impossible to choose one set of colors that will work for everyone. At least 8% of all men of Northern European ancestry have some kind of color deficiency according to the National Institutes of Health; only .05% of women are thus afflicted (as cited in “Color Vision Deficiency”, 2015). While not everyone has that same ancestry, that’s still too many people to ignore, and other populations may have similar percentages.

For the sake of readability, we must also consider the contrast of background color compared to the text color. The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) Success Criterion 1.4.3 explains that larger text can be treated somewhat differently than small text, and bold versus regular font styles can also be considered; logo and decorative text does not need to be compliant (“Contrast Minimum: Understanding SC 1.4.3″, 2014). The higher the light/dark contrast, the better the readability, with the caveat that it works best with a light background and dark text. The opposite – light text on dark background – is known to cause eye fatigue (Gabriel-Petit, 2007).

The image below shows some commonly available colors. The yellow is pretty obviously a poor choice for text readability, but a check of the others for WCAG compliance shows that only the dark indigo blue #002060; was fully compliant (Snook, 2015). For people with “normal” color vision, this may be surprising.

©2015 TFudge

©2015 Tamara Fudge

Where could faculty apply color? It’s possible in announcements, discussion forums, documents, and even seminar chats – pretty much anywhere we present words. Should we apply color? The previously stated facts suggest that keeping it simple and using black text on very light background would be the most appropriate choice to ensure content delivery to everyone and to meet the concerns of accessibility. It should also be stated that some institutions have specific guidelines that need to be followed, too. While it is admittedly fun to add color, identifying content through color-coding has the real potential of excluding some of the people we are trying to reach.



Bailey, G. (2015, February). Color blindness. Retrieved from

Color vision deficiency. (2015, January). Retrieved from

Contrast (minimum): Understanding SC 1.4.3. (2014, September 14). Retrieved from

Gabriel-Petit, P. (2007, January 20). Applying color theory to digital displays. Retrieved from

Introduction to web accessibility. (2005, September). Retrieved from

Snook, J. (2015, January 11). Colour contrast check. Retrieved from





The Importance of Formatting

Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of Business and IT, Kaplan University

Too often students complain that I am too tough on them for not following APA formatting. Lest anyone think this post is an apology, I will disappoint you! Formatting is important.

Sure, there are PowerPoints, podcasts, and other kinds of assignments, but most papers written in my school are to be completed using APA style, which was developed by the American Psychological Association. This method defines not just how sources are to be cited and referenced, but how the paper should look overall, including the size of margins, how far to indent first lines of paragraphs, where page numbers are placed, and more.

There are other formats, too, including but not limited to MLA (from the Modern Language Association) and Chicago (short for Chicago Manual of Style). Each style is picky about how words are placed on the page. It’s not that APA is any better than the others; it just happens to be the method of choice for my situation. The important thing is that there is a declared standard.

Why is formatting so important that I will dare to take a point or two off when it’s not followed?

  • It demonstrates that you can follow instructions. If you were a hiring manager, you would not want to hire someone who either doesn’t, won’t, or can’t follow directions.
  • It provides consistency. Your readers, whether they are your professors, your boss and coworkers, or your clients, won’t have to guess how you organized your ideas.
  • It facilitates practice of discipline and adherence to standards. I can’t think of a field that doesn’t have some set of standards, such as how to meet web accessibility issues, provide network security, or maintain HIPAA requirements. Learning to stick to standards takes practice.
  • It allows you to focus your efforts on content. There are no surprises in how you create a cover page or put the reference list together when you use an established method. Once you are used to the methodology – seriously, it’s not that difficult – you can spend the bulk of your writing time researching and organizing ideas into words.

Knowing how to use a prescribed formatting style can also help you excel in your career.   For example, one of the ways to move upward in your chosen field is to become a published author; journals typically require a format and may summarily reject any submissions not meeting their standards. It’s also important to know that one of the reasons companies sometimes lose out on grants is that the writers didn’t follow posted guidelines (“The Top Five Reasons Grant Applications Are Rejected”, n.d.).

Legal documents also have very specific formatting. According an article regarding California civil procedures, “there is a rule for everything … right down to the type of paper to use and the requirement to hole-punch your pleadings” (Haubrich-Hass, 2012, para. 1). I’ve been told that deviating from the requirements might well have an unhappy ending for the lawyer’s client.

My insistence on following rules should only make students stronger candidates for the workplace of their choice. They learn to follow instructions, provide consistency, practice discipline, and then have the ability to focus on content when they have mastered formatting. If I don’t insist on adherence to the rules, I fail to teach these things to my students. And so again, without apology, I declare that formatting is important!



Haubrich-Hass, B. (2012). Formatting California proceedings. Retrieved from

The top five reasons grant applications are rejected. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Mood Music for Writing

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor

Recently a group of writing center workers from the Southeastern Writing Center Association put together a collection of music titled “Write It Like Disaster,” which was composed by writing center tutors from across the Southeast. The creators of this album were inspired by the natural connection between writing and music making, sparking a discussion among various writing center tutors and students about what music means to their writing.

It has been proven that there are significant overlaps in the parts of the brain that process language and parts of the brain that process music (Brown, Martinez, & Parsons, 2006). It makes sense, then, that writers are drawn to music, and musicians are drawn to writing. By using the keyword “study” in a search of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or a similar streaming music service, one can find several options for playlists and radio stations meant for peacefully (but actively) thinking and writing.

Is there a correct genre of music, an ideal artist to listen to while studying and writing? That seems to depend on the type of academic work being completed and the stage in the reading or writing process one is in. Some writers prefer widely recognized classical music, like Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Other writers find it helpful to tune into more minimalist pieces, preferring recent artists like Philip Glass. These are contemplative styles that move slowly, offer repetition, and/or feature soft tones, making it easier to absorb the words on the page and form reflections on the assignment at hand. The effect is probably what many think of when they hear the term background music.

There are other types of background music, too, depending on what activity level the music is meant to background. For some students, listening to a subtle dance beat or even house mixes can help when it comes to banging out a first draft. The fast rhythms, punchy melodies, and repetitious refrains make for an almost aerobic writing experience. No matter what type of music is being listened to, if the writer is given a choice to listen to a preferred genre, that writer is likely to be more productive, according to one study conducted by researchers Donohoe and McNeely (1999).

The best advice for writers in all academic avenues is to try to find good mood music for writing as part of identifying an ideal study setting. Considering the powerful potential that the human brain has to increase activity based on hearing music, it certainly seems worth a try.

Music Listening

(c) 2015



Brown, S., Martinez, M., & Parsons, L. (2006). Music and language side by side in the brain: A PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 2791-2803. Retrieved from

Donohoe, R. & McNeely, T. (1999). The effect of music choice on writing productivity. Available from

Why Not Finally Answer “Why?”

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Tutor

In the world of higher education, much more than we would like to admit, excuses become commonplace for both student and professor alike. From an educator’s perspective, I need not dive into the laundry list of excuses we have received and will continue to for years to come. Likewise, from listening to students’ perspectives, particularly when frustrated with writing assignments, I find myself just as perplexed to hear these individuals openly wonder why they are learning a particular concept. Even more astonishing is their response: “The professor never really explained it.”

Now, before assuming, I tend to prod these students a bit more and, as we will all be happy to hear, these excuses turn into responses, and they all tend to be the same. Instead of pointing fingers at the professors, more often than not I am finding that students are pointing fingers at themselves and asking the age-old question that we still tap dance around: “Well how am I going to use this in everyday life?” Now more than ever students appear to seek skills that apply to many different facets of their lives, and sometimes those skills, though they are being taught incredibly well by our great faculty, may not be so apparent to students when they sit down at night and wonder just how much bang they receive for their buck.

I think we can harbor most of the blame in this respect, though. We sometimes forget that, along with becoming a student and an academic, these folks also become members of society, where their influence impacts those around them and helps shape our very being—without sounding too cheesy, of course. Being able to apply these learned skills to daily routine gives studens an additional reason to learn, or at the very least an increased desire to based on their own self-interest.

A simple example, though a very applicable and completely imagined one, comes in the form of a student who works for a corporation seeking a new manager; however, this managerial position requires a written exam due to the day-to-day correspondence via e-mail and, as you may well imagine, this hypothetical student of ours wants a raise—see, we are teaching them well! To better engage this student in the classroom, simply mentioning how professional discourse utilized in higher education can be applied elsewhere, especially for personal advancement and growth, may well make all the difference in the world. Seeing that their improvement in, say, the Composition One classroom may engage their thought process to apply this hard work to their current situations, meanwhile keeping the future in mind for post-graduation.

(c) 2015

(c) 2015

These connections may not click right away due to the massive amount of work being asked of them already. Frequently students question why they must learn citation—so give them a reason! Remember, it is not always about the practice itself. Aside from higher education, where will one cite in a particular format? The places are few and far between; however, the skill itself, particularly the researching, applies to a vast variety of careers. I recently tutored a student who posed this very question, and, as they were a student within the Criminal Justice field;  I found the perfect opportunity to make my grandmother proud and put all those countless hours of Law and Order to use. We all tend to forget about connecting the obvious dots, such as how skimming through vast amounts of never-ending resources in our library pairs harmoniously with, well, the aforementioned student’s future career choice where they may well have to interrogate witnesses, explore old case files, or even arduously search for the cause of the problem, yes, here on the wonderful Internet. It seems very basic—we all teach and practice these concepts with students daily, of course, so why are we not applying real-life applicability more to our educative practices? This inclusion will not eat up much instruction time; in fact, I would be comfortable betting that this will properly excite and engage the students far more than plopping the information down in front of them and expecting a regurgitation of facts. Not only that, but the students will see the fruits of their labor. Sure, we can speak until we are blue in the face about how wonderful life will be at the end of the Yellow Brick Road that is their collegiate career, but the road consists of many bricks before our students, and I personally think it should now be our responsibility to show them why each one is important to pave the way for their academic success.


Multitasking for Online College Students

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Tutor

Multitasking is often lauded as a way for busy professionals and students to accomplish multiple tasks in less time, but multitasking can often be detrimental, especially in online learning.   While there are opportunities for meaningful multitasking in online learning, it should be approached strategically with some important caveats in mind.

First, online synchronous meetings like seminars, regular course meetings, study dates, and tutorial sessions should be treated like face to face meetings, not as opportunities to multitask.   While students may be tempted to attend to other tasks or obligations while participating in online meetings, doing so most often results in students not being able to pay full attention to what is going on in the meeting.   For example, students sometimes drop in for our academic support centers’  live tutoring sessions while they are attending to their children.  This may be fine – as long as the children are napping or occupied – but can result in unproductive sessions if the children are loud, upset,  boisterous, or demanding the student’s attention.  This is one reason that, in most physical classrooms and academic support centers, students, faculty, and tutors bringing their children on campus is the exception and not the rule.

Similarly students studying online are often tempted by the knowledge that their favorite social media outlet, web site, or unanswered text message is just a tab or an arm’s length away.    This is referred to as media multitasking (Paul, 2013), and clearly, students who are accessing their course materials online may feel more temptation than students who are in a physical classroom, where their use of electronics may be monitored or even prohibited.

However, students should avoid the temptation to comment on that status or respond to that text.  According to psychologist Larry Rosen, tasks like e-mailing, updating or checking social media, or texting while learning and studying, while they seem quite simple, “draw on the same mental resources—using language, parsing meaning—demanded by schoolwork”  (as cited in Paul, 2013).   Other negative effects of media multitasking include more time spent on the schoolwork, brain fatigue from constantly switching from one task to another, impaired memory, decreased ability to transfer learning, and, possibly, a lower grade point average (Paul, 2013).

How can online students manage the temptations of multitasking?   First, they should ensure that their family members and friends realize that online learning is real learning.  Just because students access their courses and tutoring online, does not mean that they can also simultaneously take care of children, converse with others, or cook dinner.  Students can, however, leverage the easy accessibility of online learning to take full advantage of any down times in their schedules.   For example, they can access course materials, discussions, and texts while they are waiting for appointments or standing in line.   Secondly, Rosen (as cited in Barshay, 2011) recommends that one way students can maintain focus is to  schedule “tech breaks”, or allotted small blocks of time that they allow themselves to engage in social media, e-mailing, and texting.   These tech breaks, Rosen (as cited in Barshay, 2011) suggests, will help students quell the urges to check social media or messages while studying and stay engaged with the learning task at hand and can even be used as a reward of sorts for staying on task. Rosen (as cited in Barshay, 2011) also suggests other ways to refocus, including hiking, yoga, art, and music.  Spending quality time with family and friends is also an excellent way for students to reward themselves for a job well-done!

By understanding how and when to multitask, online learners can more effectively manage their time and work smarter not harder!  What are some of your top suggestions for successful multitasking?




Barshay, J. (2011).   How a “tech break” can help students refocus.  Retrieved from

Paul, A.M. (2013).  You’ll never learn!: Students can’t resist multitasking, and it’s impairing their memory.  Retrieved from

The Almost Right Word

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor


Photo © 2015

There is an old quotation from Mark Twain about word choice: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” When teaching my daughter the word “bubbles” recently, I learned that there are some situations in which that stark line between the right word and the almost right word is blurred, in a good way. I was blowing bubbles from a toy wand for her, and I said, “Look! Bubbles!” Then I looked her in the eye and said, “Can you say ‘bubbles’?” She looked at my mouth and then responded: “Bubba. Bubba!” I could see her realization that she could try to say it, and I could tell how proud she was of how she worked the syllables together. It was not the right word, but it was almost the right word. That almost was closer than she had ever been before when I asked her to repeat the word, so I was proud and congratulatory.

When we work with children, the learning process involves an understanding that a new skill is not going to be taught and demonstrated to a child with the child in turn performing that skill perfectly immediately afterward. In fact, if we look at the fact that many toddlers go from knowing zero words to learning one or two new words a day, we are impressed by the rate at which new knowledge is acquired. How can a parent or caregiver know that his or her child recognizes a word if the child cannot pronounce it perfectly? The teacher (whether parent, caregiver, or classroom instructor) works individually with the child, gets to know him or her, and recognizes attempts to demonstrate skills. By starting with recognition that the child did not know the skill before being taught, any forward progress can be acknowledged and celebrated as a “good job” (as I often say to my one year old).

When tutors work with adults, the expectation is that the learner comes in with a strong skill set, one that has led him or her to show an aptitude for further learning. Adult learners already know quite a bit about communication through writing, as many different types of careers use writing daily. The problem for many tutors (myself included) is, when I work with a student who has mastered one skill but has not mastered another, I look from a default position of expecting the student writer to have equal mastery among all skills in a set. In other words, if a student writer comes in and has mastered thesis statements, then I expect that same student to have mastered comma splices. As the old saying used to go in another tutoring center I used to work for, “If a student cannot even put a sentence together correctly, how can that student express complex ideas?” Questions like these not only disregard proven pedagogical research about Lower Order vs. Higher Order Concerns, but they also set the student up for failure.

I propose a fairer question. “What is the student working to do that he or she has not been able to do?” Start with that question right at the beginning of the tutoring session. What is the purpose of the tutoring session? Perhaps it is to establish a thesis statement. Maybe it is to find an accurate, credible source to support an idea. It might be to cite a certain kind of source properly in the reference list. Whatever the purpose, acknowledge that the student has the skills to make forward progress in learning that skill. If the student creates a citation that includes information in the correct order but it is not punctuated correctly, then that answer is not wrong. It is not right, either, but it is almost right.

Drafting Student Success: How Our Center Can Help Shape Great Habits

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Tutor

Photo © 2015

Photo © 2015

I think it is safe to say that we have all experienced extremely tight deadlines. Since being out of school, however, I rarely take a moment to remember those deadlines. You must remember them. They were the deadlines that caused near-caffeine overdoses and, admittedly, not-the-best-of foods to be consumed at the acclaimed “fourth meal” hour. These were deadlines that helped make you and anxiety the best of pals, possibly even friends for life with matching pendants. There were those tense, brain cramping moments when even the word “thing” feels like Shakespeare’s greatest masterpiece on the last line of the final 10-page research paper. Yes, those, wonderful, though certainly not missed, panic-filled nights due to a deadline in a collegiate setting.

However terrible I paint these monsters out to be, the necessity of rigid deadlines helps keep structure in the academic world. Not all structure need be so stressful, though, and with the plentiful amount of academic services readily available to students here at the university, we can certainly help students develop skills to plan more effectively through one of our popular sources.

The KUWC’s Paper Review service offers students a fantastic chance to get into the habit of planning well in advance. Just last week I tutored a student who seemed rather shocked to find out that we look at drafts of papers, regardless of the length, and not just the final product before submission. Many students seem to feel that a complete draft is the only option, which is for good reason due to the fact that they will receive feedback on the totality of the work. But that to me sounds like an excuse. Why not get students more involved with our Paper Review service during the drafting process? This makes the student far more accountable for allotting plenty of time for multiple drafts per assignment, and—two-birds-with-one-stone sort of deal—they will receive a massive amount of help throughout the process from our experienced tutors on multiple steps and/or stages of the writing process. Not only that, but this could be a very valuable teaching moment for any and all teachers to suggest that this practice of drafting and allotting time needs to be implemented elsewhere in the student’s studies.

Why plan ahead solely for writing? Studying for a test, much like writing a paper, can be very easily managed in incremental portions—and that’s just the most obvious example from the seemingly endless list of student activities. Challenge your students to utilize the supporting services for multiple purposes, certainly to help them academically in that respective field, but also to develop into better academics—and that can simply start by utilizing the process of drafting.