ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER SUPPORT AND THE MAKING OF AN INCLUSIVE WRITING CENTER


Chrissine Cairns, MA, Writing Center Tutor

The Kaplan University Writing Center is a dynamic and inclusive tutoring center staffed by experts in college writing, online writing instruction, and the delivery of personalized and multimodal tutoring services, webinars, and resources for adult students online.  Housed in the Academic Support Center on KU Campus, the Writing Center is accessible to every student taking courses at KU, undergraduate and graduate.  In 2014, the Writing Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, and today the Writing Center continues its mission as a free, academic support service for KU’s diverse online students writing across the curriculum and the globe.

When the Writing Center first opened, it established itself with a website, a Q&A chat, and a paper review service.  At that time, students and tutors communicated only in writing and with printable resources.  Then in 2008, equipped with its first full-time director and staff of professional writing tutors, the center had the potential to experiment with new educational technologies, audio and video tools, and reach more students with more personalized support.

I was one of those original tutors and the founder of the English Language Learner Tutoring and Outreach Program, one of two innovative Writing Center programs developed for students struggling with the basics of writing and standard English in the text-based online learning environment.  Together, the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program and the Writing Fundamentals Program introduced the following specialized services and resources to the Writing Center’s traditional offerings:

  • Email outreach with a video welcome to the Writing Center,
  • One-on-one tutoring in an audio-enabled, Adobe Connect tutoring room,
  • Interactive writing workshops on college writing, grammar, and plagiarism prevention,
  • Video and written feedback on paper reviews with a 24-hour turnaround time,
  • Video tutorials on college writing and grammar topics, and
  • Faculty resources and referral initiatives.

Nine years later, these services and resources are the cornerstones of Writing Center support with improved access for ELL and Writing Fundamentals students and expanded access to all students.

In 2016, self-referral web forms were added to the Writing Center’s ELL and Writing Fundamentals webpages that connect students with a tutor and personalized video feedback within 24 hours if not immediately.  Time is one thing busy, adult students online do not have to spare, and the chance to help any one student may happen only once and in an instant, so ELL and Writing Fundamentals students no longer have to be referred by an instructor to receive video feedback.  ELL students had the additional obstacle of first having to self-identity as ELL to an instructor to be referred.  Today, every student who submits a paper for review receives personalized video feedback.

Today, not one or two but all 13 Writing Center tutors are trained and experienced to tutor ELL and Writing Fundamentals.  ELL and Writing Fundamentals students do not have to wait for an appointed time to work with one or two specialized tutors.  Over the past several years, all tutoring services, outreach, and resources in the Writing Center have been recreated to be inclusive and more accessible.  They are designed with the experience and expectation that students arrive to the center at various points in their degree or career path and bring with them unique educational backgrounds and diverse cultural and linguistic histories.

Today, with streamlined outreach that connects ELL and Fundamentals students with tutors more quickly and the innovative integration of the original specialty services with the center’s traditionally offerings, the Writing Center has bridged gaps on many students’ paths to learning success.  With all-student access to more tutors, more live tutoring hours, over 500 media-rich writing guides and archived webinars, and new study skills videos, the Writing Center is entering its next phase of growth as a far-reaching, versatile, and inclusive tutoring hub that provides substantive and personalized academic support to all students with the motto, “Every encounter matters.”  Visit the Writing Center by logging into KU Campus, or check out the Writing Center’s public-facing website at http://library.kaplan.edu/kuwc today.

KUWC Resource Spotlight: 3 NEW Effective Writing Podcasts


This time last year, this is what we were posting, three new Effective Writing Podcasts.

APA Reference Page Checklist

Argument and the Toulmin Model of Argument

Using Signal Phrases and Interacting with Texts

Kaplan University

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center, Tutor

Until this week, Kaplan Composition students have had exclusive access to three new Effective Writing Podcasts from podcaster Kurtis Clements who offers some of the best writing advice around for students who need a deeper understanding of important concepts and processes quickly.   Kurtis was a writing tutor in the KUWC when he began producing the extremely popular Effective Writing Podcast Series in 2011.  However, when he became the Assistant Chair of Composition at the start of 2012, the series seemed concluded at episode 36.  Happily, this is not so!

Kurtis produced three podcasts specifically for Composition that he recently offered to the Writing Center for publication with the original series, and they are excellent!  (Thank you, Kurtis!)  I had the honor of branding the transcripts and publishing them on the Writing Center’s server, so all students could access them internally in KU Campus

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Searching for Reading Material: A Little Murder, a Little Mystery


Dr. Tamara Fudge

Kaplan University Professor, Business and Information Technology

 

It’s pretty easy to go to a bookstore at the local mall or search online and find all sorts of reading material by famous authors. It is not possible to have read all the classics, so you should be able to find something that seems familiar – something that makes you think now, why haven’t I read this yet?

But this blog entry is not about the famous Charles Dickenses, the George Orwells, or the Maya Angelous. It’s about finding works by new authors. Fresh pickings!  The following items were written by authors I know personally.  All of these authors are still alive – but not all of the characters in their books stay that way!

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L. Phillips Carlson

First, a prized butterfly collection is stolen. Then what looks like a car accident might actually have been murder. On the surface, these events don’t seem to be related, but a private investigator who is trying to restart his sagging career starts to find some odd connections. Throw in some ghostly possession and it gets even more complicated – and personal. Just when you think you know what will happen next, there is a new twist!  This book won the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Fiction in the Science Fiction-Fantasy category.

Linnea Hall

Think just for a minute about this tagline: “When Collin Sykes dies in an automobile accident, his life changes forever.”  An emergency room nurse, time-travel back to the Knights Templar, a kidnapping, and the plan for a heroic rescue – plus some science! – all set up a lot of great action. While it may have been meant for the young reader, this book is definitely also fun for adult reading. The characters make you want to care about them, and you won’t want to put the book down until the last word.

Leslie Langtry

This is the first book of four in Langtry’s “Merry Wrath Mysteries” series. The protagonist is an ex-CIA operative turned Girl Scout co-leader (really!). Despite ineptitude at “normal living,” Merry tries to fit in as a regular civilian but keeps getting pulled back into the world of espionage and, well, really weird situations.  Skillful sarcasm, some well-placed dead bodies, secrets, and plot twists in each book will make you want to read the full series and beg for more.  I have already begged and found #5 is coming in the spring!

Another excellent reason to read these books is that you help inspire living authors to continue their craft, and that in turn enriches the world of literature. Have fun and unwind with these murderous and mysterious novels!

 

Connections, Camaraderie, Collaboration in Colorado: Takeaways from the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference


Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutors

Writing Center tutors Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, along with Academic Support Center manager Melody Pickle, recently attended and presented at the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference that was held October 13-17 in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado.  Chrissine and Amy presented a panel session titled Video Feedback for Effective Online Writing Instruction, where we discussed our long-term use of video feedback for asynchronous paper reviews.  Melody presented Online Motion: Using Forms for Dynamic Asynchronous Services, which overviewed the ways that our writing center uses forms to provide students easy access to our services and to track the ways that students use these services.  The three of us presented Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity together. In this presentation, we talked about our recent collaboration across the Academic Support Center to create a series of video tutorials designed to support the whole student by focusing on key skills like time management and reading comprehension.  Our participation in this conference, as well as our time together, allowed us to bring numerous takeaways, including increased connections, a stronger sense of camaraderie, a renewed commitment to continued collaborations, and treasured memories of the mile high city back to our virtual home offices.   

Connections

IWCA is an organization devoted to supporting the work of writing centers across the globe, and its annual conference is a great time to come together with folks who share the same goals and engage in the similar tasks of helping college writers improve within the setting of writing centers.  At the conference, we not only shared our work in an online writing center with others, but we also attended others’ presentations and networked.  We talked with people doing writing center work across the country and world, and we discovered that we share the same concerns, struggles, and triumphs.  We discussed creative ideas and strategies for working with student writers.  We connected with other professionals, including APA Style Expert, Chelsea Lee who writes for  The APA Style Blog, a resource very familiar to all of us as we often consult the blog and refer students to it.  We even modeled free tee shirts that representatives from APA Style Central generously provided.  

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Figure 1. Left to right, Amy, Melody, and Chrissine

Camaraderie

Like other employees in our Academic Support Center and throughout Kaplan University, we work from remote locations.  While we talk, meet, collaborate and communicate daily, we rarely see each other face to face.  We do not have the pleasure of chatting at the office water cooler, sharing dishes and snacks at potluck lunches, or attending festive holiday parties together.  In fact, this conference marked the first time that tutors Amy and Chrissine met in person!  Attending and presenting at the conference gave us an opportunity to spend time together and get to know each other a little better.  We shared meals, stories, laughs, and generally learned more about each other and our lives.  As a group of virtual employees, the chance to connect with each other in this way was priceless.    

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Figure 2. Amy and Chrissine are all smiles after a successful presentation.

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Figure 3. Amy and Melody pose before enjoying a delicious dinner at Denver ChopHouse & Brewery

Collaboration

A major theme of our Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity presentation was collaboration.  We presented on a resource development project in which the Writing Center collaborated with faculty and with Specialists from the Math, Science, Business, and Technology Centers.  Together, we produced a new video series for the Academic Support Center.  The project united each of the centers through a stronger collaborative relationship while the resources themselves unite students from across the disciplines with inclusive, study skills support.  As Amy and Chrissine described the key considerations for this collaborative video development project, attendees were surprised that Amy and Chrissine had never met in person before this conference.  But as longtime virtual employees, we have mastered the communication skills and technology needed to develop a strong collaborative and interpersonal relationship online, so for us, the real benefit of meeting face to face was not in seeing each other (although that was a treat!) but in being able to share our work with tutors and administrators from on-ground writing centers.  In fact, some attendees expressed their struggles convincing the leadership at their schools of the merits of online tutoring.  We hope to have served as good examples of what can be accomplished online, for we certainly walked away with a renewed sense of importance of our collaborations and how they contribute to the advancement of writing center pedagogy.   

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Figure 4. For this online crew, a strong collaborative relationship began long before meeting face-to-face.

City Scenes

When we were not busy presenting or attending other presentations, we enjoyed exploring the city.  The mile high city offers a wide variety of sights to see and places to visit.  From the Denver Pavilion to the Millennium Bridge to the majestic Rocky Mountains to historic restaurants and train stations,  Denver was a delight to explore.  

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Figure 5. Lunch at Denver Pavilions

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Figure 6. After dinner at the Denver ChopHouse in the historic Union Pacific building

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Figure 7. Denver Millennium Bridge

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Figure 8. Denver Union Station

(c) Chrissine Rios

Figure 9. Mountain view from the conference hotel

The IWCA Conference supplied us with valuable takeaways and connections that will inform and inspire our work ahead.  The conversations we had with tutors and administrators from writing centers at community colleges and universities big and small as well as with other online writing centers and related organizations like APA ignited a real sense of unity and purpose that is easy to lose sight of when we tutor one student at a time in our individual and unique centers.  It is that sense of unity and purpose that will propel us forward as we continue to collaborate, connect, and engage in the important work of supporting student writers.

Harnessing the Power of Mindset


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutor

Flash back to April 4, 2016:  It is the championship game of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball tournament, and North Carolina and Villanova are tied at 74.  It’s Villanova’s ball, and with only 4.7 seconds left in the game, it is almost certain the two teams will go into overtime play. Then Villanova player Kris Jenkins throws up a three-point shot from just past the center line of the court, a shot that was so far away that it seemed very likely that it would not even reach the goal.  Miraculously, the shot lands in the basket with barely a nanosecond to spare, and Villanova joyously becomes the 2016 NCAA National Champions.

After the game, a reporter interviews Jenkins and asks him if he could believe that he had made the shot (Murray, 2016).  Jenkins responds, “I believe every shot’s going in, so” (Murray, 2016).  The reporter interrupts with a credulous follow-up, “Every one?” “Every one,” continues Jenkins, “so I thought that one was going in too” (Murray, 2016,)   I watched the game-winning shot and the post-interview live, and I was impressed by Jenkins’ mindset.  In fact, his declarations reflect a mindset that all college students, not just college athletes, ought to have.

Mindset is defined as  the “ability of the brain to form points of view in order to adopt behavior, formulate lifestyles, rethink priorities, make choices, and pursue goals” (Poplan, 2016).  As a tutor, I often hear students approach their studies with a mindset that inhibits learning and undermines their efforts.  They say things like “I’m a bad writer.”, “I’ve always been horrible at math.”, or ask “How horrible is this paper?”.    While they may have experiences that make these feelings seem valid, and some subjects may come more easily to them than others, approaching any learning task with a mindset of “I can do this.” will generally lead to improved learning and success.

As a personal example, math and science are subjects that I generally find difficult to understand.  I especially struggle with comprehending topics like algebra, chemistry, and physics, and I worked very hard in high school and college to earn reasonably good grades in the math and science courses that I was required to take.  One summer when I was in college, I worked as an in-home tutor, and one of my students was in high school and needed a jump-start for her upcoming algebra class.  “How can I possibly tutor algebra when I barely understood it myself?,” I wondered.  Regardless, my job was to tutor my assigned students in all subjects, so I borrowed a high school algebra text from a friend and began working through the problems with the mindset that I could learn the material and help my student learn it, too.  Before each of our sessions, I worked out problems in the text, and then I taught her what I had learned.  Together, we learned a lot of algebra that summer.

This experience taught me that I could do things that I did not think I was capable of doing. It was my first time realizing the power of mindset, and it served me well a few years later when I  had to complete tough graduate courses like research methods and statistics in order to earn my master’s degree.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do that.”; think instead, “Okay, I can do this. This shot will go in!”  Whether it is a difficult course, a tough assignment, or a challenging exam, a positive mindset can help you power through and realize success.  Granted, you may not win a championship basketball game or be drafted into the NBA, but a positive, can-do attitude and mindset can definitely help improve your GPA!

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References

Murray, S. (2016, April 4).  Kris Jenkins- Villanova national championship post game interview [Video file].  Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8DcKfEtQjk

Poplan, E.  (2016).  Mindset.   Salem Press Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from http://www.salempress.com/

 

 

 

 

Prepping Students for the Holidays


Dr. Tamara Fudge

Professor, Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University

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The holidays are here, and it is time to prepare your students.  Along with the turkey, holiday gifts, champagne, awkward chat with the in-laws, and (in some places) shovels full of snow, comes the fear that students will somehow forget that they are students, especially those who are in terms that are hit by Thanksgiving, the Winter Break, and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

During certain holiday times, there may be no live seminars, offices may be closed, and some discussion posting requirements might even be altered. Make sure you ask your department chair for specific guidelines about your responsibilities during university breaks or holidays.

Once you have a handle on things, communicate with your students. At the beginning of the term, explain course requirements that are altered due to the official school schedule. Consider providing a calendar (Kaplan University instructors can upload calendars to Doc Sharing), telling students in seminars, and/or writing an announcement focused precisely on what students need to know about the altered schedule. In the week prior to any break, remind them via announcement, email, and/or statements during seminar.

While you may already be doing these things, you may also want to think about this:   We can do more to do to keep students engaged during scheduled breaks – and to encourage their return.  Below are a few suggestions:

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  • Share some fun videos or slide shows related to your course content during breaks. YouTube, SlideShare, The Internet Archive, and other sites have a bevy of options.
  • Include the hyperlinks to these videos in announcements. As a legal consideration, only provide the hyperlinks – do not try to embed the actual videos or slide shows unless you actually are the author.
  • Make it clear in each announcement that these are for their viewing pleasure, related to course content, and not required.
  • You can preset these announcements to show up on future dates during the break(s).
  • Try to choose videos or slide shows that either have captioning or are without audio to ensure accessibility.
  • View the entire show first, just in case there is misinformation or some other nasty surprise waiting for the viewer. Check to see if the comments on the page are appropriate, too.

Create a scavenger hunt.   Use your course’s email or other Virtual Office functions to ask some questions related to the classroom or course content. Students can reply to the email or posts with their answers.

  • Post three questions, but on separate days during the break.
  • Whoever is first with correct answers for all three questions will be given kudos in seminar, or if you really want to get fancy, make a cute certificate in PowerPoint and send it to the winner via email.
  • Tell the students well before break that you will be doing this activity and that it is not required but should be fun.

Email a greeting to the class that acknowledges holiday celebration.

  • Include an image and keep it brief.
  • Keep Winter Break messages rather generic to avoid proselytizing any particular religion or belief.
  • Blind Copy (BCC) when you email the entire class, or you risk a plethora of unwanted reply-alls. It is also prudent to protect students’ personal addresses by not sharing them widely.

While the video/slide show announcements and scavenger hunt might not work for everyone, they show the students that you are still engaged with them during the break, and knowing about it ahead of time might entice some students to regularly check the classroom. The email greeting can be done with any course and shows students that you acknowledge the break and appreciate them.

And so as we approach the busy holiday season, think of other ways to stay connected to your students as you help prepare them for the holidays!

 

Growing Leadership Muscles Through Feedback: Showing Students Where They’re Going


Dr. Shaneika A. Dilka, PhD

Psychology Professor, Kaplan University

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Feedback is one of the most vital elements in the learning process. Faculty, instructors, mentors, tutors, etc., serve critical leadership roles in academic institutions and as such, should work to grow their leadership muscles by providing quality feedback to students. Following a recent discussion on using the principles of transformational leadership to improve classroom interactions and outcomes, I was challenged to think about the topic more narrowly and to consider sharing specific details and methods related to linking transformational leadership style to the art and practice of academic instruction. This was perceived as a challenge, perhaps, because both leadership and instructional styles are highly personal and uniquely developed professional skills. Also, the idea of linking transformational leadership and instructional methods did not seem unconventional. After all, Slavich and Zimbardo (2012) suggested that most instructors already display behaviors related to transformational leadership in their classrooms every day. In fact, if we reframe the discussion and evaluate what we do in the classroom, in our instruction, we see that we grow or flex our leadership muscles every day! In the online classroom, one of the most powerful tools at our hands is feedback, and as leaders and instructors, delivering effective feedback can have major implications for our students.

Consider the purpose of feedback; at its most basic level, feedback is intended to give students information about their performance. Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that three questions should be asked during the feedback process by both students and instructors, “Where am I going? How am I going? and Where to next?” (p. 88). Through leadership, facilitation, and well-crafted feedback we can continually consider where our students are going and guide them to ask the question, where am I going?, as they develop their work as well. Faculty members can set high standards and provide challenging opportunities (inspirational motivation; see Bass, 1985) through goal identification. Providing students with feedback that is clear and identifies challenging goals that are focused on the primary task will guide the student to answering the question, where am I going?. Feedback structured in such a way generally results in goal-directed behaviors, discrepancy reduction, and increased commitment to the identified goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

How can we show students where they are going? This is often a difficult question because the answer requires an incredibly personalized approach for each student, another dimension of transformational leadership (individualized consideration; see Bass, 1985) that is ever-present in the classroom. To show students where they are going, my intent is always to guide, never to tell. I reinforce existing goals that have been identified, or set new goals when appropriate. In feedback, answers, corrections, and errors are generally not identified individually; rather, resources are provided (i.e. relating to theory, formatting, etc.) to students and they are encouraged to engage in problem solving strategies to further enhance their work (intellectual stimulation; see Bass, 1985). This approach is challenging, self-directed, and increases learners’ autonomy. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an example of the appropriate method or approach the student should follow; when such cases arise, an example is provided along with additional resources. My primary purpose using this feedback approach is to raise the students’ awareness in order to make them more active in the feedback process, asking, where am I going? Students learn to identify their paths, apply scholarly judgment, and develop invaluable research skills. And as faculty, we are able to flex and grow our leadership muscles, providing our students with the feedback they need  to determine where they are going.

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References

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112, doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2012). Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods. Educational Psychology Review, 24(4), 569-608. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10648-012-9199-6