6 Ultimate Resources on APA and Avoiding Plagiarism

by Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Man at computer with apple. (c) Clipart.com

(c) Clipart.com


Students frequently ask writing tutors for help with APA citations and formatting as well as how to avoid and understand plagiarism. Instructors, as well, contact the Writing Center for help with educating students about APA and plagiarism prevention. In response, and in addition to one-on-one tutoring and student and faculty workshops, the KU online Writing Center has been creating and curating resources on these essential topics since our opening in 2004.

The following up-to-date, easy-to-use resources provide the most current, APA 6th edition guidelines, address the most frequently asked questions by students and faculty, and are available to you for free. A colleague in the KUWC produced the video for students on understanding Turnitin, but each of the others, I’ve had a hand in developing and editing, and as the point-of-contact for resources at the KUWC, I greatly welcome your questions, suggestions, and feedback in the comments. Thanks!

Each link should open in a new browser window. Bookmark or save them to your “favorites” for quick access and future reference. Happy teaching, learning, and writing!

Basic Citation Guidelines

Last updated in July, 2015, this comprehensive introduction to citation defines plagiarism and self-plagiarism, explains why, when, and how to cite, and describes how to quote, paraphrase, summarize, and properly synthesize source material in a paper using each of these methods.

The resource has a table of signal phrase verbs, an example of block quote format, and details on how to cite images and electronic sources. Also included are discussions of fair use, public domain, and common knowledge. It’s a must-read for any student learning research-based writing and any instructor teaching it. Access it here: http://bit.ly/citation-guidelines

Common Citations in APA (6th Edition) Format

Last updated in August, 2015, this extensive resource provides the large and small formatting details of in-text and reference list citations from the common author-date structures to the lesser-known capitalization standards. Please, do not use a citation generator when you can see exactly how to accurately format over a dozen of the most common sources right here.

For each type of source, you’ll find examples of the signal phrase and parenthetical citation methods for quotes and paraphrases. Also listed for each source type are the corresponding reference citations taking into account source variations (with a doi and without, with an individual author or sponsoring organization, . . . ), multiple authors, and missing information.

The resource also links to video demonstrations on making a title page and reference list, and at the end of the document you’ll find a sample title page, body page, and reference list.

Every student writing an APA style paper should have this resource handy, and every instructor teaching APA ought to keep this one close as well. The Table of Contents makes navigating the resource easy, and being a pdf, it’s also searchable. When we update this one, we keep the link the same, so bookmarking is better than downloading. Access it here: http://bit.ly/APA-citations


APA workshops are extremely popular at the Writing Center, and we probably have a hundred archived. First presented in February of 2015 and given multiple times since, this one is a new favorite among tutors and students because it makes a clear connection between plagiarism and common citation issues.

The workshop’s five tips cover the most important concepts of citation in regard to plagiarism prevention including paraphrasing effectively, cross-referencing, matching in-text and reference list citations, and using the 80/20 principle, which helps students understand the importance of their own voice and how source information needs to be synthesized within a larger, original discussion about a topic. Access the workshop archive here: http://bit.ly/5-tips-for-avoiding-plagiarism


Last revised in November, 2014 and newly published as a self-paced video in August, 2015 just for you reading this blog, this resource was a collaboration between the Writing Center and the KU Provost Office. It is a comprehensive (and long but highly relevant) training resource for faculty that covers everything an instructor needs to know about plagiarism:

  • the policies and penalties for plagiarism,
  • how to identify common forms,
  • how to add an assignment to Turnitin and analyze a Turnitin report,
  • how to report plagiarism, and
  • how to turn unintentional plagiarism into teaching moments.

What is especially wonderful about this resource is the emphasis on educating students about plagiarism (not scaring them with warnings and penalties). The guide even provides helpful examples of how to respond to students who have plagiarized. The November 2014 updates reflect Kaplan’s updated Academic Integrity Policy and revised definitions of plagiarism and self-plagiarism, so if you haven’t had plagiarism training at Kaplan in over a year, then you will definitely want to review this one. Access the self-paced presentation here: http://khe2.adobeconnect.com/faculty-guide-plagiarism/. You can also download this as a pdf.


Last revised in November, 2014 and newly published as a self-paced presentation in August, 2015, this paraphrasing practice activity is one of the many helpful links in the “Faculty Guide for Plagiarism” linked above. Have your students practice paraphrasing using this presentation during seminar or as a discussion board activity. Access the video tutorial here: http://khe2.adobeconnect.com/p27h2w3mkih/. You can also download this as a pdf.


New in May, 2015, this 5 minute 50 second video introduces students to Turnitin. Instructors rely on Turnitin to help identify and assess source use (and plagiarism). Turnitin is a great learning tool for students too, but not if they haven’t been taught how to read a Turnitin report. In this tutorial for students, KUWC tutor, Molly, clearly explains how to read and understand a Turnitin report.

If you use Turnitin in your courses, especially if you share the reports with your students, this video would be a great help to your students. It will answer their most immediate questions and help them learn as intended from their Turnitin reports. Access the video here: http://bit.ly/turnitin-for-students


If your questions about APA guidelines fall outside the information provided, I suggest you do what we in the Writing Center do: First, if you have the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition), look it up there. Next, check the APA Style Blog. If you still have questions, your friendly KUWC tutors are available to assist any and all Kaplan University students and faculty!

Meet Some Kaplan University Writing Center Tutors

Compiled by Lisa Gerardy, MA, Writing Center Specialist


The Kaplan University Academic Support Center blog will be featuring periodic tutor introductions.  We hope this will give our readers a glimpse into the team work that goes in to supporting students’ tutoring needs.  This week, we will meet some Writing Center tutors.

The Kaplan University Writing Center was created in 2004  by then Chair of Composition Dr. Kara Vandam.  Dr. Vandam and some full-time Composition faculty members created a reference library that could be accessed by all Kaplan students. Over time, live tutoring sessions and paper reviews were added to the Writing Center’s services.  Over the past eleven years, the center has grown due to the hard work of the tutors who strive to meet Kaplan students’ academic needs.   Today, you get to meet a few of them.




Molly Starkweather

How long have you been tutoring?

Twelve years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

The most important aspect of tutoring is establishing a meaningful academic relationship with the exceptionally dedicated and hard-working students we serve here at Kaplan University. By creating a safe space for interpreting assignment instructions, decoding APA guidelines, and sharing challenges and successes in the writing process, I strive to work with students in such a hospitable and compassionate way that we do not realize until the end of our time together  just how much work we have done.




 Sam Zahran

How long have you been tutoring?

Eight years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I tutor to help Kaplan students to succeed and to excel. Sometimes all it takes is for students to talk to someone with a different point of view or a different perspective,  in order for them to understand an assignment for themselves. I try to be that someone. :)




Angie Roberts

How long have you been tutoring?

One year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy using my skills to help students learn to write to the best of their ability. I also enjoy the one on one interaction. The students have been so friendly and grateful for the help :)




Jay Busse

How long have you been tutoring?

One year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

My favorite part of tutoring at Kaplan University is taking the stress out of compositions and unraveling the APA mystery. My goal is to have students leave thinking, “Oh APA? No problem.”




 Robley Hood

How long have you been tutoring?

Six years at Kaplan and 30 years total

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

In Live Tutoring, when a student using his or her microphone suddenly exclaims “Oh!” or “I get it!” or laughs, I know we’ve made a connection, and I’ve helped that person grow in thinking about writing. Then I truly know that the writer will be able to grow the writing as well.




Amy Sexton

How long have you been tutoring?

Five years at Kaplan and 18 years total

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

My favorite aspect of tutoring is the conversations I get to have about writing and learning with students. I also enjoy getting to read a lot of papers on a variety of topics I would likely not read about if I were not a writing tutor. I also love experiencing those light bulb moments with students!




Chrissine Rios

How long have you been tutoring?

21 years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

My favorite things about tutoring change as I develop new skills and gain new experiences and responsibilities, but the reasons I tutor are rooted deep within me: Tutoring engages me with two things I love: learning and writing. Teaching did as well; teachers, like tutors, are lifelong learners, but the relationships and collaborations forged through tutoring have been especially meaningful and important to me. They’ve not only helped me develop my craft, advance my career, and grow as a person, but they’ve also let me share what I know, give back, and empower other learners and writers with the information, encouragement, and skills they need to achieve their goals. It’s a service, tutoring, and an honor.




 Kyle Harley

How long have you been tutoring?

Nine Years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

Tutoring, for me, has always been about the one-on-one experience I get to share with students. Sometimes in larger settings, such as a classroom, students find that their questions become secondary to the tasks at hand, so simply finding a place where they can express their concerns with a professional makes all the difference in the world. To this day I view tutoring as a way to offer students a safe space to better their understanding on any issue they bring through our doors. So, then, my justification for tutoring is simple: I enjoy seeing students succeed, even if it is one at a time.




Terry McLean

How long have you been tutoring?

Five Years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

Students are the best part of tutoring.  I meet a lot of people who are working toward a specific goal; I am honored to walk a part of their learning journey with them as they work on their academic writing skills..


The Three-Ingredient Thesis Statement

Molly Wright Starkweather, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

When teaching thesis statements, the standard advice from teaching guides varies depending on the expertise of the student and the content area and level of study of the course. In the Kaplan Guide to Successful Writing, a thesis statement is considered effective if it sticks to one idea, focuses on a reasonably sized aspect of that idea, takes a clear position on the subject, and uses solid support. These are quality goals for students, but how does a student get in the right frame of mind to begin writing a thesis statement after having conducted all the research? A first term student will likely consider the main points to be included and build a thesis statement from there, which works fairly well in shorter assignments, but it can become an unwieldy proposition when it comes to more complex compositions.

Graduate students might not be expected to write the same sort of thesis statement as first year composition students, but they can benefit from considering a focused central argument in a sentence or two for the sake of those reading their papers. One of the reasons it is important to distinguish the type of central argument graduate students will make in their writing is because it might be easy to confuse a thesis statement with a graduate thesis, which is a specific type of original research report described in our Graduate Thesis resource.

A formula I have developed for thesis statements takes into consideration the notion that a thesis statement is often designed to address a situation in a field of study, typically solving a specific problem by offering a specific solution. The first ingredient in an effective thesis statement, then, is to mention the problem briefly. A template for mentioning the problem might look like one of the phrases below.

Considering the challenge of _________

When addressing the situation of __________

Professionals who face the scenario of __________

Here is how one thesis might begin.

Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights

Next, it is always good communication to have a solution in mind when mentioning a problem. Make sure to mention the specific solution for the specific problem being addressed, and consider one of the phrases below as a template for introducing the solution.

… an effective approach might be _________

… one good solution is _________

… the best response is to _________

Now, the effective thesis started earlier might go on to look like this. Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights, the most effective solution is to have the infant ride in a rear-facing car seat secured to the infant’s own airplane seat.

Finally, effective thesis statements can offer the reader a sense of what to expect in the body paragraphs of the paper. One way to incorporate the main points from the body paragraphs is to consider why the solution being offered in the thesis statement is effective or perhaps even the best solution. Adding “because” after naming the solution in the thesis can pave the way for establishing the main points right there within the same sentence. Here is an example of how all three ingredients—mentioning the challenge at hand, the solution, and the main points supporting the solution—can make for an effective thesis statement.

Considering the challenge of protecting infants on flights, the most effective solution is for the infant to be rear-facing in a car seat, because this solution addresses an infant’s physical development, the latest safety guidelines from experts on child travel safety, and the need for parents to protect themselves in a crash.

This is only one model for an effective thesis statement, so I encourage those reading this blog entry to consider other models for thesis statements as well. No matter what, make sure to phrase the central argument or main point or thesis statement based on the assignment instructions and any other supporting material (like a rubric) provided by the professor.


How to Give Criticism – Positively

Linnea Hall, MSBA, JD. Professor, Kaplan University School of Business and IT


People generally think of criticism in negative terms.  After all, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines criticism as “the act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a person or thing”  (“Criticism”, n.d.).   So how can we not take that negatively? Yet, as professors, we must constantly critique (criticize) student work to encourage improvement.

In order to understand the best way to criticize student work (and let’s face it, sometimes we aren’t just critiquing, we are criticizing) we must understand the different types of criticism.  In the psychology field, there are two general types of criticism: constructive and destructive (Peterson, 2010).

Destructive vs. Constructive Criticism

Scholar woman


First, let’s look at destructive criticism.  The main purpose of destructive criticism is to tear someone down.  It is meant to demoralize and make someone feel inferior.  It may even be based in personal negative feelings towards the person to whom the criticism is being offered (Raver,  Jensen,  Lee,  & O’Reilly,  2012).   According to Raver, et al.  (2012), those who receive destructive feedback are more likely to be angry at the individual giving feedback and are more likely to blame the feedback giver for any failures on the part of the recipient.

On the other hand, constructive criticism should encourage the recipient to improve by giving helpful suggestions. Constructive criticism should also include a promise of additional support (Bernat, 2008; Petress, 2000). The tone should be professional with a goal toward helping the student to understand how to improve upon future assignments (Petress, 2000).   Most importantly, constructive criticism should be “encouraging, affirming, and supportive for the purpose of building confidence” (Petrass, 2000,  para. 3).

So how do we know whether we are offering constructive criticism or    destructive criticism?  Let’s look at two examples of instructor comments on a student paper:

Destructive criticism

Bob, while I appreciate your efforts, it’s really clear that you did not put much effort into this paper.  You have only one source, your information is minimal, and you have demonstrated no independent understanding of the subject matter.  If you want to pass this class, you are going to need to spend a lot more time researching and put forth significantly more effort on your content.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Constructive criticism

Bob, your paper has some good content but could use improvement.  For instance, the statement regarding the increased susceptibility of intellectual property to theft as a result of digitization is very good.  However, some additional information would demonstrate your understanding of the topic.  For instance, in the article you referenced it explained that while analog copies are degraded copies of the original, digital copies are exact replicas.  The article also discussed the methods of distribution and how they have changed with digitization.  This information would have helped to further explain the issues related to this topic. Additionally, using multiple sources can help to provide multiple viewpoints which leads to a more robust understanding on your part.  I would recommend on your next assignment that you begin with an outline.  Find two or three articles on each topic area and then identify at least two ideas in each article that you can discuss.  The Writing Center can help you to understand outlining, and then you can email me your outline before you start your paper so I can offer suggestions for improvement.

Final Thoughts

The first example is passive-aggressive.  There is an attempt to provide guidance in a positive manner, but it is very negative in its tone and offers no specific areas of improvement.  On the other hand, the second one identified where the student’s efforts were correct, encouraging the continuation of this behavior, and then it offered specific examples for improvement, and finally guidance and support for improvement.  This type of criticism is constructive; it is  encouraging and helpful and should be the goal of all instructors.


Bernat, P. (2008). Career center. Finding the “constructive” in criticism. Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology,42(2), 111-113.

Criticism. (n.d.).  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/criticism

Peterson, K. M., & Smith, D. A. (2010). To what does perceived criticism refer? Constructive, destructive, and general criticism. Journal Of Family Psychology24(1), 97-100. doi:10.1037/a0017950

Petress, D. K. (2000). Constructive criticism:  A tool for improvement. College Student Journal34(3), 475.

Raver, J. L., Jensen, J. M., Lee, J., & O’Reilly, J. (2012). Destructive criticism revisited: Appraisals, task outcomes, and the moderating role of competitiveness. Applied Psychology: An International Review61(2), 177-203. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2011.00462.x

Tutoring Shaped for Online Student Success

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Benefits of Tutoring

The role of tutoring in student success has received renewed attention in higher education in recent years as more colleges and universities offer academic programs online and discover what established online schools such as Kaplan have known for more than a decade: Online support services are integral to a quality education and critical to student success.

Research I’ve conducted on student achievement shows that student services such as tutoring, library, and counseling are proven to “enhance enrollment, decrease attrition, . . . ease students’ adjustment to college, assist in their intellectual and personal growth, and contribute to their academic success” (Dirr as cited in LaPadula, 2003, p. 119). Student satisfaction at online schools has also been correlated to whether or not the students have access to online support services beyond admissions and financial aid.

Since tutoring is known to improve retention of at-risk populations such as developmental learners (Fowler & Boylan, 2010) and non-traditional learners (Goncalves & Trunk, 2014), it just makes sense to offer online tutoring at any school that offers online programs and degrees. Students who choose to study online do so for specific reasons, usually the same reasons that would inhibit them from driving to a campus tutoring center for help with a question.

My KUWC colleagues Molly Starkweather, Kyle Harley, and Amy Sexton and I presented on the role of tutoring in student success at the 2015 General Education Virtual Conference at Kaplan University in June. We shared our research on the benefits of tutoring and showed how online tutors help in ways that might surprise those whose familiarity with academic support comes from their experience with student support services on ground campuses.

An especially important benefit and role of online tutoring is social connection. Even the most competent and high achieving students are prone to the isolation that is characteristic of online education. All students need to feel connected with their learning community in order to be successful. The degree of connectedness varies student to student, of course, but many of the students who come to tutoring have an “Aha!” moment after they’ve had the chance to simply talk to a tutor about what they are working on.

In the paper, “The Role of Tutors as an Integral Part of Online Learning Support,” researchers, McPherson and Nunes (2004) explain that tutors have social, organizational, and technical roles in addition to “pedagogical or intellectual roles.” From McPherson and Nunes’s research, the social roles “involve the creation of friendly and comfortable social environments in which students feel that learning is possible”; the organizational or managerial roles involve “encouraging [students] to be clear, responding to [students], [and] being patient” (p. 4); and our technical roles are especially important because tutoring and indeed learning cannot begin until the student “[becomes] familiar, comfortable, and competent with the . . . systems and software that compose the e-learning environment” (McPherson & Nunes, 2004, p. 4).

Tutoring online is therefore different than tutoring on a ground campus. Online tutors require a different and varied skillset beyond sound pedagogy and subject mastery.

At the Kaplan University Academic Support Center, whether we are tutoring writing, math, science, technology, or business, we begin our one-on-one live tutoring sessions by asking how we can help, and our students tell us. Students aren’t always sure how or even if we can help, but a conversation then begins. Sometimes it begins with helping the student figure out the microphone. Other times it begins by interpreting assignment instructions. Our sessions might also begin by telling a worried student, “It’s okay; I understand.” Meanwhile some students need immediate assistance with an academic strategy or the solution to a problem.

Whatever the problem, it’s never as hard when you have someone to talk through it with you—especially someone who is empathetic and patient while also being able to help you get from point A to point B in an assignment. Online students rely on online tutors to help them achieve their academic goals, and we do help. We have reconceived and reshaped our roles as educators to what our unique, online students need to succeed.


Fowler, P. R. & Boylan, H. R. (2010). Increasing student success and retention: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Developmental Education, 34(2), 2-10.

Goncalves, S. A. & Trunk, D. (2014). Obstacles to success for the nontraditional student in higher education. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 19(4), 164-172.

LaPadula, M. (2003). A comprehensive look at online student support services     for distance learners. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), 119-128. doi: 10.1207/S15389286AJDE1702_4

McPherson, M. & Nunes, M. B. (2004). The role of tutors as an integral part of     online learning support. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/ contrib/2004/Maggie_MsP.html

Let’s Talk about Plagiarism

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

Plagiarism is a topic that many educators understand well as it is often explained and defined in institutions and universities’ plagiarism polices.  At Kaplan University, for example, plagiarism is defined in the following ways:

  1. Using another person’s words, ideas, results, or images without giving appropriate credit to that person; giving the impression that it is your own work
  2. Copying work, written text, or images from a student, the Internet, or any document without giving due credit to the source of the information
  3. Purchasing or contracting another person or company to complete coursework, including obtaining a paper off the Internet, from a term paper company, or from another student, and submitting it as your original work. (Kaplan University, 2014)
(c) 2015 Clipart.com

(c) 2015 Clipart.com

While plagiarism may be easily defined by educators, it is often much more difficult for students to understand.  It can be intentional or unintentional, and students may consciously or unconsciously commit plagiarism for a variety of reasons, including confusion, lack of research skills, inability to use APA or other citation styles, poor time management, and more.   With this in mind, our Writing Center tutors look for different ways to talk to students about plagiarism.  One avenue that offers a unique chance to explore plagiarism through a variety of perspectives is our live workshops.  These interactive workshops are offered monthly and archived for students to view at their leisure.   Below are some of the ways that we have approached plagiarism issues in the past few months.

Research Writing Basics – Sloppy research often leads to plagiarism, so in this workshop, writing tutor Kyle talks about the basics of research writing, including how students can identify quality sources and successfully integrate source material into their writing to avoid plagiarism.

Five Simple Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism – This workshop offers five easy ideas that students can use to help avoid plagiarizing in their writing.   These tips, shared by writing tutor Chrissine, include knowing when to cite, knowing how to cite using APA Style, recognizing effective paraphrasing, matching in-text citations to references (and vice versa), and remembering the 80/20 principle, or the idea that around 80% of a student’s paper should be his or her own thoughts, words, interpretation, or analysis, while 20% should be source material.

How to Prevent Accidental Plagiarism  – We recognize that plagiarism is often accidental, but we also realize that accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism.  This workshop with KUWC tutor Molly discusses how students can specifically prevent accidental plagiarism, including understanding the purpose of research sources, beginning research early in the writing process, and using effective note-taking strategies.

Practical Steps to Preventing Plagiarism – This presentation hosted by tutor Molly discusses how to recognize plagiarism, offers practical steps for plagiarism prevention, and connects those steps to the reading and writing processes.  In this workshop, Molly suggests that students use note-taking as a pre-writing strategy in order to keep track of their own perspective and record bibliographic information throughout the research process in order to correctly cite borrowed material when composing original assignments.

Secrets to Avoiding Plagiarism:  Paraphrasing – Since plagiarism often results from ineffective paraphrasing, or patch-writing, this workshop with tutor Molly demonstrates and teaches students the basics of effective paraphrasing and gives students the opportunity to practice successful paraphrasing.

These are just a few of the ways that our writing center tutors have talked about plagiarism in our live, monthly workshops over the past several months.  Other archived workshop topics include Integrating Quotes into Your Writing, Top 10 Plagiarism Mistakes, and Writing with Ease:  Paraphrase and Summary.  What are some ways that you talk about plagiarism with your students?



Kaplan University.  (2014). Academic integrity policy.  Retrieved from http://catalog.kaplanuniversity.edu/Academic_Integrity_Policy.aspx

Writing the Writer, Part 2

Molly Starkweather,  Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

The first part of this two-part entry explored the possible identities online students construct when engaging in synchronous tutoring that only uses text and audio (no videos). The second part will distinguish how a synchronous online space that does not use videos might be superior for tutoring students whose identities are difficult to negotiate in a traditional, physical university campus.

In a physical space, the writer is already being written by the ideology of the campus. At a traditional liberal arts institution, a student is likely to see a flyer with QR codes near stairs featuring ads for video game tournaments. If a student is a senior citizen in a wheelchair who cannot afford cable (much less a luxurious gaming system) at home, he or she is likely to feel a bit out of place. That is one piece of paper—a literal piece of writing on the wall— amid a series of buildings that require an extra set of steps (no pun intended) for handicapped accessibility to get inside. The metaphorical writing on the wall might include classes with students who are more often than not young, white, able-bodied, thin, heteronormative, and native-sounding English speakers.

In this physical space, a student comes in with the characteristics that were distinguished in his or her application and course registration materials written all over his or her physical body. The tutor then must decide what to do with that information. In my experience, the best case scenario included a tight-rope walk in which the rope I tried to balance on was only allowing elements of a student’s identity to come up organically in discussion focused primarily on the writing. This balancing act was easy if there were not many weights on either side of the “Do not discuss any differences whatsoever” and the “Discuss all differences to clear the air by giving permission for them to be there” baton I carried through the conversation.

During one particularly successful tutoring session when I was a peer tutor in South Georgia, a student came in with a shaved head and some makeup on. I never knew the gender identity of the student, but it seemed a kind of non-heteronormative identity was being performed. The student had a single dollar bill attached to his or her neon pink shirt with a clothespin. I used our common Southern heritage to ask “Is it your birthday?” (For those unfamiliar, it is a common tradition to “pin the money” on someone’s shirt when celebrating  a birthday.) The student enthusiastically responded in the affirmative, and I asked if I could pin a dollar on. With that little ritual, we were able to establish that no differences needed to be discussed, but we had something in common to cling to. I had negotiated what I needed to, and so had the student, so that we could sit down and focus on the writing in a warm and inviting space.

How would that conversation have gone differently online? The student might still have said he or she was celebrating a birthday. True, we might not have negotiated that difficult moment of what to do with the meaning behind the student’s appearance, but we would not have needed to. The fact is that the student did not bring up the makeup or the colorful outfit or anything else, so it was not up for discussion. While it was a moment of hospitality for the student and a moment of growth for me to make a connection in spite of the student’s differences from the norm, that connection could have been made on the student’s terms. In a synchronous online space with no cameras, the student’s identity is much more within the student’s control.

Making room in the writing center for all students might mean embracing what John Lennon described in 1969 on The David Frost Show as “bagism,” in which all participants in the act of total communication hide their outer identities in order to eliminate distraction from their messages to each other. According to the transcript online (Beatles Bible, n.d.), Frost pointed out to Lennon that the bag itself might be distracting, but in cyberspace the situation is much more egalitarian. No one can see each other in the video-less chat room.

Some concerns around using video-less technology for communication involve the lack of connection between tutor and writer that can be facilitated by nonverbal cues, especially in terms of eye contact and mirror neurons or mirror receptors. According to neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni (as cited in Lehrer, 2008), mirror neurons are what move us to feel for other people when we see something they experience; in other words, our brains are geared to smile when we see other people smile or cry when we see them cry. Truly, mirror neurons are a powerful factor in effective communication that would be removed when there is no video interface for online tutoring—but what if there were never any facial expressions to factor in in the first place?

A recent study by Sherman, Michikyan, and Greenfield (2013) has revealed that, while bonding might be stronger using face to face communication among those forming relationships, bonding can take place among those who use instant messaging. In fact, those participants who primarily communicated in a particular way (such as using telephone calls and audio chats) reported greater bonding through that primary medium as opposed to a different, supposedly superior medium. In other words, this study indicates that whatever means a tutor uses to communicate with a writer can facilitate social presence and a perceived bond so long as that means remains constant.

Given that the study by Sherman, Michikyan, and Greenfield (2013) focuses on building friendships, and given that a socially present bond can be established and maintained fairly well between friends using only text-based or voice communication, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the singularly focused tutor-writer relationship would need visual cues. The sacrifice of anonymity in the name of forging a supposedly stronger personal bond seems counterproductive when widely accepted communication texts like The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society echo the theory that text-based online interaction clears the way for more meaningful communications over a distance (Bartsch & Subrahmanyam, 2015).

In the case of students who complete all of their education online with no physical interaction with peers, professors, and writing center workers, it is in the best interest of inclusivity to avoid adding video technology to the writing center as a default. Currently, there are many reasons why video is not part of the standard tutoring experience at Kaplan, but many of those barriers—including the ease of accessing web cams and software for video tutoring, as well as the availability of strong enough broadband connections to facilitate smooth video feeds—will soon disappear as technology continues to advance. Jonathan Finkelstein’s guide to synchronous online education, Learning in Real Time (2006), warns against using videos simply in order to reproduce the physical campus experience. In the case of providing a welcoming space for marginalized students, reproducing the physical campus might not be the best goal. Instead, digital landscapes can facilitate meaningful social presence in a minimalist context in order to allow students to take control of writing their assignments—and writing themselves.

References for Parts 1 & 2

Bartsch, M. & Subrahmanyam, K. (2015). Technology and self-presentation: Impression management online. In L. Rosen, N. Cheever, & L. M. Carrier (Eds.) The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society (pp. 339-357). West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The Beatles Bible. (n.d.) Television: John Lennon and Yoko Ono on The David Frost Show. Retrieved from http://www.beatlesbible.com/1969/06/14/television-john-lennon-yoko-ono-david-frost-show/

Brooks, J. (2001). Minimalist tutoring: Making the student do all the work. In

Barnett, R. & Blumner, J. (Eds.), The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing

center theory and practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Coogan, D. (1994, March). Towards a rhetoric of on-line tutoring. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Nashville, TN.

Harris, M. (2000). Talk to me: Engaging reluctant writers.

In B. Rafoth (Ed.), A tutor’s guide: Helping writers one to one (pp. 24-

34). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Lehrer, J. (2008). The mirror neuron revolution: Explaining what makes humans social. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-mirror-neuron-revolut/

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), article 1. doi: 10.5817/CP2013-2-3