Category Archives: Online Writing Instruction

The Keys to a Successful Conference Submission Process: Part Two, Choosing a Topic


Steven V. Cates, DBA SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Kaplan University Professor, School of Business and IT

In our first discussion, we looked at the value of doing research and presenting our findings at a conference. We also began to think about how to get started. Now we are going to look at how we go about picking a topic to concentrate on.

First of all, always pick a topic you really have a lot of passion about. Otherwise, you will not have the drive and focus to commit to doing the work necessary to complete this research project. Conducting a research project takes time, energy, and effort. There are no shortcuts to completing good sound research projects. So, you must commit yourself to practicing sound time management and spending time daily in working on your research.

So, what are the “hot topics” in your field of specialization right now? Where do you find these “hot topics”? You can start with the journals, trade publications, magazines, webinars, seminars, blogs, and any other forms of forums and media in your field. What are authors saying are the “cutting edge” issues that are being discussed and problems surrounding these topics? This is a great place to pick a “hot button” that has not been researched extensively.  This will allow you to do research and then provide solutions to those problems and issues, which is your starting point.

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You also might want to join and attend associations that represent your field of study.  Some meetings and conferences are held locally, regionally, nationally or globally. At each of these you will hear presentations made on the “hot button” topics, as most presentations will be on issues that are current and presently being discussed in your field.

Another great way to get your research started is by networking with your academic and professional contacts. You may find that you have similar interests with a colleague on a given research subject. This could lead to a collaboration on a great research project.

Next month, in Part Three of this series, we will begin to construct a research paper and look at the specific parts of that paper.

 

Bookends: Looking Ahead to the IWCA Conference


By Chrissine Rios, Kaplan University Writing Center

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The 2001 CCCC Convention Program. Photo by Chrissine Rios.

This summer I wrote “Weighing the Books” while boxing up my household and home office in order to move it from North Carolina to Michigan.  Now my books are unpacked and back to being their inspirational selves on shelves.  In fact, I’m working on my presentation for the International Writing Centers Association conference, which is in Denver this month, and I’m seeing on my bookcase the program book from the last time I flew from Michigan to Denver for a big conference.

It was 2001, and I was in my last semester of English Composition and Communication at CMU, going to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (4Cs) to present my teacher research on engaging students at the beginning of the composition course by teaching creative nonfiction.  During the presentation, I shared my positive experience teaching a photo caption essay in place of the reflective essay, otherwise assigned at the beginning of the term.

My co-presenter and grad school colleague then shared how creative nonfiction can be incorporated into the research paper assignment later in the term, and our third co-presenter, who was our Comp and Rhetoric professor and my thesis chairperson, presented how creative nonfiction can be woven into the entire course.   Together we contended the personal writing traditionally assigned in composition could do more to engage and prepare students for success if it were taught less like an isolated, warm-up activity and more like an integrated and malleable path throughout the course that engages students in their personal learning processes via exploration and discovery and the making, or perhaps, crafting, of meaning.

We described creative nonfiction as being flexible—a form shaped by content and not the other way around.  And we described it as expansive—a genre that “centers in the essay but continually strains against the boundaries of the other genres, endeavoring to push them back and to expand its own space without altering its own identity” (Root & Steinberg, 1999, p. xxiii).  Now, fifteen years later, I’m hearing similar language being used to describe the way writing centers engage students, our adult online learners at Kaplan in particular, by being flexible and expansive.

At the upcoming IWCA conference in Denver, KU Academic Support Center Manager, Dr. Melody Pickle, will be speaking about our uniquely located, online writing center.  If you’ll be at IWCA, come see her speak at our presentation titled, Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity.  She’ll address the negotiation of identity that comes with inhabiting an internal and external shared space and how the Writing Center maintains its identity while being a dynamic learning community.

KUWC Tutor, Amy Sexton, and I will also be on that panel.  Our presentation will explore the use of technology, specifically video, to push the boundaries of who we are and what we do in our effort to encourage and equip our diverse students for learning success.  Amy and I will also be presenting Video Feedback for Effective Online Writing Instruction, and Melody will additionally be presenting Online Motion: Using Forms for Dynamic Asynchronous Services, so the KUWC will be well represented at IWCA this year.

For me, this IWCA and the 2001 4Cs are bookends on my career to date with the path between them weaving in and out the texts on my bookshelves.  At 4Cs, I was just getting started.  In fact, it was there that I interviewed for my first faculty position, the one that would launch my professional career teaching and tutoring writing and my move away from Michigan.  Now I’m back home and approaching my 10th anniversary at Kaplan with nine of those years being in the Writing Center, so at the conference, I’ll be sharing first hand experiences of where we began and how we got here.  I’m also counting on the presentations I attend to inspire new ideas about where we go from here.  You can access the full IWCA conference program online.  You can also be sure that I’ll be bringing a hard copy home as well.

Reference

Root, R. L., Jr. & Steinberg, M. (1999). The fourth genre: Contemporary writers of/on creative nonfiction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

The Academic Support Video Series: A Resource Initiative and Collaboration


By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center


A tutor’s work is highly collaborative.  Tutors collaborate with students by nature, but tutors also collaborate with one another, with academic center specialists, and with faculty to develop and deliver workshops and to create and curate resources: the print and multimedia tutorials available on the university website and via the classroom portal.   Academic support resources benefit students in ways that are at once personal and far-reaching, immediate and long-lasting, and that are germane to learning—how students learn and what they need to be able to learn.

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Research shows, for instance, that interactive video resources are especially beneficial for students with “deficient prerequisite knowledge, . . . non-standard learning paths, and multiple entry points into a degree” as these students will commonly need to learn how to read a data sheet, for example, before being able to use one (Nikolic, 2015, p. 1).  Study skills videos specific to online learning are particularly essential to adult, online students.

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At the Kaplan University Writing Center, online students new to academic writing have available a variety of media-rich resources designed for new and developing writers.   However, like most discipline-based tutoring centers, Writing Center resources are contextualized in writing situations.

To meet the need for resources in study skills and student engagement, the tutors of all five centers at the Kaplan Academic Support Center did what they do best: collaborate.  In collaboration with the KU School of General Education too, the ASC has produced a new category of video resources that target diverse entry-level competencies such as time management, computer system requirements, college reading strategies, APA formatting basics, and test-taking tips.  The videos are short, interactive, and meant to help students accomplish day-to-day tasks as well as long term goals.  Faculty and tutors can also rely on immediate access to these pertinent resources when assisting students.

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You can access the first wave of the new Academic Support Videos on our public-facing Writing Center page: http://library.kaplan.edu/kuwc.  Please share this page and/or any of the individual video links with your students and colleagues, and keep coming back.  As our cross-center collaborations continue, we’ve expanded the boundaries and reach of our academic support resources, so there’s more to come!

References

Nikolic, S. (2015). Understanding how students use and appreciate online resources in the teaching laboratory. International Journal of Online Engineering, 11 (4), 8-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.3991/ijoe.v11i4.4562

 

Saving Time with Tutoring


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center tutor

Managing our time successfully can be a challenge for all of us, and college students may be especially busy.  They are juggling school assignments, papers, and seminars and various other major responsibilities including families, jobs, military service, and community work. In the Academic Support Center, we understand that students’ time is limited and valuable.  This is one reason that our centers offer a combined 150 live tutoring hours per week: we know that attending tutoring can actually save students time.

Kaplan students often visit Live Tutoring for help understanding new and/or confusing course concepts or terminology, for example. Because all Kaplan University Academic Support Center tutors hold graduate degrees in their fields, tutors will most likely be very familiar with the concepts or ideas that students are learning about and will be able to explain them in ways that foster understanding. Students can spend a lot of time alone struggling with working a math problem, troubleshooting a PowerPoint issue, or figuring out how to cite an unusual source, or they can invest 20 minutes into a tutorial session and speak to an educator who can provide expert and immediate guidance, feedback, and support.

Academic Support Center tutors are also extremely knowledgeable about the resources in our centers, including archived workshops, written tutorials, podcasts, and short videos.  We can quickly and easily direct students to these so they do not spend a lot of time searching for the best resource. We can even show them how to most effectively use the resources and services that we offer.

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Tutors can also help students save time by clarifying assignment directions, helping them plan realistic schedules for completing big assignments, pointing out errors in their work, unraveling common misconceptions, brainstorming ideas with them, providing feedback, suggesting revision strategies, sharing our own tips for successful study habits, and much more.

The next time that students say that they do not have time to go to tutoring, ask them to consider the opposite perspective:  seeking tutorial assistance can, in reality, save them time.    If they are Kaplan students, direct them to the Academic Support Center for live tutoring so that they can learn first-hand how working with experienced and professional tutors can help them find answers to their questions, get their course work done more quickly, and save time in the process.

 

Creative Limits: Placing Barriers on Topic Selection


Eric Holmes, Kaplan University Composition Instructor

 

Scott Adams (2004) once stated that, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes,” (p. 232) and our classrooms are places for students to be creative and to learn from their mistakes. However, we must steer our students toward success and thus balance their creativity with their responsibilities in the course.

As a composition instructor, I have seen students struggle due to a seemingly simple task: topic selection. While innocuous, choosing the wrong topics to write about can cause students stress and lead to poor coursework and a lack of enthusiasm for the course, which leads to poorer grades.  Ideally, students choose topics that play to their strengths, pique their interests, are not needlessly difficult, and add value to their educations.

As instructors, we assign coursework to give students the best chance of success while teaching them the most valuable information about composition. With this in mind, placing limitations on student creativity in regard to topic selection not only makes it easier for students to decide on a topic but also leads to better coursework. In my career, I have seen students choose topics to write about that do not play to their strengths and/or makes researching and drafting needlessly difficult. From this, I have found that there are five factors that make a topic a hindrance:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of interest
  • Emotional pain
  • Lack of available data
  • The topic needlessly adds to existing workload

These factors make the student experience being uncomfortable, and to remedy it, I teach students to follow five metrics in regard to choosing a topic to write about. These five metrics address the aforementioned factors that lead to student angst. Here are the metrics that students need to consider when selecting a topic:

  • The topic should be something that students know about.
  • The topic should be something that students care about.
  • The topic should be something that is comfortable.
  • The topic should be something that is available.
  • The topic should be something that is value-added.

To some, the idea that students must choose a topic that they already know about is counter-intuitive. After all, students are in your course to learn.  However, the focus must be upon the certain skill that students are there to learn.  With this in mind, I advocate that students choose as familiar of a topic as possible. In doing this, they are streamlining the writing process by avoiding a task that will involve considerable time and energy better spent elsewhere, as learning even basic information about a new subject is labor intensive, and that labor is better spent working on writing. The point is that when developing a new skill, it is best to play to your existing strengths. That strength also extends to how much students care about a topic.

If students choose topics that they have no interest in, the entire process, from finding evidence to drafting and finally revising/editing, will be laborious. Enthusiasm goes a long way toward success, and it is important to tell students that they will be spending considerable time with their topics, so choosing ones that they care about is vital. Any task is easier when it is enjoyed and students will, as a result, write better and earn a higher grade.

At the same time, it is important that students avoid discomforting topics. Many students attempt to write about topics in a cathartic effort to come to terms with trauma, such as the loss of a loved one. However, the self-inflicted misery that comes with choosing such a topic comes with another cost: poorer work. This is a result of students avoiding the work needed to do well, as the writing process serves as a painful reminder. To drive this point home, I ask students to recall a painful moment and then ask them if they like to think about it. When they respond no, I connect that answer to the decision to avoid such a topic for their paper.

Given the ubiquity of the Internet and the false belief that all information is online, many students are tempted to choose a topic that is too Avant-garde. This is not to say that the topic is inappropriate but rather too new for there to be any substantive knowledge about it. For the sake of student sanity, I urge them to choose topics that have available data, as it is frustrating to be unable to find information on important topics in a world where a Google search for “Charlie Sheen tiger blood” yields more than 100,000 hits.

Finally, I urge students to choose topics that are value-added. While a seemingly empty buzzword, value-added in the context of topic selection means that the topic itself serves another purpose outside of the course. For example, if students are taking another course that requires a paper, they can use the same topic for both. While this statement may raise a plagiarism accusation, writing two different papers using the same topic and body of data is not plagiarism, as the papers contain different content that meets different criteria for different courses. By using the same topic and research data for two different assignments, students can use the time and energy saved to focus more on the act of writing.

As educators, our role is to give students every tool needed to be successful and these metrics are effective for helping students narrow down potential topics without diminishing their creativity. By using these five metrics, students will choose topics that play to their strengths, pique their interests, are not needlessly difficult, and add value to their educations.

Composition and Topic Selection

References

Adams, S. (2004).  1001 smartest things ever said. In S.D. Price (Ed.). Guilford,

CT:  Lyons Press.

KUWC Resource Spotlight: 3 NEW Effective Writing Podcasts


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 and externally on our webpage in the KU Online Library, and here I provide you the direct links to these pertinent podcasts for college writers.   Share them with your students!

 APA Reference Page Checklist

Argument and the Toulmin Model of Argument

Using Signal Phrases and Interacting with Texts

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Effective Writing Podcast Series

Serious About Spacing


By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Are you one of them? Do you space like it’s an exact science? Do you bypass 2.0 on the spacing shortcut and go straight for Line Spacing Options?

Not this: 2.0. Done.

Not This-2.0.Done

But this:  Line spacing > After and Before: 0 and 0 > “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style”: Check. OK.

But this-LineSpaceOptions

I do this. I get right in there and change the spacing to double, make all other settings 0 and check the “Don’t add space” box. I’m quick too because I know Word better than any other software. I’ve been using it for 18 years. If you also remember word processing in the days before Internet, then you’ve probably also been using Microsoft Word since its earliest version and are just as adept with its options and settings.

I would not expect the typical undergraduate to be as adept with MS Word as I am or even very concerned with Line Spacing Options. Students only have to set their paragraphs to double, after all.

In my paper reviews and in Live Tutoring, I help students with double-spacing when the I see quadruple-spacing instead of paragraph indentations or instead of hanging indentations on the reference list or if I see single-spacing or inconsistent spacing that distracts me from reading or leaves me no room to put comment bubbles next to where I’m commenting. And when I do comment on spacing, I’ll refer the student to the Writing Center’s APA Headers and Title Page tutorial, which is a video demonstration on page formatting in Word. Or, if the problem involves hanging indentations, I recommend our APA Reference Page Tutorial, 6th Edition.

You may know these videos as they are two of the Writing Center’s most popular resources. The reference page tutorial has had over 44 thousand views since it was published in December of 2011. It shows how to (1) create a page break to begin the references list on a new page, (2) center the heading “References” on the first line of the page, (3) left justify the first line of the references list, and (4) create hanging indentions by selecting “hanging” on the Special menu in Paragraph settings. The tutorial is very basic, intended for students new to APA. It’s 2:27 minutes long, including the musical intro and outro, so it’s not only basic but short.

Recently, I received an email about this video that panicked me. An instructor wrote saying the video was showing incorrect spacing, and that it needed to be fixed because it was misleading students about APA formatting. She pointed out that the “After” spacing is set at 10 points and not 0.

You can see this during the ten seconds that the tutor narrating is showing how to select “hanging” from the Special menu. She begins by saying, “Everything down here stays the same” as she circles the line spacing settings with her pointer. I’ve put an orange box around the area for you to see (Figure 3). The tutor then moves her pointer to the Special menu where she selects “hanging.” She then clicks okay, and the next step, she informs the viewer, is to start writing the citations, and that concludes the tutorial. Again, very basic. This is not a tutorial on double spacing as that is done in our title page tutorial.

References Video Screenshot

Figure 3: Screenshot of references video

I’m the point-of-contact for resource development at the Writing Center and Academic Support Center, so I fix any problems with resources right away. Due to how many times this video has been viewed and because I’ve never heard a complaint about this one before or noticed this issue in the video myself, I took this instructor’s concern very seriously. After all, I format the same way that she does! But, confession: I only just learned to change the “before” and “after” paragraph spacing a year ago, and I did not do it for the purpose of APA style but while developing resources and trying to make content fit on the page the way I wanted.

So I watched the video again to assess the gravity of this issue, and I watched our title page video too, which also shows the After spacing to be 10 points, and then I opened up Word and formatted my document accordingly. And now I think it’s time we all got serious about spacing.

First, Find the difference:

1. Line spacing as shown in the video: Double, Before 0, After 10, “Don’t add space…” checked.

Line Spacing Double 1.102. Line spacing “fixed”: Double, Before 0, After 0, “Don’t add space…” checked.

Line Spacing - Double 00

Side by side: No difference in line spacing on the page.

side by side 1

side by side 2According to my experimentation and observation, when “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style,” is checked, a number in the After box does not add space. Since the video shows the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style,” students are correctly being shown how to double-space.

Additionally, if the Before and After settings are both at 0, and that “Don’t add space” box is not checked, there also won’t be extra space, so that’s an alternative for the same desired result: either check the box OR put 0 in the “before” and “after” settings. Doing one or the other will create evenly double-spaced lines throughout the document. Yet, APA does not explicitly state the need to go into the document’s settings and alter the defaults.

Here is the APA spacing requirement. Note that APA style is ultimately for professional and scholarly publications, and the line spacing requirement is in the “Author Responsibilities” section of Chapter 8, “The Publication Process.” In 8.03 “Preparing the Manuscript for Submission,” the requirement for line spacing is the following:

Double-space between all text lines of the manuscript. Double-space after every line in the title, headings, footnotes, quotations, references, and figure captions. Although you may apply triple- or quadruple-spacing in special circumstances, such as immediately before and after a displayed equation, never use single-spacing or one-and-a-half spacing except in tables or figures. (APA, 2009, p. 229)

This section on manuscript requirements begins by acknowledging that different publications have their own specifications, and that APA’s focus in this chapter is on preparing a peer review draft that is readable.

So here is the crux of the issue: APA says to double-space, and MS Word says double-spacing is 2.0, Before: 0, After 10. My version of MS Office 2013 came with these default settings, anyway. Other versions may be different. I’ve seen 0 After and 5.95 Before as the default too. Yet, I do not see the APA requirements or the Word defaults as being at odds.

If I were told to color using orange, I would color with a crayon that says Orange on the side. To expect my orange to be Hex #FF7F00 when my software’s default orange is Hex #ED7D31 would be unfair. Now if I were told to use a specific Hex number and was shown how to change the Hex number, then that would be fair. Similarly, if students are asked to double space, it is unfair to expect them to do more than select double-spacing on the formatting ribbon at the top of the page. Students have various competencies with technology and won’t automatically know to do more than that without being informed to do so, and many more need to also be shown how. So it’s as simple as helping students meet expectations by being clear about what they are and by providing the support necessary for them to meet them.

In the Writing Center, we tutor how to double-space by showing them how to go into the Line Setting Options, select 2.0, and check the “Do not add space” box. However, when students come to us for help with their thesis statements, we help them with their thesis statements and not spacing, if you know what I mean. We also encourage instructors to share our APA tutorials as instructional aids when they assign papers that must follow APA style guidelines for page formatting and citation. And I will update that reference page video this year using a newer version of Word, but should I leave Word’s default Before and After spacing or change it? Please comment if you have an opinion on this.

And consider this: What if next year, APA says we should all single space because that is easier to read or that creates more accessible files for a diverse readership using multiple technologies. We can zoom in on the page, after all. I’m reminded how spacing after periods has evolved. First we typed with two spaces after periods, and then word processors automatically added extra space after end marks, so APA went to one space after periods, and now that we do most of our reading on a screen, APA has changed it back to two spaces because it’s easier to read, but look at me. I’m still using one space! This could be trouble if I were a student and my instructor expected double.