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Frequently Asked Questions (Courses)


Do you prefer a specific font? Single-spaced? etc.

I prefer you format a document as left-justified, single-spaced Arial 10 pt. This is just my personal preference. This isn't part of the rubric. You don't lose points if you double-space, use a different font, etc.

(I score a lot of writing. This style helps me score faster and with less distraction.)

How do I share a link to my D2L ePortfolio?

See Where is the Public Access link to my portfolio?

What does "+" mean?

When scoring students' work, I use the following shorthand.

Shorthand Example Meaning
+ clear and concise Praise; you did something correctly
- contrast problems Constructive criticism; you need to do something different next time
++ or --
++ clear research Praise or constructive criticism that I shared aloud during your debrief
(-x goal y)
(-1 goal 3) You've lost 1 or more points on the rubric; check the rubric to find the goal
(-x g y)
(-1 g 3)
! I love that movie Related or random thought; this doesn't help or hurt your score
? is that really what happens? Question; you may be wrong, but I'm not sure
stdt, tchr, prnt, etc.
  I sometimes use quick abbreviations for common words in education, like student, teacher, parent, etc.

Why do you have such specific expectations for writing exam questions?

My students often express a commitment to making accommodations for students with special needs. For example, they express this in their Teaching Philosophy essays. It's an admirable expression. However, it's easy to express this commitment and much harder to demonstrate it. One of the clearest ways to demonstrate this commitment is being thoughtful and careful in how you assess.

Consider what it's like to take a high-stakes exam, like the final exam for a semester-long course. It's usually an anxious experience for any student. It's often a very, very anxious experience for a student with special needs (e.g., a learning disability). Well-written questions can reduce anxiety for any student. Poorly-written questions can increase anxiety for any student, and especially a student with special needs.

Consider the basic process of answering a question on an exam. For a specific question, before a student can answer the question, they first need to understand what's being asked. If a question is poorly-written, understanding what's being asked can be an extra challenge. This challenge is unnecessary and unfair.

One problem is long, complex sentences. They can be confusing. It's easy to get lost in a lot of commas and conjunctions (e.g., "and", "however", "but"). It's usually better to write shorter, simpler sentences.

Another problem is a lack of useful details. Consider an exam question like, "You teach 8th grade English. You just gave a test. You know your students are unhappy with their scores. What do you do?" If I'm pretending to be a teacher when answering this question, I have to first make up a lot of the details myself. When did I give the test? How did I learn about my students' unhappiness? Who said what? When did they say it? Why are they unhappy? Am I certain that all my students are unhappy? And so on. That's a lot of extra work to do before I can get down to the business of answering the question.

As a teacher, how you choose or create assessments like exams demonstrates a great deal about your commitment to making accommodations. It goes to the heart of good teaching, which includes asking good questions, and ensuring that every student has a fair chance to answer correctly.

In my courses, you often write questions that become the final exams I give to your peers. Please take the time to write good questions so that everyone receives good questions.

Why is point of view (POV) important?

In most written assignments, the rubric and directions will specify a point of view (POV), such as "first-person (e.g., 'I' language)" or "third-person ('he' language)." If you fail to write in this POV, you will likely lose at least one point. Being able to write in a specific POV is an essential skill in academics, business, and other contexts. It demonstrates control over your ideas and communication. In many settings, only a specific POV is respected or allowed. For example, when I've submitted articles to academic journals for publication, I've been required to write in third-person POV. In contrast, when I spoke at my cousin's Eagle Scout Court of Honor, it would have sounded strange to use anything other than first-person POV.


How do you decide whether to bump a grade up?

I try design my courses so that students earn their grades themselves. In fairness to all students, I only make accommodations for exceptional needs or exceptional life circumstances. In fairness to all students, I rarely bump grades.

When I consider bumping a grade, I look at a student's overall performance. I look for low scores on group work (which may have been out of the student's control). I may consider conduct in class. I especially check whether the student did everything they could to succeed, so I look for any missing assignments and check whether they took advantage of any resubmit opportunities.

Why do you call yourself a gatekeeper? Why don't you give extra credit?

I sometimes call myself a gatekeeper. Your transcript may be part of a job application. That makes me a gatekeeper: someone who helps decides who should pass through the gate, into the profession of education.

A grade in my course should be one meaningful measure of your qualifications. Relevant qualifications include skills and dispositions like organization, meeting deadlines, and attention to detail. One example of attention to detail is reading a rubric before completing the relevant assignment. Another relevant qualification is integrity, including respecting intellectual property rights. This includes clearly giving credit to the creators of writing, images, lesson plans, etc.

I try to maintain the same expectations for all students, while making accommodations for exceptional needs or exceptional events.


Where is the Public Access link to my portfolio?

When you're ready, here is how you create a link to your ePortfolio for an external audience (like Kym).

  1. Log into D2L External and go to your ePortfolio (under "ePortfolio Documentation" (last checked Jan 18, 2016)).
  2. Click on "My Items".
  3. Find your Presentation. (It will look like a chart on an easel.)
  4. Beside the name of your presentation, Click on the down arrow and choose Share.
  5. Under "Public Access", look for "Anyone with the URL below can access this item". If it's not checked, check it.
  6. "URL:" is the link you need to share with your audience. For example, you could copy it, and then paste into a Word document or an email. Note that "URL: " isn't part of the link. The actual link starts with "https:".
  7. Click "Close" near the bottom.

 When sharing a portfolio, always test your link. Copy it, log out of D2L, paste it into the address bar in your browser, and see if anyone can use the link.

TurnItIn (via D2L)

What is our class ID and password?

Turnitin is integrated with the D2L dropbox. You don't need to create a Turnitin account. Instead, use the D2L dropbox.

Should I worry if TurnItIn reports a percentage greater than zero?

The originality percentage indicates how much of your assignment may be from other sources. A high percentage means that much of your assignment isn't original work.

TurnItIn will often report an originality percentage greater than zero. In general, I only worry if the percentage exceeds 15%, and then it depends on the assignment. Some assignments may encourage or require you to include extensive quotes from other sources, and those quotes will push up the percentage. If the percentage worries me, I look at the full originality report. The report shows the precise parts of your assignment that are unoriginal. If it's only or mostly clearly-quoted content, then that's OK. FYI, I tell TurnItIn to let you see the originality report, too (click on the percentage).

Why do you check for plagiarism using TurnItIn (via D2L)?

Plagiarism is using someone else's writing or ideas without giving proper credit. If you have any questions about giving proper credit, I'm happy to help.

I believe most of my students are honest and hard-working. I use TurnItIn (via D2L) to protect you from the few students who may try to plagiarize your work, or who otherwise try to earn a good grade without a sincere effort. You may compete with your peers for the same jobs. Your transcripts are part of your job credentials. I want your grades to be a trustworthy measure of your professional abilities and dedication. Also, it's possible that both an original and a plariarised text could appear in the same set of applications. A potential employer would probably discard both applications, which is grossly unfair to the original author.

I design most assignments to make it difficult to cheat. But it's also important to me that you always give proper credit to your sources.

It bothers me when I suspect a student of plagiarism. I strongly believe in the importance of intellectual property rights. This means that I believe that an author or artist has the right to decide where and how his/her work is used. Personally, I license almost all my work under a Creative Commons license External. Under this license, I allow anyone to use my work, provided they properly credit me as the original author.

In education, we often benefit from the intellectual work of others, including authors, scientists, and other teachers. Honoring intellectual property rights should be at the heart of our professional ethics (e.g., Wisconsin Teacher Standard 10/Professionalism). We shouldn't condone plagiarism or other forms of cheating.

Word Limits

How do you score a word limit?

I use the "Word Count" feature in Microsoft Word. I strongly recommend using this feature before you turn in an assignment.

If my rubric has a single limit (e.g., "about 500 words"), I may only take off points if you're significantly under or over (e.g., under or over by more than 50 words). If my rubric has a range (e.g., "about 500-750 word"), I may take off points if you're under or over by more than a few words.

Why do you use a word limit?

For most written assignments, I include a word limit in the rubric, like "about 500-750 words." I do this for several reasons.

At the low end, I expect a minimum amount of effort. I design an assignment for you to demonstrate certain knowledge, skills, and dispositions. When I choose a word limit, I try to provide just enough space for you to demonstrate these things: no more, no less. If you haven't reached the word limit, you probably haven't adequately demonstrated what I'm looking for. If you have trouble reaching the limit, I'm happy to offer suggestions for further writing.

At the high end, I believe constraints improve writing. I teach courses for novice and practicing educators and wellness professionals. In most contexts for professional writing, there are artificial and pragmatic word limits. For example, professional journals typically limit the length of submissions, and editors regularly require authors to shorten submissions before accepting them. In less formal writing, the many stresses and obligations of a typical work day limit how much time we can spend on a given text. For example, a teacher may have to turn in an incident report or send an email to parent/guardian before leaving for the day. Also, we're busy people and our time is valuable, so as readers we often prefer short and informative texts. We owe it to our colleagues (and our instructors) to write such texts.

More broadly, as a writer and a writing instructor, I believe a word limit improves a writer's focus. It's hard to cut and condense, but it usually produces better writing. Word limits are especially valuable for keeping a writer focused on big ideas and minimizing less relevant details and filler.

Finally, a grade is my course is part of your professional credentials. It partly reflects your qualifications. For better or worse, a grade can be used to compare your qualifications to someone else, who may have gotten a higher or lower grade or GPA. A word limit improves the fairness of that possible comparison. It also frees every student from worrying that their peers might be turning in much longer texts without a penalty.

Is it a big deal if I exceed the word limit?

Yes and no. If the rubric includes a word limit, then you'll lose points for failing to meet that goal. This usually isn't a large amount of points. But word count is a clear, objective measurement, and in fairness to all students (for the reasons above), I score it.

However, I'm not personally upset if you exceed the word count. I like seeing students put effort into my course! (Of course, sometimes it takes more effort to write something short and organized versus long and rambling.) Perhaps you believe you need to exceed the word count to meet the other goals of the assignment, or you need the space to express yourself to your own satisfaction. It's your writing, so I respect your right to be effusive.

Most men are a little better than their circumstances give them a chance to be. -William Faulkner (more quotes)

Created by Kym Buchanan | | This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Some content and curriculum based on work by: Maysee Herr, Rand Spiro, Lisa Bardon, Quinn Stanley, Larry Riggs, Pat Shaw, Sue Slick, and others at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Unattributed images are the work of the author or taken from Microsoft PowerPoint.

Last revised 10/7/16