Category Archives: Grading

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

Dr. Shaneika A. Dilka, PhD

Psychology Professor, Purdue University Global


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.



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:


Serious About Spacing

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global 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.

Deadlines and the Online Academic

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

They say that patience is a virtue, but in reality we know it’s often in short supply. It’s 7 am on Wednesday morning – a scant seven hours past an assignment deadline – and a student frantically emails, “Why isn’t my paper graded? Didn’t you receive it? Was there something wrong?”

I pour my fourth cup of coffee,  sit back down, check through the 60-100 assignments I have downloaded for grading to ensure that her assignment is indeed among them, and begin to write a nice response that yes, I received the assignment, I am still in the throes of grading, and my bosses give faculty five days after a deadline to get grading completed – and I will meet the deadline.

After the fifth cup of coffee and some chocolate for fortification, I get back to grading. I’m thinking that grading  might only take the rest of the day. Then I realize I have a meeting at 10 am and another at 1:30 pm, a PowerPoint presentation due before the end of the business day, and several hours of curriculum work that need to be done before tomorrow, too. Late in the afternoon, another faculty member calls me with an issue he needs help resolving. My day and my grading plans are getting sucked into that black hole Carl Sagan warned me about long ago.

Typing with one hand while eating dinner with the other and watching the dog in the backyard out of one eye, I realize something: my students simply might not know what I do. Yes, I teach. But what does online teaching really entail?

When we were little kids, we thought a teacher was just some ruler-wielding person who made us do math (shudder), insisted we color inside the lines, and controlled bathroom breaks. By high school, we realized that teachers had to grade assignments, too, but we were still surprised to see them at the grocery store. Teachers have to eat and buy toilet paper, too?  Mind-blowing.

So, here’s the crux of this blog post.  In addition to teaching students about course content, how to write, how to behave professionally, and how to think critically for the workplace,  online professors do the following (and I have probably forgotten something):

  • Answer email daily from students, other faculty, and the administration
  • Attend several meetings each week regarding policies, curriculum, and other topics
  • Participate in school and university-wide committees
  • Write curriculum (I also do some instructional design that involves coding and video work)
  • Develop and update seminar content and load items in the seminar room
  • Create images, videos, and text for appropriate announcements
  • Post in the discussions, which includes some research to find links that help to answer questions and move the discussion forward
  • Check the gradebook every week to see who needs help
  • Send emails every week to students who are missing work or have low grades and send messages to advisors about the same
  • Encourage students to use the Academic Success Centers for writing, technology, math, and science
  • Deal with violations such as plagiarism, behavior issues, etc. – this especially takes a lot of time to ensure fairness
  • Devise makeup plans for students who are experiencing major life disasters such as a death in the family
  • Call advisors when there is something crucial in an effort to best help the student
  • Assist other faculty with solving problems and provide materials and guidance for other faculty teaching the courses we lead
  • Research and prepare papers and presentations for professional development – and then send the papers out for publication, and practice and perform those presentations
  • Grade discussions, seminars, and assignments (see chart below for assignment grading)
  • Keep records of all of the above


(Idea from the Ohio Education Association Facebook page)

It may help students to realize that in any given term, we may well be teaching more than one different course, and preparation is unique for each class.  Also,  like our students, we  have families and other obligations.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my job. It’s creative, it’s investigative, it’s mind-stretching, and it’s enhancing the lives of others by imparting knowledge and guiding students in learning great workplace skills.  Teaching is what I am, not what I do.

I just ask for a little patience. As I pour coffee cup #6, I have to respond to another email: Dear student, please rest assured that you will get your assignment grade soon. Thank you for your patience.


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

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

If You Give Every Student 100%

Dr. Tamara Fudge, School of Business and IT Faculty, Kaplan University

Of course I want to encourage my students, but simply slapping a perfect 100% on all assignments each week is not really encouragement; it can be the death of student curiosity, critical thinking, and true education.

Recently I asked my students via course announcements if they have done even just one of these, ever:

  • Accidentally locked themselves out of their car, house, or office
  • Gotten a traffic or parking ticket
  • Forgotten to call someone when they said they would
  • Tripped walking up the stairs, or worse, in front of someone
  • Burned something on the stove or fried it in the microwave

We could add more to the list, but the point is that we are human. We make mistakes. These don’t have to be humongous mistakes, but we make little errors all the time, because life is not a 100% game.

When grading, I weigh infractions with consequences. Some mistakes, like a forgotten phone call, might simply be mentioned in the grading comments but won’t cost points. Others, like a traffic ticket, will have to cost some points.  Yes, I tell them some things they did that were good, but they need to know what to fix for future work, too. It is important to point out even the little things, because the next time they run up the stairs, they might be more careful. I want to see them stop tripping.

To the student who tells me she wants 100% and gets upset if it’s 99.99%, I say this: Once you feel you have reached perfection, you’re done. You have no more learn, no more ideas to seek, no more growing to enrich your life. Take every point deduction as a challenge to be better, to learn how not to trip again.

Having been a recent student myself, I found that getting 100% for all my assignments in a few courses felt like I wasn’t learning. What is it I don’t know? How can I improve?  Did you actually read my paper? Do you care about me?

Probably everyone knows Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s a children’s book based on a cyclical set of red herring fallacies – statements that draw you away from the main ideas. With an apology to Ms. Numeroff’s brilliance:

If you give every student 100%,

You have taught them that they are perfect.


If you teach them that they are perfect,

They will refuse to learn.


If they refuse to learn,

They will forget how to learn.


If they forget how to learn,

Their bosses will notice.


If their bosses notice,

They will fire said students.


If said students get fired,

Their options include going back to school.


If their options include going back to school,

They will have to accept the fact that they are human, and they are not perfect.

And as I wrote in that aforementioned classroom announcement, “Remember that you are human. 100% means superhero strength, which is not expected of humans, but is attainable sometimes.” I think I will ask someone to cross stitch that on a pillow for me.

You can probably tell I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour grueling Saturday grading-and-outreach session. It takes me a long time to grade assignments because I care about my students and their learning.  Although I do give full points to those who deserve them, I will not just give away a perfect score.  School is for stretching to reach that rainbow, and sometimes a point away from perfect is the ladder they need to get there.




The Grammar Hammer


Kyle2013Kyle Harley, Tutor,  Kaplan University Writing Center

The Grammar Hammer,” as a former professor of mine once said, flattens out any and all possibility for exploration and exposure with some students when it comes to their writing.  Almost right on cue, our inbox, as of late, finds itself filled with students asking for help with both grammar and spelling.  I do not wish to minimalize the importance of grammar and spelling, I think we can all agree too many grammar and spelling errors impede meaning, and intervention may be the best option to help the student succeed.  However, many students come to the writing center stating professors want their grammar and spelling fixed when the paper clearly demonstrates the necessity to focus on content.

Thinking about this, I reflect back to my graduate school days, sitting in the English building—no pun needed there—and arguing over what students ‘need’ more.  After we conducted our ritualistic slap fight between the pages as we in higher education love to do, we then realized, as a collective group of angered adults talking about the hot commodity of composition, that maybe, just maybe, one camp of thought or the other is not the best option.  Maybe, just maybe, we, as the instructors, were failing to stimulate our students enough to allow for great prose to be produced.  For up-and-coming teachers of composition, this did not sit too well with those so diametrically opposed to their own bubble of righteousness, because, as you know, in graduate school, if you are not complaining about something, others are complaining about you.

Why is that, though?  Why do we place so much emphasis on one aspect of writing over the other?  At the end of the day, we could read a paper that contains the exact content required with illegible words and sentences barely strung together, and, likewise, we could read another paper that reads like a dream grammatically yet says absolutely nothing.

I truly feel that good writing comes from great practice, and what better way to do so than to simply write?  When did we become so bogged down with grammatical structure that we forgot the fun that writing used to bring?  I remember back during my undergraduate years when we were required to write in a journal once per day.  Yes, this did ‘force’ the student to write, but it was our own—we had complete control over our own space, domain, and voice. No one could tell us that we were wrong.  The beauty and fun of writing grasped me during this class, consistently challenging my pen to paper each night in an attempt to prove that I loved writing about what I loved.  And that was just it: I loved to write about what I loved, and what was so wrong with that?

Likewise, focusing solely on content can be just as problematic if the student could care less about the topic at hand. So where does that leave us in our Ivory Towers of student papers?  I think maybe we need to start thinking about our writing assignments a little differently.  Our students are here to learn the art of writing—let’s be sure we give them the practice they deserve in as many mediums as possible.

  1. Use journal assignments that allow students to write and explore their ideas without threat of losing a great number of points on grammar or spelling.  Journals can serve as one step in the writing process.
  2. Let students choose the style of paper most appropriate to their content.  For example, let them choose a narrative essay, compare and contrast essay, argument essay, or report.  Students may gain valuable insight when allowed to choose the audience and the style of the paper.
  3. Allow students to rewrite papers in different formats and for a different audience if their first attempts do not work.
  4. When designing writing assignments, consider allowing students to choose topics that interests them.  If essays must represent specific class content, consider how students can offer individualized points of view in order to produce interesting papers.  Do you enjoy reading boring papers?  Of course you don’t!  Nor do your students enjoy writing them!  Have fun!  (Yes, academic writing can be fun!)

Content and grammar and spelling  all work together to form the work.

National Grammar Day . . .Let’s Celebrate Language (in all its forms)

Celebrate National Grammar Day in your own (positive) way.  Share the grammar tip that helps you the most as you write.  You don’t have to love grammar (or even like it) to celebrate the day.

One way to celebrate is to enjoy a National Grammar Day song with Grammar Girl:

Today, I am calling for Generous Grammar. The word “grammar” evokes an emotional response of one sort or another in most people.  Either folks poke out their chests and get excited about correcting others, or they slowly duck their heads as they shrink back into their turtle shells hoping no one will find out the truth that they are not good at grammar (according to their fourth grade teacher).

While I am a fan of clear writing and appropriate grammar, I am also a fan of people.  As a teacher of writing, I believe we should empower people to communicate their message.   I think we must avoid dis-empowering people through shame about their language because language is very personal.  This is why comments and grades on papers should be positive and corrective.

Kory Stamper, lexicographer at Merriam-Webster,  has an interesting perspective grammar balance:  A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day.

While National Grammar Day may give brief flashbacks of red pen marks, the English language is complex and should be celebrated.

Celebrating grammar and people,

Melody Pickle