Dear Overwhelmed Online

Dear Ms. Scholar, I’ve moved from face-to-face classes to online and am feeling overwhelmed. Everything is taking twice as long as usual. I don’t have childcare and my children are home while I need to work. I have gotten very little writing done. I am wondering how others are facing this daunting workload.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Overwhelmed Online, Unfortunately,  your experience is common. Even those of us who have taught online before are having problems. Faculty across this campus, across the country are being asked to do more with less and are, like you, feeling overwhelmed.

Moving online over a single weekend was a crazy pivot that left many of us feeling behinder and behinder. I usually take six weeks to pull together an online course. As Gannon (2020) reminded us, it’s okay not to know what we’re doing, to need to make frequent adjustments, to not know what we’re doing in the way that we’re used to (if that was your previous experience). I walked into my writing-intensive course last week, where a peer review was planned for a large paper, and had to move to Plan B, as peer reviews couldn’t take place in class, at least the way they normally would. (Peer reviews took place later online).

I especially liked Barrett-Fox’s (2020) unfortunately-named article (“Please do a bad job of putting your courses online”). Barrett-Fox reminded us to set reasonable expectations for ourselves:

You are NOT building an online class. You are NOT teaching students who can be expected to be ready to learn online. And, most importantly, your class is NOT the highest priority of their OR your life right now. Release yourself from high expectations right now, because that’s the best way to help your students learn. (para. 2)

Face-to-face classes, when offered online, are not the same as online courses – they are more like a hybrid of the two. Instead, let’s call them “remote learning.” Online students go into their courses with different expectations than those of face-to-face students. My online students are often more independent and accept somewhat more responsibility for their learning. If all classes are taught online in the fall – God forbid! – we will need to respond differently than how we did this semester (Lederman, 2020).

Be patient with yourself – and your students. Our students have needed help getting ready to learn online (e.g., Full Tilt Ahead, n.d.), but so have we. As Sean Michael Morris said,

Recognizing that we’re also human, we also have to figure this out together is incredibly important. The idea of being able to just port what you’re doing in a classroom into an online environment has its own problems. But trying to do that in the midst of a pandemic is another problem altogether. (quoted in Kamenetz, 2020, para. 8)

One of the things that I have enjoyed during this period is that we may have been socially distanced, but we have been supporting each other like mad. The Learning Technology Center, of course, gets a call out and many, many thanks, but my colleagues, too – wow! I am thankful for their generosity, their time and energy, and their brainstorming through the difficulties we are all facing.

Our students also deserve a call out. This is not something that they chose, but my students have been patient as I have struggled with technological problems and made mistakes. As Moats (2020) says about one of her professors, “Even when she does get confused, she asks us for help, and we all just figure it out together” (para. 6). I have been honest with my struggles with technology, and they have been extraordinarily patient. Knowing that we are in it together has felt good. They have talked about their lost jobs, internships, and relationships; their internet and computer problems; and their difficulties with the transition online – and they are also talking about the good things.

I continue to struggle and feel overwhelmed – but am also feeling excited and enjoying the challenges raised by these last several weeks. I feel for those of you who who have small children at home, poor internet access, or were already feeling stressed with the semester’s demands – this job was already difficult. And, for those of you with limited social and professional supports, reach out for help, even if it is just for an ear. Please, keep in touch! — Ms. Scholar


Barrett-Fox, R. (2020). Please do a bad job of putting your courses online.

Full Tilt Ahead. (n.d.). Student remote learning toolkit.

Gannon, K. (2020, March 12). How to make your online pivot less brutal. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Kamenetz., A. (2020, March 19). ‘Panic-gogy’: Teaching online classes during the coronavirus pandemic. NPR.

Lederman, D. (2020, April 1). Preparing for a fall without in-person classes. Inside Higher Ed.

Moats, K. (2020, March). We know you’re trying: An open letter to our professors. Onward State.

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

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In a Pandemic: Three Easy Things to Help Students Succeed

– Jeanne M. Slattery

Jeannd Slattery and her interns

We have been tossed a curve ball. A curve ball covered with jalapeño juice and “tossed” at 110 mph. While it’s hailing golf balls.

A pandemic is bad enough, but for those of us who were teaching face-to-face, going online will require a significant change in teaching strategies, often requiring significantly more time. Change is often challenging.

Change can be just as challenging for our students. Some of our students have found the shift a good one, as online learning may better accommodate their work or parenting needs. Other students will be unmoored by the loss of a consistent schedule; the complications of moves (sometimes multiple moves); children or siblings at home; and financial and medical anxieties. And yet, still other students are now bored.

After two weeks in this new environment, with four more to go (plus finals), many of us have settled into what passes for a new normal. We don’t have time to do the complete overhaul that we would do if we were preparing to teach a course online, but some of us have a few minutes to tweak the system.


Ask your students how they’re doing. If you are Zooming with your students, ask how they’re doing at the beginning and end of class, even with a thumbs up/thumbs down sign. When you’re emailing your students, ask how they’re doing or send an email just to check on them. Your email may ostensibly be a reminder about something, but the primary purpose and subject is checking in. It matters.


Find ways of creating community. Get students talking to each other and to you. My students asked for a synchronous Zoom class (I don’t require that they attend synchronously). They were looking for structure – but meeting by Zoom has also helped maintain our sense of community. Group work and discussion boards also create a sense of community, but they require more work from you and them and may not be the right approach for now.

Figure 1. Weekly announcement.

How can you foster that sense of community without spending significantly more time? If you’re using Zoom, turn on your camera and ask them to turn on theirs (if they are willing and have a webcam). Suggest that they use Gallery mode – and you use it too, so you can also see everyone. Call your students by name when you’re talking to them on Zoom (Zoom will identify them), as you respond to their queries in Discussion boards, as you leave feedback on their assignments. Leave video announcements and video feedback on assignments. If you don’t want to do video, use audio in your announcements and feedback. You can even use the {firstname} command in text Announcements, which will insert the student’s name.


Give them some structure. Relative to face-to-face classes, online classes require more independence and responsibility, strengths that some newly-online students may not have developed yet. Help them recognize what they need to do for the week by using a checklist or leaving them a list in the Announcements, as in this example from my Abnormal Psychology class (Figure 1).

Each of us can make a difference and make it more likely that our students will learn and succeed this semester. It doesn’t need to take considerable time or energy, but you can do things that will make a difference.

Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published three books – Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower. She can be contacted at

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How Can One Have an Internship without Going to the Site?

– Jeanne M. Slattery

My interns, as we now meet by Zoom

COVID-19 was challenging enough, but earlier this week, we were told that all in-person instruction was suspended for “students in experiential learning sites, including professional placements, practica, internships, research internships, and clinical rotations, unless the accrediting and/or licensing agency has issued superseding guidance.” Yikes! As this is the start of Week 9 as I write this, most of my interns still need to complete about half of their internship hours.

My students are lucky, as they have weekly meetings (now by Zoom), discussion boards addressing ethical issues, an ethics take-home exam, and a number of small professionally-related assignments. These activities can partially fulfill their hour requirements; still, they are nowhere near completing their hours.

Some of my interns will likely complete their hours in a virtual environment with no problem (e.g., reviewing résumés, pulling together a research project), but that is likely to be impossible for some. All but one hope to graduate in May – and are afraid that they will be unable to.

How do you meet your goals when your typical strategies have been blocked?

My goal? I want my students to see how the field works. What is it like for clients and workers in the field? Usually my students see agencies stretched, but often functioning well. This time? I’m not so sure what they’ll see.

My dean, Jeffery Allen, suggested that interns could explore how their agencies respond to the crisis. Brilliant! My questions for my interns…

In what ways do people served by this agency – or similar ones – respond to this crisis? What special services do they need to survive during this period? In what ways has this agency changed how it offers services? What changes in policies did they propose to respond to this crisis? Did they create new handouts or make changes to their website? How do these changes meet the ethical principles that we’ve been discussing throughout this semester?

I asked my student interns to collect whatever information they could find to answer these questions. Some supervisors will be overloaded and unable to devote the needed time and energy to respond to their questions, but others will likely be generous. My student interns can also find useful information in the library or on the Internet.

The real world

Every agency experiences crises over its lifespan. In my professional life, these have included agency finances, problems in funding from the state, HIV/AIDS, 9/11, and more. I didn’t experience each of these, but I did need to consider them. COVID-19 looks like it will be the most devastating of these crises, with many mental health agencies potentially going out of business – along with other small businesses throughout the country. Perhaps this is an opportunity for my students, not only a threat. My interns have the opportunity to observe and learn from how their agency handles this crisis. They can learn from how their peers’ agencies respond. Surely this is something that will repeatedly show up in their discussion boards and our ongoing class discussions.

My students rarely have a bad experience on their internship, as I stop sending students to sites that do questionable things or where there is infighting and problematic relationships among staff and supervisors. Sometimes, however, they do have a bad experience. I tell them that they can learn from this what they don’t want to be as a professional, that they can learn from both the good and from the bad.

My students were all having a good experience at their sites before COVID-19. They can learn good lessons about problem solving, cooperation, leadership, and resilience by observing COVID-19’s impact on the agency and the agency’s response to it – if they, if I remember to look.

Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published three books – Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower. She can be contacted at

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Creating an Effective Discussion Board

– Nancy Falvo

Nancy Falvo

Creating an interactive learning environment can be challenging for online instructors. Faculty must provide regular and substantive interaction among students and between them and us. One of our primary tools, if used properly, is the discussion board (DB). Many of us have been tossed into this form of instruction with little opportunity to play around in D2L and online instruction. I am happy to share some ideas that have worked for me these last 10 years teaching online in the RN to BSN program (RN-BSN).

If I might speak a moment in general about online instruction. Asynchronous instruction provides more flexibility for students to participate in courses; however, such flexibility isn’t necessarily a blessing for the instructors. Unlike face-to-face classes, students in an online course never go home, so to speak, and your DB may be filled with posts 24/7 that you are asked to read and respond to. The majority of students in our program are working full-time as RNs, many have school-aged children, and several are single parents. School is “fit in” whenever it is possible, which is often in the middle of the night and/or on weekends.

The RN-BSN program has recently adopted Standards for Online Instruction for the RN-BSN Program.  We ask our faculty to respond on the DB each week to a minimum of 50% of the students enrolled, post a minimum of two announcements each week, and be in the classroom three out of five weekdays (see Standards for Online Instruction for the RN-BSN Program). Keep in mind, these standards were written by the RN-BSN faculty, for the RN-BSN faculty, and are in the best interest of our completely online program. They grew from years of discussions, student evaluations, and reviews of standards of excellence for online instruction. They work well for us but may not be suited to everyone.

RN-BSN courses are 3 credits scheduled over 7 ½ weeks. Courses are delivered asynchronously. Students are required to be “in the classroom” a minimum of three days per week by posting a minimum of three discussion board posts (i.e., the equivalent of a three credit F2F course). Our courses are very fast paced, not giving students a lot of time to find their comfort zone in the course; we need them to jump right into the assignments starting with Day 1. An engaging DB, clear directions, and detailed grading rubric are a must for an effective discussion board assignment. Each weekly DB is worth up to 50 points and is evaluated on the initial post, follow-up post responses to peers, critical thinking, references and support, and articulation and mechanics (see Sample Rubric). Obviously, DBs can be worth fewer points and can be evaluated on more or fewer criteria.

RN-BSN courses are 300- and 400-level courses. Our DBs are designed for students to apply the knowledge that they have gotten in the lectures, readings, videos, and other learning resources. Each initial post by the students is usually the equivalent of a 1 to 2-page paper; however, I have had students post a voice-narrated PowerPoint, an audio response, or a video instead of a written response. Creativity is encouraged!

So, what can you do to create an effective DB?

For my courses I first format all of my DBs with a heading that includes the week and a brief title such as Week #3 DB: Research Design: Population, sample, setting, & ethical considerations. Next, each DB includes 3 or 4 sentences summarizing the main points of the week as well as the main focus of the assignment:

For this DB, consider a recent healthcare issue that has been addressed in your nursing practice and/or debated in the news. This may be a small problem that occurred on your unit or in your hospital or large problem on a national level.

Finally, students are asked to address 4-6 key aspects of their issue according to the information presented in our readings and resources for the week. For example, students now apply knowledge of vulnerable groups in the population of interest, ethical issues of research, and protection of human subjects to the situation or issue they have identified.

Think about your F2F class – do you often call on students to summarize the readings or the information from another resource? If so, begin your DB this same way. Structure your online DB as you would lead a discussion in the F2F class. If you are asking questions of the students, avoid closed questions only requiring a yes or no response. You want to encourage a dialogue to begin on the DB with each student’s initial post. Figure 2 is a screen shot of my DB for Week #3.

Figure 1. Week 3 Discussion Board

To prevent students from copying DB responses from other students, there is a tab to click on when you create the DB: User must start a thread before they can read and reply to other threads. This can be found under “properties” when creating a DB module. Remind students that they will not be able to see any responses to the assignment until they have posted a response. After the initial post, students can view and read the threads and responses for the week.  

Figure 2. Instructions on making peer responses

Along with the above instructions, you will want to provide guidance each week for how you want students to respond to their peers. Responses should not be limited to “I agree with your post” or “I like what you wrote, nice job!” Students should be engaged in a conversation no different than what might occur in a F2F classroom. As the instructor, I should be doing the same thing, as well as challenging the students to think at a higher level. Figure 2 illustrates my guidance for making peer responses.

The details

As you may be able to see from this shot, I had 16 students initiate threads this week with a total of 111 posts for the week. This is a workable number for a group in an online course. In general, if I have 20 or more students in the class, I split the students into two groups. I have found that if the group size is too large, it is too easy to become invisible “in the back of the room” and not participate. However, if your groups are too small, the discussion can become boring. If you do use groups for your discussions, I suggest you switch the members up each week, so every student has a chance to dialog with every other student. If you don’t use groups on the DB, look for other ways to involve the quieter students in the discussion.

You can “attach” your grading rubric directly to your DB and connect the rubric directly to your Gradebook to make grading much simpler. Step by step instructions can be found in the D2L documentation for faculty.

Figure 3. Three communication discussion boards

Finally, I also create for each course a DB Forum that provides students with a way to communicate with me, with each other about the course, and a place for socialization (Figure 3). It is my practice not to enter the Questions for My Classmates or the Student Lounge to give students some privacy in their discussions. During this difficult transition, your students may benefit even more from this forum.

If you are looking for suggestions on how to craft an engaging discussion board or have questions on anything I have presented, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to help you!

Nancy Falvo has been employed at Clarion University for 31 years in the RN-BSN program first as the Director of the Pittsburgh site then in the online RN-BSN program. From 2001 to 2010, she served as the Executive Director of the Health Science Education Center in Clarion, PA, a DOH grant-funded center. Since 2002, she has served as the PASSHE faculty representative for the Center for Rural PA.

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Zoom: Tips for Creating a Digital Classroom

– Cristin Ketley

Cristin Ketley

Faculty have been adjusting classes in order to keep up with the changing educational climate and, more recently, mandates stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Transitioning from face-to-face teaching to online instruction is a significant adjustment for many of us. To respond to these changes, many faculty are considering using Zoom.

Because I teach synchronously and have planned student participation from students from all over the United States and world, Zoom has been an especially helpful tool for achieving my teaching goals. These are some practical tips I’ve learned about using Zoom:

  • Clearly describe the rules making online classes successful. Begin your first class by explaining online etiquette and the features of the system you are using, and practicing muting and unmuting. This class should discuss things such as speaking in turns, confidentiality, disclosures, and student locations. 
  • Develop a nonverbal response mode. Explain, practice, and use this nonverbal response mode frequently. I check for understanding by having my students give a thumbs up or down. You can also ask students to use the thumbs-up icon in the bottom menu.
  • Ask students to use headphones and to stay muted as much as possible. Doing so decreases background noise and allows students to take turns speaking. As the instructor, you may also want to use headphones.
  • Record your class meeting. You can set your preferences for your recording and automatically subtitle your recording in your preferences under Advanced Options, making your recording either on your computer or in the cloud. Post the link to your recording so students can review the class if needed.
  • Choose preferences that work for you. I find it helpful to set my meeting so that I do not have to individually allow each student entry into the site. This frees me to teach.
  • Respect your connection! Ask students to close all other tabs and applications when possible to help with the connection.
  • Share your screen. When you share your screen, students will see your face plus whatever parts of your screen you want them to see (e.g., handouts, PowerPoints, or parts of your D2L shell)
  • Use the grid view when not sharing your screen. Using the grid view rather than the speaker view allows you to see as many students as possible. This simulates the “class” experience for you. Encourage them, also, to use the Grid view so they can see and respond to everyone.
  • Be the last to leave the classroom. Students tend to hang on at the end to ask questions. When you give them this opportunity, you can provide extra guidance and support. In some cases, keeping the recording going for questions may help other students later. Be ready to stop the recording, when appropriate, using the button on the top left hand corner.
  • Practice! Changing our teaching behaviors and using new technology at the same time can be very difficult. A few practice runs can make it easier for you and lead to better student outcomes.

Cristin Ketley, Ed.D, BCBA, LBS is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Disability Policy Studies at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She is a certified Competent Learner Model (CLM) coach and implementer. She has worked as an autism support teacher, autism specialist, and education consultant before moving into higher education.

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How Not to Touch Your Face

– Jeanne M. Slattery

Jeanne Slattery (and Monte)

One of the things that we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid touching our faces. I was talking about this with a friend yesterday and just thinking about not touching my face made me want to touch it. (Try not thinking about white elephants.)

What makes it difficult to stop touching our faces is that it is a habit largely outside our awareness. These are things that my students and I identified that may be helpful:

Q: What can I do to increase my awareness that I am touching my face?

One thing you can do is to begin using fragrant hand soap or lotion. As you bring your hands toward your face, the fragrance will remind you that you are doing so – and that you have a choice about what you want to do.

Q: What can I do to decrease the desire to touch my face?

Consider the situations in which you tend to touch your face more – for me, these include dry skin and allergies. What can you do to decrease these? For me, these strategies might include controlling my allergies and moisturizing regularly.

Q: What if I still want to touch my face?

Keep tissues around so you have something sterile to use to touch your face. Throw it out.

Bottom line…

Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds (Happy birthday twice). That way, when you forget and touch your face, it will be less of a problem for you and everyone else.

Remember, most of us are at very low risk of dying from COVID-19; nonetheless, older people and people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk. Do them a favor! Protective measures such as washing our hands, closing schools, canceling large gatherings, working from home, and avoiding crowds keeps the virus from spreading and prevents our hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed health systems put people with diseases such as cancers at greater risk, as they may not be able to obtain the care they need.

Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published three books – Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower. She can be contacted at

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Information Literacy In and Out of the Classroom

– Melissa K. Downes

Melissa Downes

Information literacy is defined by the American Library Association (1989) as the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” It is easy to growl about our students’ research skills on the tough days, but one of the ways to stop growling is to remind ourselves: our students are not us. When it comes to information literacy, this is an especially important mantra because information literacy needs and the practice of those skills have changed significantly in the 21st century. As Head and Eisenberg (2011) conclude, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever” (para 11).

If we do want to think about our students as if they are us, it is important to think back to when we were in high school or college. How good were you at finding, evaluating, reading and interpreting, using, and documenting sources? I was pretty good at interpreting sources and okay at using sources. I was usually protected from bad evaluation by an excellent library and no easily available internet. (Yes, that long ago.) I was terrible at searching, though I discovered a lot as I browsed. And I believe I was much more comfortable finding and evaluating sources for academic needs than for personal and civic needs.

Now, imagine being who we were amid the current explosion of information and easy access to misinformation and disinformation, where lies, errors, and opinions hide as “fact” (e.g., is COVID-19 dangerous with a high mortality rate or has that dangerousness been exaggerated by Democrats and the media?). Arguably, we are in a time of greater suspicion – even outright dismissal – of expertise, while concurrently being overwhelmed with information, reliable and not. And, as is noted often these days, most of us silo ourselves in our social media use and information searches, limiting where we look and what we look at. Siloing increases polarization (Dylko et al., 2017) and weakens information literacy and critical thinking.

Will this culture of (mis)information get better? At present, many people in the information field are pessimistic. For example, in a large survey of technologists, scholars, practitioners, and strategic thinkers during the summer of 2017, 51% did not believe that the information environment will improve (Pew Research Center, 2017). Thus, our students will continue to face significant information challenges.

My students—from College Writing to the English capstone — tell me of the ease and value of instant access. Yet many note, as Head and Eisenberg (2011) do, the stress of information overload. Students talk of the frustration of finding sources in the University databases and fall back on Google, yet I can often find useful sources on their topic in a few minutes in an office hours visit, as I model the search process for them. Few first-year students I have worked with have pushed the idea of evaluating sources beyond their high school skills (e.g., .edu vs. .com). Many talk of their struggles deciphering scholarly work once they find it and often jam sources into their own work awkwardly. When I asked my College Writing students last term how they would search for and evaluate information to help them understand the impeachment process, they had difficulty even imagining where to start. Thus, students often struggle with each of the components of information literacy, and the multiple layers of struggle make them frustrated and hesitant.

Information literacy skills need to be taught and practiced through college – across the disciplines and outside the disciplines – as an essential survival skill for our students both inside and outside their academic lives. Information literacy skills and research ability are noted as employer needs (e.g. Hart Research Associates, 2013); unfortunately, new employees struggle with these skills (Goldstein, 2014; Head, 2012). Project Information Literacy, generally, and Head et al. (2018) have stressed helping our students’ develop their information literacy skills so they can become active, practicing citizens and lifetime learners.

There are many small steps we can take to help our students be more information literate. One key component of promoting information literacy is helping our students recognize the value of expertise and of scholarly/peer-reviewed work within and outside the academy. But to help them see that value, we have to make scholarship more accessible – not just by helping them with the research process (e.g., with sessions in the library and scaffolded assignments), but also by helping them decode the structure and language of our disciplines.

It is possible to make these changes. Jeanne Slattery and Ellen Foster provide two models of strategies for decoding research. Consider how you help your students build their information literacy skills – and share those in a future Hand in Hand.


American Library Association. (1989, January 10). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final report.

Dylko, I., Dolgov, I., Hoffman, W., Eckhart, N., Molina, M., & Aaziz, O. (2017). The dark side of technology: An experimental investigation of the influence of customizability technology on online political selective exposure. Computers in Human Behavior, 73, 181-190.

Goldstein, S. (2014, Sept.) Transferring information know-how: Information literacy at the interface between higher education and employment. InformAll.

Hart Research Associates. (2013, 10 April). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success.

Head, A. J. (2012). Learning curve: How college graduates solve information problems once they join the workforce. Project Information Literacy Research Institute.

Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2011, June 3). College students eager to learn but need help negotiating information overload. Seattle Times.

Head, A. J., Wihbey, J., Metaxas, P. T., MacMillan, M., & Cohen, D. (2018, Oct. 16). How students engage with news: Five takeaways for educators, journalists,
and librarians. Project Information Literacy Research Institute.

Pew Research Center. (2017, October 19). The future of truth and misinformation online.

Melissa K. Downes is a professor of English at Clarion University. She loves teaching. She is interested in talking about how people teach and enjoys sharing how she teaches. She is an 18th century specialist, an Anglophile, a cat lover, and a poet. She can be contacted at

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The “Anatomy” of a Research Article

– Jeanne M. Slattery

Most peer-reviewed publications in the social sciences follow a predictable pattern of organization. I’ll describe this in words, then pictures, using an article by Kajimura and Nomura (2016):

In words

1. Abstract – The abstract provides the author’s summary and, with the title, can help you decide whether to read further. Will this article address your question in a helpful manner?

2. Introduction – The introduction includes a review of the literature, and may or may not start with the work Introduction. The last paragraph of the introduction generally describes the study’s hypotheses.

3. Methods. Describes how the study was done. It often has the following subheadings:

  • Participants (Who? How many? From where?)
  • Materials (What surveys or equipment were used?)
  • Procedure (How was your research performed?)

4. Results – What was found? Pay attention to the figures and tables in this section, as they include important information.

5. Discussion – What does this study mean? What are the limitations to these data?

6. References – Often, but not always in APA format, depending on the journal. This can be a good source of other articles to consider.

“Seeing” the anatomy of a research article

While the design and layout of individual publications will vary the images below illustrate the “anatomy” of a research article, and the text boxes should help you understand the key features.

Its reference, first:


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published three books – Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower. She can be contacted at

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The “Anatomy” of a Peer-Reviewed Article

– Ellen Foster

Most peer-reviewed publications in the humanities follow a fairly predictable pattern of organization:

  • Introduction, often including a lit review (aka literature review, or review of the literature)
  • Body, often with section heading and sub-headings
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography (Works Cited, if MLA format is used)
  • Notes.

In some cases, you’ll find additional information, such as an abstract before the article itself.  You can almost always also find an abstract in the database information on the article.  As an author-provided summary of the article’s content, the abstract is very useful … though it’s not a substitute for reading the article. 🙂

While the design and layout of individual publications will vary, the images below illustrate a kind of “anatomy” of a peer-reviewed article; the text boxes will, I hope, guide you to noticing the key features.

All images are from “An Open Multilevel Classification Scheme for the Visual Layout of Comics and Graphic Novels:  Motivation and Design,” by John A. Bateman, Francisco O. D. Veloso, Janina Wildfeur, Felix HiuLaam Cheung, and Nancy Songdan Guo, published in the peer-reviewed journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities in 2017.  Altogether, the article spans over 30 pages, including a number of illustrations and charts.  Since these visual elements are unusual in humanities scholarship, I’ve left them out, but you can view the entire article at the link above.

Ellen Foster is professor of English at Clarion University. Something that occupies a lot of her mental space: Trying to help students better understand the tools of research. That’s what inspired the “anatomy” of a peer-reviewed article, along with the hope that students will see the value of reading and synthesizing resources that are more challenging than the results of a Google search.

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Getting Students to Take Responsibility for Their Learning

– Paul Woodburne

Paul Woodburne

About a year or so ago I came across Learner Centered Teaching: five key changes to practice that will foster student engagement by Maryellen Weimer (2013).  It was the idea of ‘fostering engagement’ that got me.  I have been struggling with student engagement in my classes, and trying to consider both what I could do better and how to help students make better choices.

In a nutshell, Weimer proposes a system that put the onus of learning on students, by offering, up front, a small set of mandatory assignments, and a larger number of optional assignments.  All the assignments are given to the students at the outset, along with the grading scale for each assignment and the course. 

Students are able to choose which assignments to complete, given the grade they hope to earn. Weimer hands back any assignments for which students did not earn a passing grade and allows them to redo.  She reports that she did not have to alter her teaching style much at all, and that student attendance and other indicators of student engagement were better. 

This process simply made explicit the implicit bargain students always make in a class.  Students always decide how much effort they want to put into a class.  Weimer’s practice moved the bargain from the shadows to the light and places the onus explicitly onto the student. 

Applying Weimer’s process to my classes

In reflecting on my approach to my typical course structure, it occurred to me that I was putting a lot of constraints on my students.  It is likely that many of their five courses have exams that will all divide the semester into rough thirds.  Some may also have papers due.  Thus, the semester becomes several weeks of boredom and monotony interspersed with bouts of extreme anxiety. 

My own take on Weimer’s process eliminated the time flow bottleneck that seems to occur in my traditional lecture-based classes.  My typical courses have three take-home essay exams that provide for the bulk of the course points.  As is the case in most college courses, my exams divide the semester into rough thirds.  Additionally, I pose questions from chapters of a specific text and give my students several newspaper articles to read and summarize.  If the class has a research paper, I reduce/eliminate the other additional assignments.  The newspaper articles highlight specific topics of importance, and the specific text offers examples of economic reasoning independent of any specific topic in the class.  A specific assignment or question may be on analytic thinking or writing and be used for university-wide assessment. 

My goal became to eliminate time constraints and anxiety to the extent possible and allow students the freedom to apply their time to my class in a way that made the most sense to them.  Weimer’s approach includes many more ‘optional’ assignments; I modified my old exam questions into stand-alone questions that students could answer as we completed the class content, rather than all at once (as would be done for an essay exam). I handed out the questions, with the grading scale, at the start of the term. I encouraged students to answer them on an on-going basis, as we completed the lectures for that material. Following Weimer’s approach of limited ‘mandatory’ assignments, I required questions that specifically related to assessment and, typically, one other assignment.  (Required assignments may include questions from Freakonomics, or the research paper, plus assessment questions.)  These required assignments typically comprise 15-20% of the points for the class. 

To encourage students to self-reflect, I have incorporated a number of reflective questions into the optional assignments for class.  Students choose from a number of questions asking them to reflect on how they plan to attack the class; what they plan to do differently, if anything, now that some time has passed; and the like. I have given the academic content more weight than the reflective pieces, so students cannot pass the class solely by reflecting on the course as they go.

Using this process, students complete the assignments to earn the grade they want.  Nonetheless, students can augment possible weakness in economic theory, by reading newspaper articles and applying economic theory to them. 

What did I expect, or what’s the bigger picture?

As an economist, I believe that students are pretty good natural economists.  I believe they follow incentives quite well.  If, as an economist, I am surprised by their decisions, I believe it is because I did not correctly identify the incentives the students used, or I did not identify and properly reinforce the ones I wanted them to use.  The rub is for me to know what I want them to do and to create the incentives so that they go where I want them to go. 

What do students want?  My starting hypothesis

As a general rule, I think we can safely say that students do not knowingly act in ways that are not in their best interests.  Most of us take the easiest path to the goal that we want, as there is no reason to make our path to our goal harder than it already is.  I think I am not too far wrong in assuming students want to do the minimum work to get the highest possible desired grade, minimize course-related stress, and avoid cramming for in-class and essay exams. They want to be able to finish assignments in a manner they perceive as easy and exercise some control over the assessment process. 

This seems to me to be a no-brainer: that students would appreciate being able to finish assignments on their own time frame (within the constraint of finishing within a given third of the course). 

Assessment of the methodology used

I used Weimer’s methodology in my online MBA classes for a semester or two prior to using it in a face-to-face class on campus.  Without exception, my graduate students loved this approach.  I asked the MBA students (a class of about 15) to write a truly optional assessment of the process of the class.  I got several responses, each in agreement with the comment below

Student:  I’m glad that you asked us about the process for this class.  My feeling is that the way this class was set up is actually ideal.  It removes the stress from receiving that one bad grade that can guarantee early on that an A is going to be impossible to achieve.  Additionally, this way gives much incentive to focus on strengths and weaknesses, allows for valuable feedback, and promotes learning by allowing to re-submit assignments.  This way allows for so much more flexibility in the schedule, which is another plus for students like myself that don’t necessarily have the ability to work on studies on a regular basis.

I have used this approach in two other upper level undergraduate courses, with the same result.  Occasionally I would ask them what was going on in their other classes, and they’d moan about their upcoming exams.  They were ecstatic about not having a ‘Woodburne’ exam to study for/write at the same time.


Student preference for this methodology is certainly not a sufficient condition to continue with it.  The method must result in better student learning.  Writing this piece has caused me to think about how to foster better learning.  This will be fairly easy for my MBA course because I have taught it several times using the new and old methods.  Because I teach the upper level undergraduate classes on a less regular schedule and have only taught some of them once using this method, I have less material to assess. 

My project will be to see if, the quality of answers to the content questions in the junior/senior level classes is about the same when written as take home essay exams as when written as part of the new method of ongoing questions.


Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice that will foster student engagement (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Paul Woodburne is professor of Economics at Clarion University. He challenges his students to think critically and deeply about economic issues. He has written an intermediate money and banking text that he uses in his classes. About six years ago two freshmen in the dorms heard horror stories about how difficult his classes were and got together for mutual support and study. They found they liked each other and, having graduated and gotten good jobs, are now happily married.

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