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The Technological Side of Online Degrees

Aug. 1st 2013

The key behind the success of online learning is flexibility. Gone are the days of commuting long distances to sit in a classroom just to learn. Computers have eliminated the need for fixed schedules and made formal education available for busy professionals and parents. Now, mobile technologies like smartphones, tablets, and wireless internet are taking us even further. You are no longer restricted to where and when you do your studying. For many, the breakneck technological developments that make online education possible are dizzying. In this article we’ll try to sort it all out for you, so you can realize the true benefits of a flexible online education.

The Shift Toward Mobile Learning

Distance learning institutions began to appear during the early 19th Century, as correspondence schools used the postal service to send course materials and textbooks to students in the United States and Europe. Paper materials were used all the way up until the digital era, when computers hit the market during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Many reputable schools then began to shift their curricula online. The New York Institute of Technology was one of the first schools to offer a “virtual campus” in 1984. Digital environments now allow students to take classes all while maintaining hectic work schedules and home duties.

Now that smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous, online schools are developing proprietary mobile apps and tools so you can take classes virtually anywhere. It’s a big step forward from a decade ago, when online students were limited to studying in front of their desktops at home. Today, these apps give you access to reading materials, discussion boards, and relevant media – all in one place.

Traditional, on-campus schools are also using mobile education apps in the classroom. You no longer have to suffer through chalkboards and dry erase boards. Professors can plug their tablet into a projector or flat screen television, and then share information through digital drawing boards, collaborative apps, and online media.

Technology Requirements for Online Programs

Computer Hardware

  • A PC with Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows 8, or an Apple computer with OS 10.6
  • 2GB RAM or higher
  • Intel Core2Duo processor or better
  • 50 GB or more available hard drive space. This amount will depend on the software and file formats your college uses.
  • 1024 by 768 monitor
  • Optical disc drive
  • Internal / external speakers
  • An internal or external microphone

NOTE: For online discussions through Skype, Google Hangouts, or GoToMeeting, headphones are better than speakers for avoiding audio feedback and echo.


  • Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari
  • Adobe Flash Player
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Java
  • QuickTime


  • A broadband Internet connection from a service provider like Google Fiber, Comcast, or Centurylink
  • An email address
  • Ethernet cord for faster video streaming


  • Consumer- level printers by HP, Lexmark, Canon, and many other companies. If you have Apple technology, look for a model with the AirPrint feature, so you can print wirelessly from your iOS device or computer.

Mobile Devices

  • iPhone 3GS or newer
  • iPad
  • Android Phone
  • Android Tablet

Mobile Devices as Learning Tools

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that 56% of American adults own a smartphone and 22% of U.S. adults own tablets. Mobile devices are permeating our culture, as technology giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon provide user-friendly technologies at affordable prices. Academic institutions are jumping on the mobile bandwagon, because they recognize that these technologies make education far more accessible than larger desktop and laptops. Colleges like the University of Phoenix are now creating their own apps for popular mobile devices, so that students can enroll in classes, participate in discussion boards, read course materials, and check their grades.

Mobile devices are great for news and information consumption, as the University of Missouri learned during a survey on mobile media exposure. Researchers found 55% of survey respondents consumed mobile news during the first quarter of 2013, and 12% had canceled print subscriptions. Smartphones and tablets make it very easy for people to view content, whether it is a streaming lecture video, required eBook, digital study sheets, or flashcard apps. Interactive eBooks will even allow readers to zoom in on three-dimensional models, view embedded animations, and play audio accompaniments.

However, there are some downsides to mobile education. Creating presentations, writing essays, and even researching can be far more difficult on mobile devices, especially if you are new to mobile platforms. There will be a learning curve as you adjust to touchscreen gestures and on screen typing. It is important to become somewhat familiar with a mobile device before relying on it for school. The booming app industry presents another challenge for mobile users in that there is now an overabundance of choices.

If you are trying to write an essay for a class, you may download several word processors for a tablet, only to be faced with proprietary file formats that aren’t compatible with other devices. This can make it a pain to transfer a file to another device or submit an assignment to your professor. Use your school’s recommended apps, or find software that uses industry standard file formats, such as Word or PDF. For example, even mainstream solutions, such as Microsoft Office for Mobile, come with limitations. Subscribers are unable to create new PowerPoint presentations or create sophisticated animations on their devices; they can only edit and view some basic transitions.

Examine your course load and responsibilities and see if mobile learning techniques are applicable. A smartphone or tablet wouldn’t be practical if your degree program requires lab courses, experiential learning, or internships in person. But some learning experiences simply cannot be replicated on the screen of a mobile device.

Smartphone and Tablet Recommendations

Android and Apple create most of the leading tablet and smartphone software. Many manufacturers create hardware for Android operating systems, including Acer, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba. This means consumers have more options to choose from, but also less product standardization. Many Android tablets, such as the Ainol Nova 9 Spark are well known for their MicroSD card slots, which allow you to expand the storage capacity of your device. This can be great as you accumulate more reading materials, assignment files, and library materials.

Apple’s iOS devices, such as the iPad Mini, Retina Display iPad, and iPhone are a closed market, meaning Apple makes the hardware and the software. This means software and hardware behavior is similar across product lines, which makes the devices more appealing for students new to mobile. The iTunes University provides vast libraries of supplementary learning materials, including free Ivy League lectures, homework assignments, and textbooks. However, iOS devices do not support Flash content, so check your course websites before purchasing an Apple device. If your college relies on Flash content, you may wish to consider a different tablet.

Some App Suggestions

  • Evernote: Do you have snippets of notes, diagrams, quotes, web addresses, and audio files scattered across your computer and mobile devices? The free Evernote desktop and mobile apps can organize these items for you in neat folders and save portions of websites for offline viewing. Tags allow you to quickly search and locate files, text, and bookmarks stored in your collection.
  • StudyBlue: Students in any field can use digital flashcards to memorize important quiz information and prepare for finals. Simply enter text and photos onto both sides of your study cards, test yourself, and view statistics about your study scores.
  • QuickOffice: Before Microsoft began offering a mobile Office app for subscribers, QuickOffice released a powerful suite for the creation of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets. This app syncs backups with multiple cloud services, so that your important course assignments are safe and sound.
  • Notability: Annotate your PDF documents, sketch diagrams, and write on screen using this great document viewer and editor. If you are having a difficult time dropping pen and paper from your study habits, try writing on documents with Notability.
  • Wolfram Alpha: This app is like your pocket assistant, finding scientific formulas, making calculations, and graphing results on your screen. Just type in a query, like “What are the tide levels like in Pa’ia, Maui?” and Wolfram Alpha will graph the data out for you.

Mobile devices aren’t always necessary for online degree programs, so read over your school’s technology requirements before purchasing a smartphone or tablet. Your current technology may be sufficient for your academic needs. While mobile devices have many great uses, they can also become a distraction during study times if you’re not careful.

Most online colleges will only require a computer, listing mobile devices as optional tools. However, smartphone and tablet use can provide you with greater technological experience, knowledge, and, most importantly, flexibility. Because they are cordless and lightweight, mobile devices give you opportunities to study away from a desk and use time you didn’t even realize you had.

Not so Fast, E-Textbooks: The Battle Between Digital and Print

May. 20th 2013

The relationship between the field of education and our world’s growing technological connection is extremely tight-knit: Students and educators everywhere turn more and more to technological advances in order to supplement and enhance educational methods. In recent years, the prevalence of technology in our society has brought us online learning opportunities, the use of in-class technology like smart boards and student computers, and a vast array of web-based resources for educators and students around the world. One piece of technology that has garnered many mixed reviews, however, is the e-textbook. On the one hand, e-books in general have seen tremendous growth since the presence of tablets and e-readers has become a fixture in society. According to user surveys, people who have tried reading e-books generally enjoy the experience. But at the same time, for students, who are usually the earliest adopters of technology, e-textbooks have been slow to catch on. Among students, many of them say they prefer the presence of a traditional textbook over an e-textbook; in fact, 70% say they find that they simply study more effectively when they have access to a traditional textbook over an e-reader or tablet. So what does the future look like for e-textbooks? The following infographic examines our complex relationship with the traditional textbook versus the e-textbook.

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E-Textbooks Infographic

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The New Presentations

May. 14th 2013

PowerPoint is dead. Long live PowerPoint.

The demise of the ubiquitous presentation tool has been predicted for a few years now. Sure, it gets the job done, but there is a whole new generation of presentation tools that do the job while making more engaging, creative, and eye-catching slides that can help you tell your story and connect with even more people. In today’s 21st century workforce, regardless of where you work, your resume will not be complete without them.

Going Online

With each new tablet and social network that launches, more of our interactions are happening online, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Google +. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center report, half of all Americans use social media, compared to only 5% just six years prior. Given our increasingly reliance on the online world, it’s only natural that our work shifts online, too.

“As more and more of our interactions become asynchronous and globalized, the need to present information online becomes greater,” says Chiara Ojeda, an educator, blogger and speaker who blogs at Tweak Your Slides.

Enter presentations tools like SlideShare, SlideRocket, and Google Slides, which make it easy to create slides and share them online with your classmates, colleagues, or a global audience of millions. More sophisticated tools like cloud-based presentation app do away with the idea of individual slides altogether to help you make impressive, modern-looking animated presentations on a seemingly endless canvas. Along that line are video scribe tools like Doodle and PowToon, which can truly animate your ideas. Not only can these presentations become more engaging, they can help your audience understand the subject matter better. One of the most popular Prezi presentations can teach you about the theory of relativity by showing it to you in action through a nifty animated elevator.

These presenting tools are prevalent in business, as well as IT, marketing, and education, and are quickly becoming essential. Jennifer Stagner manages SEO and ecommerce sales for office supply website and regularly uses Google Docs and SlideRocket to communicate with coworkers in other parts of the country.

“I use online tools for every presentation, whether it is presenting sales analysis to our executive team, search engine optimization best practices to our content team, training presentations to our technical support team, or product solutions to our customers,” says Stagner. “As a manager of a large department I also believe that students who are familiar with online presentation tools will be more valuable to future employers.”

If you’re an undergraduate student, graduate student, or recent graduate, now is the time to learn how to learn these tools and get these increasingly valuable skills on your resume. You can use them now in your classwork or internship, and have them in your arsenal for when you enter the workforce.

“This is absolutely an important skill,” says Ojeda. “Particularly because those already established in the workforce tend to do things in the old death-by-PowerPoint style, the opportunity for young, 21st century-workers to set themselves apart by taking on the tools of 21st-century presenting is very great.”

The Online Presentations Tools You Need To Know

Because many of these presentation tools are free, you can get started learning how to use them right now and incorporate them into your own assignments. Here’s our primer to understanding the more popular online presentation tools — and how to get the most out of them:

  • Google Slides: For Google’s version of PowerPoint, check out the Google Slides section of its Google Drive cloud storage (previously known as Google Docs). Through this free online presentations app, you can create and edit presentations using pre-made templates and inserting images and videos. For more collaborative projects, you can edit the presentation with fellow students or coworkers. Once it’s ready, you can share with others via Google Drive, download as a PDF, PPT, or .txt file, or even embed onto a website.

  • SlideRocket: Like Google Slides, SlideRocket helps you make presentations online. But the website also has more sophisticated tools so you can add animations and transitions. You can also include data from real-time sources, like Twitter live feeds and Yahoo! Finance stock quotes, for an always up-to-date presentation. When you’re finished, you can publish your presentation as a URL, which you can then embed in a web page or blog or share with others. There is one caveat — this popular tool is at a bit of a crossroads. Following an acquisition by ClearSlide, a sales-based presentation platform, SlideRocket is not currently accepting new registrations for its services. So you’ll have to stay tuned to see what’s next in store.

  • SlideShare: As the name implies, SlideShare is all about sharing your work. If you made a presentation through PowerPoint, OpenOffice, or Keynote, you can upload it to this online community to share with a global audience. The free website supports a variety of documents, including PDFs, MSOffice, OpenOffice, and iWorks docs, which you can add audio to through the site. You can upload presentations publicly or privately and share on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or embed on blogs, wikis, or websites. The site can be valuable for when you’re conducting research, too, thanks to the thousands of uploaded SlideShares covering any number of searchable subjects.

  • Prezi: One of the more advanced tools of them all, this cloud-based presentation app uses Adobe Flash to help you choreograph non-linear, dynamic presentations. Its signature rotate and zoom capability can be useful for conveying complex ideas, so it might not be best for every project. It’s free to sign up, and you start with 100 MB of cloud storage. Working in a group? You can collaborate on a prezi with others in real time. When your presentation is ready, you can share publicly or download to present offline.

  • Skitch: Visuals are key in any presentation, and this free Mac image editor app from Evernote lets you easily manipulate your images and add annotations, shapes, and sketches.

  • Keynote: When working offline, many designers prefer this Apple product to other desktop-based presentation tools like PowerPoint to make their slides. Choose from more than 25 transitions, made 3-D charts, or morph text from one slide into the next for visually stunning slides that can then be uploaded to a site like SlideShare.

The Next Generation

To some presentation gurus, even cutting-edge tools Prezi and SlideShare are already passe, and the future of presentation belongs to video scribing — a new form of visual story telling that uses whiteboard animation, stop-motion photography, or illustrations to explain a concept.

“The days of PowerPoint, Slideshare, even Prezi are not long for the world,” says Duane Siebert, founder of “People are suckers for motion, videos, more engagement, more entertainment.”

Siebert would know. He regularly creates “doodle-art” whiteboard videos using tools like, as well as YouTube videos based on PowerPoint files, effectively for his business. These video presentations can make even the most mundane topics watchable and engaging. Siebert himself will tell you that his YouTube videos have garnered more than 300,000 views on stuff as boring as toner for printers.

Some of the emerging players in this animated arena include PowToon, a free animated presentation online software tool; Sparkol VideoScribe, a subscription-based whiteboard animation tool; and Camtasia Studio, an app that turns screen recordings into video. And as is usually the case with adapting brand new technology, younger people are at an advantage.

“A huge leg up young people have on us ‘old farts’ is that they are so keenly aware of the cutting edge nature of video, what’s appealing, what is eye-catching,” says Siebert. “It is far easier for them to see the power of tools like these and come up to speed on them far faster.”

Tips for a Killer Presentation

Though the tools themselves may have evolved, what makes a great presentation indeed great still relies on three key things: content, delivery, and visual presentation. Jim Endicott, author of The Presentation Survival Skills Guide, calls this a three-legged stool, a concept that Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, expanded on more recently with her presentation ecosystem. It all boils down to this:

“A presentation is strong in three areas: content that is dynamic, real, and resonates; delivery that is natural, engaging, and connected; and slides or visuals that are design-centered and visual in approach,” says Ojeda. “Each one takes unique preparation, self-critique, the critique of others, revision, and practice. An effective presentation is one that leaves the audience wanting to take action and effectiveness doesn’t come without [these] characteristics.”

Here are some tips to help you make effective presentations, whether you’re using online tools like SlideRocket, Google Docs, SlideShare, and Prezi, or, yes, even PowerPoint:

Follow by example: There are thousands of online presentations out there, curated by design and presentation blogs. It’s likely the more popular ones will also be some of the more engage, too, so point around and learn by example to see what works. “Study great presenters, don’t just go it alone,” says Ojeda.

Be succinct: An online presentation isn’t an essay — less text is better. And better than text is an image. “You want to avoid too many words on a slide or too many slides; often you can relay the same concept with an interesting visual or infographic instead,” says Stagner.

Rehearse: If you’re in school, you’re likely not just uploading your work to sites to let it potentially go viral; you’re presenting it before a classroom. And just like any presentation, it’s important to practice and put the time into the actual presenting — not just the presentation itself. “Don’t procrastinate, prepare instead,” says Ojeda.

Getting Started Now

Becoming proficient in any or all of these online presentation tools can be a valuable addition to your resume and portfolio. And the best part is you can start now; many of these tools are free and provide tutorials to help get you on your feet. You’ll be wowing your fellow classmates, professors, and future employers in no time.

A Practical Guide to Scholarships

Apr. 17th 2013

For prospective college students, there is no doubt a great deal of excitement, expectation, and, of course, trepidation about where they are headed. Scholarships are a major part of the college prep, and while they are often regarded as overwhelming and confusing — something students don’t even want to bother with — they don’t have to be.

We’ve broken down the basics of scholarships for you. Where to find them, how to apply for them and why you (or your student) will definitely want to bother. However, before we get into all that…

What are Scholarships, Exactly?

Scholarships are a form of financial aid awarded to students to further their education based on any number of different criteria; scholarships usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.

You will likely have heard scholarships discussed along with other sources of aid such as grants and student loans. Like scholarships, student loans are designed to help students pay for university tuition, books and living expenses. However, the difference is — and it’s a key difference — loans must be paid back, with interest.

Grants for college are similar to scholarships, in that grants are not expected to be paid back. They are often seen as an investment on the part of the organization giving the grant. For that reason, grants often require much more compliance and reporting on the part of the recipient than scholarships. That being said, many scholarships still require a student to maintain a certain level of scholarly conduct and a minimum GPA.

In recent years, a common misperception regarding scholarships has formed: students from specific, non-white ethnic groups have more opportunities for scholarships based on their minority status within the US. However, a 2011 report illustrates that Caucasian students still receive a disproportionate share of private scholarships and merit-based grants. In fact, Caucasian students receive more than three times as much in merit-based grant and private scholarship funding as minority students.

The Different Scholarships Available

Despite inequities, the sheer number of scholarships available to students of every walk of life continues to grow. Virtually every prospective college student is eligible for some type of scholarship, and there is no limit to the number of scholarships available to one person. Here are some of the most common:


When people think of scholarships, academic achievement is probably what springs to mind first. Many high profile scholarships are based on academic merit — especially a student’s GPA. It’s worth noting that extracurriculars and volunteer work also tend to factor into merit-based awards. Some academic scholarships offer a relatively large payout – some even offering a “full ride” scholarship. While students will push themselves to win such giant sums, regardless of what sort of scholarship they actually end up with, simply earning a scholarship at all is an accomplishment that always look very good on a resume.


There are some students whose athletic abilities are so exceptional that universities all over the country vie to award them generous scholarships. Landing a stellar athlete can mean years of success — and money — for prominent universities. It should be noted, however, even for athletic scholarships, students must also be able to demonstrate a solid academic performance; scholastics are still the backbone of the collegiate experience.


Need-based scholarships are offered to students who would otherwise be unable to attend college due to financial constraints. These are offered at nearly every major university, with some schools even promising to offer need-based aid to any eligible student who would not be able to attend the school due to economic hardship.

Minority Groups

Almost every ethnic or minority group has a scholarship dedicated to recognizing and awarding exceptional students from a specific background; this includes women, who, while not a minority, were long considered a minority in the world of advanced degrees. There are also scholarships offered to minority groups in general, usually in the interest of promoting academic diversity. Funding for these scholarships comes from various sources, ranging from government programs to universities and private organizations.


For veterans of the U.S. armed forces, there are a variety of scholarships designed to enhance opportunities and increase the number of vets who go on to college and pursue lucrative careers. Veterans scholarships are offered by the U.S., as well as a variety of veterans groups, nonprofits, and even some private organizations.

Community Service

There are also a number of scholarships available for students who, as upstanding citizens, have made meaningful contributions to their community. These scholarships can be somewhat less common — and somewhat less known — than merit-based awards. This can limit the number of applicants and increase the chances of being a recipient.

How to Apply for Scholarships

When it comes to scholarships, the sooner you start researching what’s out there, the better. You’ll not only get to spend more time crafting your applications, you’ll get to apply to more scholarships, increasing your chances of landing some great financial aid.

Remember, every scholarship has its own distinct requirements. It’s smart to reach out to people in the know who can direct you to the applications worth your while. Both your high school guidance counselor and the financial aid office at universities you are applying to, or hoping to apply to, help students with their financial aid choices for a living. Getting in touch with them as early as possible will help them find what best suits you.

Of course, the 21st century student also has ample opportunity to do research on their own. In fact, public libraries are an excellent place to do some independent sourcing of possible scholarships.

Every scholarship has its own deadline, and it’s up to you to keep track of each on you are going for. You will likely have to fill out an application online, or print the application and turn it in via the post office prior to the deadline.

If and when you are finally awarded a scholarship, it’s worth knowing that you may never have direct access to the funds. In some cases the funds are sent directly to the college to cover your tuition and other academic expenses. However, if there is still something left over, some scholarships will give the remaining money to the recipient in the form of a check.

In Conclusion

It takes time to track down great scholarships, put together a great application and wait to hear back from an organization. However, for motivated students, they can be a fantastic investment. Well before your first day at college, applying for scholarships allows you to get a head start on the independence that makes the college experience such a unique and worthwhile transition into adulthood.

Finishing What You Start: How to Navigate the World of College Transfer Credits

Apr. 5th 2013

Historically, transfer students wind up ignored when gathering statistics. They almost always get lumped in with other demographics instead. A recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finally glimpsed into the world of the oft-overlooked transfers, noting that they make up one-third of the entire student population. Part-time students are only slightly more likely to transfer than their full-time peers, at a rate of 33.9% to 32.6%.

The most surprising finding completely dismantled common assumptions about how and why students transfer their credits from one institution to the other. Most tend to think this happens from two-year schools to four-year, but trends reveal otherwise. A surprising 51.9% move from four-year schools to two-year, while 37.6% of total two-year transfer students transition from two-year to two-year. Compare that to 41.2% from two-year to four-year. Across the board, the students most likely to transfer are in their second year of school.

NSCRC’s study did not explore why students decide to transfer from one school to another, but they are not difficult to glean. Cost, obviously, and finding a more suitable program (including switching majors) both stand as the experts’ most common choices. But moving because of life changes, like caring for an ailing relative or personal health reasons, might also compel some to switch.

Amy Tran is a former journalism student now working as a content manager for a dotcom. She moved from University of Houston to Boston University after her second semester to cut back on her stress levels. For her, “getting the transfer paperwork completed was a bit of a hassle, but not much more so than what you go through when you first enroll in college.”

“I attended a two-day orientation at BU during the summer before I officially moved there and began classes. That was mainly to take ID photos and tour the campus. It was school-sanctioned. We were there during ‘Fish Camp,’ [a slang term for freshman orientation, mainly associated with Texas A&M University] but just in our own group as transfer students,” she says.

Her experiences should reassure anyone thinking about moving from school to school: “It was a surprisingly easy transition.”


The Variables

Policies regarding credit transfers vary from school to school, obviously. Almost all of them limit the number that students can move, typically no more than two years’ worth of classes, or 180 credit hours for four-year colleges and 80 for two-year. Some might not make the cut because the new institution does not offer an equivalent course, but in these instances many schools accept them as electives.

“I think this is the most important part of transferring, and probably the most challenging: finding out where you stand in terms of credits towards your degree and major,” Tran says. “If you know you’re going to transfer, I advise not taking any major-specific courses until you’re at your final school because a lot of schools want you to complete all your major-specific classes at their institution.”

“This means if you’re a journalism student and you take a few journalism classes at your old school, they may not count towards your journalism major when you’re at your new one, so you’d have to take those classes all over again,” she warns. “Really talk to your advisors at both schools to get that sorted out. Basic classes are much easier to transfer. Just stay organized and have your paperwork and forms together.”

One of the most painless ways to transfer credits is to take Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests while in high school. Colleges and universities do vary somewhat when it comes to the minimum scores they will accept. But almost all of them will take passing scores thanks to core curriculum standards. However, students need to check and see just how many AP and CLEP credits their desired schools will allow them to transfer in — most have a maximum amount.

Students moving between public community colleges and other two-year institutions or towards four-year schools should explore any arrangements made where the four-year accepts every credit earned at the two-year. Blinn College and Texas A&M University, for example, have such an agreement. Enrollees in certain programs at the community college can transfer every single one of their credit hours directly into the university after two years. This arrangement can be found in most states, however, and will usually include moves between four-year and four-year institutions as well.

Transferring from one public school to another within the same state should be comparatively painless thanks to core curricula. However, the destination institutions still usually cap how many credits can be brought in at a time, even with equivalences. More specialized, higher-level classes might wind up rejected as well. Schools want students graduating after displaying competency in their chosen fields, and the courses at others might not line up in the exacting way they want.

Moving from Texas to Massachusetts also meant she had to receive certain vaccinations because of state laws. “Look into state requirements for things like immunizations and health checkups if you’re switching to a school in another state,” Tran says.

Depending on a school’s relationship with the Armed Forces, military service can transfer over as college credit as well. All branches keep running transcripts of what training translates to what kind of higher education courses, with each one adapting their own system.

For individuals taking extended breaks between semesters, the transferring process might prove a mite more challenging, though in no way impossible. College credits do not have an official “expiration date.” But some schools will still restrict transfers on the basis of time lapsed, usually after 10 years. They might also limit the number based on whether or not the classes were completed at a two-year or four-year institution; grades might also impact their decision, with the cutoff usually at nothing below a C.

Restricting transferred credit is a particularly prevalent practice in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM), especially medicine. Because the skills and requirements in STEM evolve and change as new research emerges, schools want their students to enter the workforce with updated knowledge — crucial in situations where peoples’ health and safety is at stake. The visual arts and many of the humanities and liberal arts do not change nearly as rapidly as these industries, so students devoted to them will likely prove more fortunate when returning from a prolonged higher education absence.

International schools’ credits prove the most challenging. Acceptance hinges on whether or not the United States recognizes the accrediting bodies who approved schools in the original nation. In the case of countries where English is not the primary language, students are almost always required to send their transcripts in it.

“The earlier you transfer, the easier the experience will be,” advises Tran, and her tips apply to every transfer student demographic. “One of my friends at BU transferred in after her sophomore year, and she had to make up a lot of credits because quite a few of them didn’t transfer. I had the same issue as well, but at a much smaller scale before I only spent one year at my previous school.”

“To make up for this, I overloaded on classes one semester and also stayed for a summer term once. My friend had to overload for two semesters and stay for two summers to make up the credits so that she would still graduate on time,” she says.

These possible setbacks ought not discourage students from transferring, of course. But before committing to a specific school or program, students will have to commit themselves to some intensive research first. Because there is not one universal standard to which transfer students and their credits are held, it will require some e-mails and phone calls to suss out the most appropriate transitions.

Websites such as and provide an essential service for transfer students as well. There, they plug in their current schools, courses, and programs as well as the desired schools, courses, and programs. The tool then returns information about which credits will transfer over and which ones won’t. Although these resources certainly save time, they still does not replace directly contacting schools about their credit transferring policy.


The Problem with Equivalencies

Regardless of whether or not transfer credits come from AP exams or an international college, the major problem with moving from one campus to another is almost always equivalencies.

“Faculty at every institution spend a daunting amount of time deciding on which of their own classes and programs to approve,” says Dr. Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University. “Colleges and universities take the approval of degrees as one of their most important activities, and each institution delineates what courses in particular combinations constitute the right work to be given the corresponding degree. In other words, the school puts their name on every diploma, and is verifying that the student has completed the work appropriate to that degree.”

At the root of the problem is whether schools are comparing apples to apples.

“With each institution crafting distinct courses and pathways to degree, getting those to align can be enormously challenging,” says Flagel. “Even the assumption that a basic English or Math course might be the same at two different institutions can be wrong — the course may appropriately prepare student for upper level courses at one institution, but be entirely insufficient at another.”

Students should come into the transfer with their eyes wide open — and realize that colleges and universities want students to be best prepared for upper level courses and life after graduation.


A Different Approach

Some higher ed institutions, like Thomas Edison State College, take a more open strategy when it comes to accepting transfer students.

“Thomas Edison State College has one of the most flexible transfer credit policies in the country,” says David Hoftiezer, Director of Admissions. “First, we accept credit regardless of age, meaning ‘credits do not expire.’ Often institutions will not accept credit that is more than 10 years old. Institutions should be more flexible when it comes to the acceptance of transfer credit. Colleges often limit the amount of credit you can transfer, Thomas Edison State College does not.”

He believes that “being very liberal and flexible” are necessary qualities when dealing with transfer students. “Many institutions will not accept credit more than 10 years old. This roadblock could be easily removed,” Hoftiezer says.

Excelsior College also features an open program for transfer students looking for more flexibility and fewer migraines. It recognizes the usual credits from other schools, the military, and AP and CLEP tests. Students who display competency via portfolios, corporate training and experience, qualified certifications, industry training, and classes offered at partner organizations may receive credits for their efforts as well.

These flexible, comparatively open strategies acknowledge experience and know-how gleaned outside the classroom. As a bonus, it makes higher education more accessible to returning students, no matter how much time elapses between leaving school and going back for more. Not every program necessarily benefits from no credit transfer regulation whatsoever, like healthcare. But schools could still afford a little broadening of their standards to help ease student transitions from one institution to another.

“Unfortunately, the most typical route, whether a student is traditional or non-traditional, is that the student must first gain admissions, and in many cases even deposit, before finding out what credits will transfer,” says Flagel. “Even if a student knows what credits will transfer, that often does not include how those credits will apply to a particular major, or what process a student may need to follow in order to have a course count for a specific equivalency.”

Students ought not be swayed from transferring if they feel it the right decision. But they do need to understand the reality. “I often suggest that transferring should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint,” says Flagel. “It is rare to find institutions that offer easy transfer credit processes – even those with robust articulations can often be very complicated.”

“My advice is to have patience with the process. Higher education is only just now learning to adapt to the reality that the majority of students seeking baccalaureate degrees transfer at some point before obtaining that degree,” he adds. “I suspect these processes will get easier and more efficient, but that the challenges … indicate that it’s unlikely to feel intuitive to prospective transfer students.”


How to Get It Done

In spite of the myriad variables in the credit transferring process, it’s actually one of the least migraine-inducing rounds of paperwork a student will experience in their college careers. They should still keep a few things in mind while undertaking the move from one school to another.

  • Research: Research everything. This means scanning a potential school’s website or contacting their admissions department with questions about what they will and will not accept. They can answer anything regarding course equivalencies, “expiration dates,” the maximum number allowed, and any other variable. Researching also turns up possible programming options that could very well save money, but still get accepted by their desired destinations once the student decides to transfer out.
  • Know what “expires” and what doesn’t: Some schools will not accept credits over 10 years old, and for more dynamic disciplines — like medicine — the cutoff might be even sooner than that. “Expiration dates” should not be a concern for students transferring directly from one college to another. But those taking longer breaks from higher education need to research which schools will or will not recognize the credits they’ve accumulated so far.
  • If transferring from an international school, send everything in English: Every American school is going to ask this of international students transferring from an institution where English is not the primary language.
  • Transfer in state, if possible: Many situations will require a student to move out of state, of course. But staying within a state’s public college system maximizes the amount of time and money saved. Thanks to core curriculum and other agreements, it is much, much easier to transfer credits between state schools than from one state to another; mostly because it is much, much more likely that they’ll accept most of the credits involved.
  • Check for any special arrangements between two-year and four-year schools: Like transferring within the state, other programs linking two-year institutions to four-year also prove far smoother than most other arrangements. Some will accept two full years’ worth of classes and apply them to a four-year degree. But students will have to research their options before enrolling at one particular school.
  • Look for scholarships: Scholarships for transfer students defray some of the costs associated with moving between schools. Any research regimen should include searching for funding. Contacting the admissions office of the desired destination might yield more options than an Internet search. It should be noted that some students might lose scholarships in the transition if the money is attached to a specific school or major. So they will need to check whether or not their benefactors might pull the funding should they transfer as well.
  • Consider AP, CLEP, and state- or industry-specific training options: As one example, members of The University System of Ohio accept some accredited professional certificate programs for credit. CLEP and AP exams provide a far cheaper option than enrolling in a college course, and pretty much every two-year and four-year school across the country will accept them. Though the maximum amount schools will accept varies, so read up.

Hoftiezer offers up some very straightforward advice for students transferring schools with years between classes.

“You will need to get ‘re-acclimated’ to school and the learning environment,” he says. “Success breeds success, so take it ‘one step at a time.’ Take one course … get used to being back in school and build from there.”

Transferring college credit, even after a long absence from the classroom, is not nearly as difficult or intimidating as it might initially appear. The process requires some degree of research and a few piles of paperwork, but still proves well worth the effort.

Missing the Water Cooler: A Recent Grad’s Guide to Navigating Telecommuting

Apr. 3rd 2013

Yahoo’s recent decision to eliminate its work-from-home option drew mixed responses from critics, and it’s easy to see why. According to a WorldatWork survey, 12.4 million employees around the world work remotely. In the entire U.S. alone, 4.8 million people work from home on at least a part-time basis.

For entry-level workers and recent college graduates, telecommuting might be inevitable — especially since it can ultimately save companies money. But are you missing out? Maybe not. Telecommuting can build and develop practical, in-demand skills, help you save money, and with some coordination with the home office, you can find the best of both worlds.


Why It Works for Entry-Level … and Beyond

The major reason companies support telecommuting is the comparatively low overhead cost. Businesses would collectively save $2.3 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and turnover costs, according to Kate Lister, co-author of Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home. But for all the talk of how much this benefits employers, the telecommuting option places workers at a fiscal advantage as well.

Considering so many entry-level employees grapple against student loans and day-to-day living expenses, any small savings help out. Not having to shell out money for gas and other car-related expenses as often makes for an especially generous boon to their bank accounts. Lister estimates that those savings could add up to as much as $11,000 annually.

Resources like the Telework Calculator, which she co-developed, let workers see for themselves just how much money working from a home office will save. Savings go well beyond reducing trips to the gas station. The calculator tells potential telecommuters where they could save in:

  • Child care
  • Transportation needs for disabled workers
  • Typical in-office necessities like work attire, lunch, and/or parking

In addition to saving money, working remotely helps nurture essential 21st century job skills. Because telecommuting involves using smartphones, webcams, tablets, laptops, and, the Internet, participants hone their digital literacy — which employers these days desire in their job candidates. Since entry-level positions prepare workers for future professional undertakings, a telecommuting arrangement works very well in this regard.

Telecommuting also affords a far higher degree of flexibility and independence than driving to an office every day. New and established workers alike must be highly self-motivated and self-disciplined to navigate such an arrangement. Consider these qualities a more lo-fi counterpart to the digital literacy. Employers love applicants with enough gumption and drive to keep themselves focused on their tasks, requiring little prodding from their superiors. Building these skills early on in one’s career only increases their chances of advancement later.


Overcoming Remote Challenges

Being dropped into the world of telecommuting early on in one’s career will not magically turn a poor self-motivator into a plucky Horatio Alger protagonist. The system does not gel with such struggling individuals, nor will it inherently provide them with the tools to address the problem. By its very nature, the onus of pressing forward falls on the worker.

“Telecommuting can make it possible for employees to integrate their work and home lives to a great extent,” says Dr. MaryAnne Hyland, Associate Professor of Human Resources Management at Adelphi University. “If an individual is working from home while other family members are present, having a separate workspace with a door can be beneficial. Some companies require that telecommuting employees have a private workspace.”

Telecommuting employees, regardless of whether or not they work an entry-level job, can do a few things to ensure they remain focused and manage their time responsibly. Setting up a personalized system of rewards for completing specific tasks, reaching certain milestones, or accomplishing professional goals is a great strategy for building motivation. Aligning said milestones and goals with those set by the company makes it much, much easier to meet them.

The schedule flexibility afforded by telecommuting-friendly companies varies from place to place. Some require rigid hours, while others assume a more free-form shape and allow employees to complete assignments in a manner best befitting their working style or life needs. When it comes to the latter arrangement, employees must painstakingly organize themselves to remain on task. This means drawing up a tight schedule and sticking with it — though they’ll have to leave at least a bit of time for breaks and breathers. Staying within these rigid, self-created guidelines, be it the usual 9-5 or something else entirely, is one of the best strategies for remaining on task.

“With regard to skills, discipline is key,” she advises. “The television, refrigerator, and washing machine may be within eyesight of an employee’s workstation. While at times it may make sense to run a load of laundry during a few minutes of downtime at work, frequent distractions and interruptions can detract from focus and productivity.”

“That said, many employees report being more focused and productive at home due to fewer distractions,” she says. “In addition, some employees who are good at ‘integrating’ their work and personal lives are able to transition between work activities and other activities throughout the day and still be productive and effective in all of their roles.”

Because telecommuting does not involve face-to-face interaction (except, in some cases, via webcam), employees lose out on sharpening the basic social skills needed to survive the workplace. Establishing camaraderie with coworkers nurtures teamwork and efficiency. Telecommuting minimizes chatting-related distractions. But it also denies workers a chance at building valuable relationships.

A couple of easy fixes exist. Some employers might want to consider only part-time telecommuting so their workers hone a more well-rounded skill set. They receive the flexibility, independence, and lowered commuting cost (comparatively speaking in this case) of a home office, but still enjoy opportunities to socialize with their peers.

Alternately, employers could stick with a full-time telecommuting arrangements, but add in-person meetings a few times every quarter, or they could organize more fun, team-building events. Both of these solutions also ensure their employees are not denied opportunities to learn how to fraternize with coworkers while still enjoying the relative freedom of working from home.

“Social isolation can be challenging for telecommuting employees, especially entry-level employees,” says Hyland. “Understanding the culture of an organization and participating in informal collaboration efforts are often important for successful job performance. Working at the office on a regular basis, such as once or twice a week if possible, should reduce these problems.”


What Industries to Look Into

Some industries in particular lend themselves to telecommuting. While not exactly an ideal arrangement for, say, neurosurgeons or astronauts, the remote option still works well for a diverse range of industries — as CNN’s top 10 listing of the most telecommuting-friendly companies reveals. Unsurprisingly, Cisco — an industry leader in telecom — allows 90% of its employees to work from home at least 20% of the time. Other notable names include Teach for America, marketing consultants Accenture, and Intel.

Media and publishing, particularly Internet-based outlets, are also viable options for entry-level employees who prefer working from home. Because so much writing and editing can be completed independently, cash-strapped companies can easily offer up telecommuting as a perk. Employers from almost every industry imaginable are branching out into social media, hiring managers for their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. These positions revolve entirely around online interactions, so it makes perfect sense that telecommuting proves a snuggly fit.

Whether a recent graduate or a seasoned veteran of the work force, resources such as FlexJobs offer a one-stop digital locale to find part-time and full-time telecommuting positions. Since working remotely is consistently increasing in popularity, sites like this make finding an ideal job a faster, easier ordeal. Household name employers such as AT&T, the IRS, Trip Advisor, Capitol One, and IBM list openings on FlexJobs, showcasing just how diverse the industry options are for all jobseekers these days.


Recommended Tools

The specifics of what a telecommuting job will specifically require varies from company to company. However, growing familiar with the most common accoutrements can help the aspirant job-hunters out there. Take the time to get to know the ins and outs of the hardware and software that makes telecommuting possible. It may mean a valuable edge when submitting resumes and cover letters to potential employers.

  • High-speed Internet connection: Reliable Internet is more or less standard for telecommuters these days. It might prove a worthwhile investment for those pursuing entry-level jobs to have wi-fi or other high-speed connection installed in their homes — especially if they hope to work in social media. And make sure to draw up a viable backup plan or two in case the connection at home drops out. Most public libraries offer up free Internet, and of course coffee shops and cafes provide it to paying customers. Smartphone users might want to download an app like WiFi Finder for iPhone and Android so they always stay attuned to their emergency options.
  • Laptop or tablet computing device: Portable computing devices make telecommuting so much easier than desktops, largely because if the Internet shuts down, the negative productivity impact lessens. Remote employees need a tablet or a laptop they can tote around with them — especially if their positions require some modicum of travel. Look for models with built-in webcams, too.
  • Smartphone: While not nearly as conducive for long-term tasks as laptops and tablets, a working knowledge of smartphone basics is a boost to any wannabe telecommuter’s skillset. Text messaging and e-mail let them stay in touch with their employers, coworkers, and clients while on the go. Depending on what apps they download, workers can also use the devices to organize to-do lists, map their thoughts, and even update projects across all platforms. Employers might not require a smartphone of their telecommuters, but Androids, iPhones, Blackberrys and the like nevertheless make the jobs run that much smoother.
  • Webcam: Not every telecommuting company necessarily needs employees to converse with their coworkers, managers, and clients face-to-face. The ones that do will require workers to really know their way around a webcam. Fortunately, these devices come standard with most newer laptop and tablet models. And they are inexpensive enough so that telecommuters saddled with older machines do not have to sink too much money into buying one.
  • Headset: Most of the built-in microphones on tablets and laptops are rather lousy, to be frank. Telecommuters who use their mobile computers for verbal correspondence should research their best options for a headset. Some combine headphones — noise-cancelling or not — and a microphone, while others come with only the latter.
  • Speakers: Like microphones, the speakers on many laptops and tablets frequently leave plenty to be desired. They might compensate for this using headphones or a headset including headphones, or purchasing a set of extra speakers.
  • Cisco: Companies who allow their employees to telecommute regularly often turn towards Cisco for the most sophisticated hardware and software available. Depending on the job up for grabs, applicants are not required to know the intricacies of how the different Cisco products and services work — just the basics enabling them to fully participate in meetings at most. Nor will they need to purchase anything. The employers themselves usually shoulder the cost of these platforms.
  • Skype: Most cost-conscious employers might prefer telecommuting via free or low-cost providers such as Skype. Despite its reputation as a video communication tool, Skype still allows for audio-only meetings and screen-sharing. When combined with a service like Audacity, employers and employees alike can record important meetings for sharing with absent coworkers or future reference.
  • Google Hangouts: A completely free alternative to Skype and Cisco, allowing up to ten people to talk via video and audio. It also makes screen sharing a painless undertaking and even plugs into Google Drive so coworkers quickly update their required documents.

Telecommuting’s shape varies depending on a company’s unique needs and wants. In the right industries, it works fabulously for both employee and employer. According to Telework Research Network, Gen Y’ers are more difficult to recruit (as reported by 56% of hiring managers) and to retain (as reported by 64% of hiring managers) but they are particularly attracted flexible work arrangements (ranked as 8 on a 10 scale for impact on overall job satisfaction). Telecommuting makes both sides of the table happy … and then there’s the whole being able to complete assignments in your underwear thing.

Forecasting Higher Education

Mar. 19th 2013

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The New Essay

Mar. 5th 2013

Any and every discussion about engaging Millennials in the classroom invariably includes technology no matter which state you’re talking about. As a generation raised almost entirely around the Internet, mobile phones, multimedia, and other relatively recent generations, their communication needs differ greatly from their predecessors. Innovative educators have seized upon these patterns and established creative strategies that deliver familiar material through brand new conduits.

Unsurprisingly, this also means shifts within the usual assignments, like the ubiquitous essay. Amazing tools allowing students to explore digital networks, video, audio, images, and other media mean even more chances to engage learners on a wide variety of levels. Rather than a straightforward sheet of text, they can now punctuate their points through visuals and sounds like never before. The fact that Digital Writing Month now exists should be a testament to these little evolutions.

Getting into College

Although dialogues involving alternative or multimedia essays tend to emphasize their classroom presence, they certainly have a place in other higher education sectors. Tufts University, delighted edtech enthusiasts in 2010 when they announced that applicants could now submit an optional one-minute video supplementing their more traditional admissions packets. Within the first year, thousands of aspirant enrollees posted their YouTube projects, hoping to show off what makes them appealing candidates. Because Millennials thrive in digital environments conducive to creative, innovative thinking, Tufts’ decision to embrace new media proved incredibly successful.

Texas Christian University’s approach still involves the very same principals celebrating imagination, offering up multimedia and low-tech options. Like Tufts, they haven’t exactly dumped the traditional essay entirely, rather experimenting with brand new formats. For the more tech-savvy applicants, they encourage short videos. For the not-so-tech-savvy — or students without access to the necessary equipment — TCU also provides an incredibly simple, effective alternative. Take an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper and do anything with it. Anything. As long as it remains flat, fits in the envelope, and does not exceed the page’s boundaries, they accept the project.

Beyond creative thinking, the “new essay” for some schools look for collaboration skills. For example, Massachusetts school Olin College required its engineering applicants to participate in a one-day competitive event. Students break off into assigned teams and work together to design and build a tower to meet provided specifications. As they attempt the challenge, their ability to function alongside other people and while under pressure both get examined. Witnessing a potential students’ attitude, leadership acumen, and other social skills in person provides far more insight than letters of recommendation and personal essays ever could.

In the Classroom: Social Media and Crowdsourcing

Creative alternatives to the usual sitting down and writing to a prompt have almost always existed. Multimedia presentations, case studies, and other projects all find their ways onto the syllabi. Technology, however, provides even more opportunities for savvy teachers to reject the traditional essay. Blogging and social media especially pique the interest of educators looking for something different that simultaneously challenges and engages the digital native set.

According to the latest National Survey of Student Engagement findings, the most engaged freshmen routinely took advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Twenty-eight percent plan tutoring meetings and/or group projects and 33% complete their assignments with these tools. A further 15% communicate with their professors and advisors through social media, with over half reporting that the discussions involved both parties.

With social media integrated so deeply into students’ lives, it makes perfect sense that teachers formulate some innovative lessons involving the tools. These assignments might happen alongside or in lieu of the more familiar structure. For example, in Boston, schools are using the Facebook Notes feature doubles as a medium for typing up essays and sharing them with a wide audience. They can also add links, videos, and images to help illustrate their main points. Unlike the traditional essay format, Facebook Notes also comes handily packaged with a comments sections, where friends (and, depending on the privacy settings, total strangers) can participate in the discussion and offer up their own opinions and advice.

Even if a classroom assignment requires turning in a more standard essay, crowdsourcing tactics using social media and other forums is also a possibility. The aforementioned Facebook Notes provides one option. reddit’s /r/proofreading subreddit overflows with high school and college students looking for advice on their admissions and classroom essays — for free. Active and reliable participants known as “Verified Proofreaders” are the most helpful in these situations, as they typically boast some degree of professional and/or academic experience.

In the Classroom: Blogging, Prezi, Slideshare, and Storify

Like Facebook, blogging also merges traditional long-form writing with interactive feedback and multimedia options. Unsurprisingly, many edtech-friendly professors require their students to write essay-style blog posts and launch in-depth discussions outside the rigid classroom walls. This might involve private works within Blackboard or Angel, visible only to classmates and instructors; some teachers might prefer Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, or other options with public or private settings.

Where once the more tech-oriented classroom considered PowerPoint the apex of all that is presentation, the Internet offers up interactive, even collaborative options. Visual essays through Prezi and Slideshare create more engaging, innovative alternatives to the usual slideshow or written work. and allows up to 10 users can edit a project from anywhere with an Internet connection means more creative and editorial input, regardless of whether or not the projects are assigned to groups or individuals.

Before students get to the classroom, “Prezumes and Portfolios” might enhance college applications. This intrepid student seeking a spot at Oxbridge College took advantage of Prezi to organize a multimedia exploration of his qualifications, and searching the site reveals many more eager to impress their favorite institutions.

Slideshare’s interactivity integrates with Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube for multimedia presentations. Like blogs, presentations uploaded to Slideshare host comments sections for further discourse, meaning a much higher degree of interactivity than what the traditional essay involves.

Journalism students and professors alike embrace Storify for crowdsourcing, networking, and compiling final projects. Users act as digital curators to select the social media posts relevant to their writings, building informative works around the sources they verify. Part crowdsourcing, part blogging, part social media, the tool builds all the relevant journalism 2.0 skills far more effectively than perusing books and analyzing the findings in the old-style essay format. Assignments revolve around seeking trustworthy sources, researching what they have to say, and writing up features summarizing their findings. It’s real-world experience for the soon-to-be real-world reporters of the world.

In the Classroom: Mobile

The changing face of essays is also as simple as writing them up on a completely different platform. Ninety-seven percent of American college students own a mobile phone, and 79% also possess a portable computing device, like a laptop or a tablet such as the iPad. Of the 18-to-29-year-olds with smartphone access, 73% take advantage of them for more than just making phone calls. Educators at all academic levels now weave mobile devices into their coursework, turning students’ fascination with them into viable teaching strategies.

For college students who work on the go or must jot down inspiration right when it hits, well, there’s apps for that. iDevice users, for example, might outline a digital essay with iThoughts HD, bookmark digital resources with Instapaper or Evernote, write everything up in MyWritingSpot, and distribute it with Dropbox. But there exists a bevy of apps well beyond these, and ones available for more than just the iOS platform, and through experimentation, students can discover the apps that best fit their needs and are the most comfortable to use.

Not every student can afford smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers. In order to promote digital literacy and ensure far more equal classroom opportunities, some schools have started offering free iPads to all enrollees, like Seton Hill, a Catholic university in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, which takes it a step further by also adding a MacBook to its admissions packet. They plan to upgrade the technology as necessary. For the colleges and universities able to afford this undertaking, this means greater accessibility for students marginalized across economic lines. They don’t have to wring their hands over completing assignments involving technology they cannot purchase, freeing up mental and physical energy for tackling the work itself.

How to Succeed at Your “New Essay”

Some education experts believe this influx of new innovations might bring the traditional essay and doctoral dissertation closer to obsolescence. It might be a bit too soon to start picking out the coffin, but students these days should probably understand a few things about the technologies now infiltrating the academic writing process.


  • Keep it short: Admissions counselors have little time to spare, even if a student might very well be the next Stanley Kubrick. Don’t go over a minute.
  • Be prepared and edit: U.S. News & World Report recommends video essay creators launch their projects with a solid plan and some room for flexibility. Gathering together all the necessary materials and scripts ahead of time saves you future migraines. And once the filming itself wraps, you should pay close attention to your editing. Turning in something sloppily produced will probably not impress anyone.
  • Follow instructions: If an assignment, optional or not, outlines criteria, meet all of it. Even though colleges and professors encourage creativity through video assignments, that doesn’t mean the possibilities are limitless, as the cliche goes.
  • Minimize distractions: Regardless of whether or not a video’s focus is on you or another subject entirely, you need to keep audio and visuals simple and streamlined. Note that oversights like leaving a television on in the background or failing to edit out a barking dog only sour an essay’s quality.
  • Be genuine: This advice applies to all aspects of academia, of course, but particularly on admissions videos and classroom projects. Trying too hard to impress, exaggerating, or flat-out lying compromises grades and your chances of getting into your favorite school. Honesty and sincerity are much, much easier, anyways.

Social Media

  • Never buy followers: You might think a fanbase of thousands will impress admissions counselors, but paying a service to inflate your Twitter or Facebook presence results in quite the opposite. Services like Twitter Counter make it extremely easy to track which accounts probably purchase fake followers. Build everything organically with accessible and interesting content and openly communicating with other users. Also delete those spam bots who pop in on occasion; a massive following of those never makes anyone look good, either.
  • Keep it professional: Admissions counselors know to check Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites for a candidate’s qualifications and suitability. Thirty-five percent admitted that negative social media discoveries led to a student’s rejection. Monitor all social media activity, set appropriate privacy settings, and run a search for your name and e-mail address to see what pops up. The extremely diligent applicants might want to set up Google Alerts for that last tip.
  • Keep private information private: Some contact information, like e-mail addresses, might be necessary for schools to contact you. But for your own safety, restrict publicly disclosing your home address, phone number, class schedule, license plates, and so forth.
  • Interact with schools and professors: Standing out safely and professionally as a candidate and as a student, to some, means spending time establishing digital relationships with colleges and professors. It also enables and encourages discussions to take place via Facebook Notes, Twitter, and other social media outlets used for essays these days.
  • Incorporate media: Punch up essays and applications and show off your technology savvy by posting videos, images, audio clips, and more alongside your text. This advice also applies to blogging and slide creation sites.

Blogging and Slides

  • Proofread: Just because the Internet’s general grasp of language is, to put it kindly, lacking, that doesn’t mean your blog posts and slides should follow suit. Proofread for spelling and grammar errors like you would a more traditionally-formatted essay.
  • Comment: Even if professors don’t include commenting as part of an assignment, commenting on classmates’ blogs open up discussions that might very well enlighten you further regarding the course materials.
  • Write thoughtful, informative content: You may only get your teacher and a couple of other students to read through what you have to say, but that doesn’t mean you should eschew producing quality material. It establishes your credibility and fosters engagement. And keep post lengths shorter; most blog visitors tend to stop paying attention before hitting the 1000-word mark.
  • Keep slide copy to a manageable length: Bombarding a slide leaves it looking cluttered and bores audiences. Say it simply (but effectively), add some sound or visuals, and move on to the next one.


  • Be polite: Even if you wind up not using any of the information a friend, family member, or fellow Internet denizen provides, thank them. They took the time to help you, so you take the time to show some sincere gratitude.
  • Verify all information: You lose credibility if you crowdsource research and blindly include whatever you find. Journalist’s Toolbox lists some excellent online resources for checking and double-checking the facts.
  • Don’t spam inquiries: Spamming is a less-than-wonderful thing, so only ask in appropriate channels. Find forums dedicated to writing assistance, put out a general inquiry on Twitter or Facebook, or private message friends and family you know would help out.
  • Don’t plagiarize: If you elect to crowdsource opinions for an essay, remember to properly attribute any quotes to whomever spoke or wrote them. This advice also applies to citing other materials as well; schools know how to catch a plagiarist, so don’t think you’re clever enough to slip past them.
  • Don’t crowdsource the whole thing: If you ask for research help or opinions, don’t expect the same crowd to also proofread. Plus, crowdsourcing an entire project from beginning to end is kind of lazy.


  • Review apps before downloading: Before downloading an application, especially one that costs money, see what professionals and fellow students recommend first. It’ll save time and probably a few dollars.
  • Make backups: Not every app automatically syncs with other devices for backup documents, so be sure to upload updated important writing files, photos, videos, and other media to a backup machine whenever possible. Just in case.
  • Be wary of eye strain and sore thumbs: If you’re piecing together an essay using a smartphone, take regular breaks to rest your eyes and thumbs; these issues crop up all too often in the digital era. No project is worth sacrificing your health over.
  • Use a bookmarking app: Instapaper and Evernote are the most common, but other apps offer up the ability to compile valuable links and media all in one place as well. They are incredibly valuable tools for students on the go, especially ones for whom inspiration always seems to strike at strange times.
  • Don’t write in text speak: You might be taking advantage of a mobile device, but your teacher will more than likely not find these linguistic shortcuts cute or clever. Write as if you would in any other medium.

Whether crowdsourcing proofreading, piecing together a journalistic feature through Storify, or harnessing an iPad for the entire research and writing process, the “new essay” stands poised to overtake its more traditional predecessor. Thanks to higher degrees of interactivity and the inclusion of multimedia, Millennials and later digital natives engage with content in some incredibly inventive ways. It stands to reason that many of these options will find permanent homes in higher education classrooms, if they haven’t already.

Returning Troops & the Transition Back to School

Mar. 1st 2013

President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address expressed a desire to bring home 34,000 American troops currently serving in Afghanistan over the next year; 80% of citizens agree this undertaking is necessary. Thanks to the GI Bill, the men and women returning to the United States will be able to transition into civilian life a little more smoothly, including earning secondary education.

Even before this declaration, veterans began enrolling in college and university programs in droves. The 2011 National Survey by the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that a total of 923,836 troops took advantage of the education program’s perks. This marked an uptick from 2010’s 800,369, which also increased from 564,487 the previous year.

It stands to reason that the ones set to return over the next year will likely consider higher education an appealing option as well, filling programs offered both online and off. And with the Post-9/11 GI Bill now providing living stipends for students opting for Internet-based courses and degree programs, colleges and universities are even more accessible to veterans than they ever were before.

Why Online Really Is an Option

Jennifer Connors, Director of Military Services at George Mason University in Virginia, praises the Post-9/11 GI Bill for its comparative fluidity and for offering aspirant students more options. “[It] really does allow for transitioning veterans to choose the education path that best suits their needs. And for some of those individuals, a traditional brick-and-mortar university isn’t a pathway to success,” she said. “It’s going to be an online degree program, because those have the schedules which allow the flexibility to work full-time to support your family and pursue higher education.”

“In the military culture and environment, a lot of professional military education is done in computer-based learning modules so a significant portion of our core ancillary training requirements in the military are computer-based training modules,” Connors explained. “So I think it’s very accessible and very equivalent to what we experience in active-duty military.”

Since so many returning troops must balance spouses, children, jobs, and major life expenses, the digital classroom offers up an excellent education in the most time-efficient, cost-effective environment. Michael Voris, an admissions counselor at University of Alaska Fairbanks specializing in helping veterans transition, also believes more homecoming troops will lead to more pursuing online degrees thanks to these perks.

“When I speak with prospective active military students, their most common question is, ‘Can I complete that degree online?’ With their work schedules, very demanding jobs, and common geographical challenges, online education becomes more and more attractive, and it’s our responsibility and privilege to facilitate that,” he said.

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A Different Kind of Student

“To begin, the truth is that more than 1 million — as opposed to 34,000 — service members will leave the military over the next five years. This certainly creates an opportunity for online degree program,” said Syracuse University’s, in New York, Mike Haynie, founder and executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and a former Air Force officer.

“Veterans are non-traditional students. For example, they are more likely than their non-veteran peers to be married, have children, and also to hold down a job while going to school. For these reasons, the flexibility inherent in online programs is well-suited to the situation of many veterans,” he added. “One of the great advantages that veterans have with regard to an educational setting, is based on their dynamic and accelerated life experiences.”

But the characteristics smoothing the move from military to school still come packaged with their own drawbacks. “This also can serve to create a situation where they don’t feel like they ‘fit in’ with their non-veteran peers, whose life experiences are less robust,” cautioned Haynie. “Online learning environments serve to mitigate this challenge. Further, veterans adapt to online environments well, given the fact that military culture instills discipline and planning behaviors — attributes essential to success in an online learning environment.”

Regardless of whether or not they select an online or a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, veterans begin class with a unique set of circumstances that make transitioning a challenge.

Although Connors acknowledges that all students, regardless of their backgrounds and degree plans, grapple against motivation and balancing their lives, she does believe these to be particularly prevalent amongst returning military personnel. As a result, the concentration required to follow a degree to completion is something these students must tackle before it causes academic problems. “The degree path and the course of action a student takes define the problem,” said Connors. “For instance, at an online institution — it’s going to be persistence.”

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Transitioning to the Lifestyle of an Online Student

“I think a significant amount of veterans that are going to be transitioning out of the military are going to have responsibilities beyond that of what a traditional freshman would have,” she continued. “A lot of the online programs offer those 18-month programs, but the assumption is that it’s going to be easy. And it’s not. It’s going to be labor-intensive … especially in those more consolidated-length programs. I think that’s going to be difficult, to find that balance.”

Moving from the highly regimented situation to one with far more freedom and permissiveness also overwhelms returning troops, complicating the settling process.

“When you’re in the military, there is an instruction or a regulation or a manual for everything. There is something that tells you exactly what to do and tell you how to do it and a checklist … to ensure that you’re doing what you need to do,” said Connors. “When you’re out of the military, you don’t have that. There’s no checkbox to life so when you’re brought up and groomed in a culture that inhibits that free thinking, then that’s a big, big transition.”

Voris stresses the fiscal challenges. “Many active military members have fairly rigid work schedules while in the military, so the flexibility of then becoming a full-time college student can be both liberating and challenging,” he said. “The financial side of college can be more challenging to arrange for military and veteran students because there are more steps involved.

“Because active military and veteran students are a unique and important part of our student body, we try to treat them that way without making them feel marginalized,” he says. “Also, I think it’s important that students have an awareness of the challenges that come with completing college courses online–some students tend to think that they might be easier than traditional in-person courses.”

To Haynie, most of the problems faced by returning veterans are systemic. Both society and the institutions involved need to start caring about and addressing their unique struggles in order to create truly equitable educational spaces. “Inherent in the secondary education system in the U.S. are people, systems and processes positioned to assist college-bound, high school students to make well-informed choices with regard to the pursuit of higher-education,” he said. “Importantly, this robust infrastructure is practically inaccessible to military veterans.

“The increasingly large universe of choices available to veterans with regard to paths into higher-education, coupled with the disparate nature of the institutions participating in the GI Bill program, highlights the need for a rigorous and robust system to prepare veterans to make informed choices about how, where, and when they will leverage GI Bill benefits,” Haynie said.

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Choosing a Major

When it comes to selecting the major that works best for them, veterans utilize the exact same blend of self-analysis and formulating solid career goals as anyone else. They have unique circumstances while adjusting to online and traditional classrooms; in no way does that translate to being inherently suited to particular degree plans.

“The highest concentration [of George Mason University veterans] is in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences,” said Connors, adding that any major works just fine — especially since students taking advantage of the GI Bill must make a decision on the government’s timeline.

“We don’t have room for failure. There’s no second chances when you’re coming out of the military and into a degree plan … But you’re put in a situation where the Post-9/11 GI Bill requires you to declare a degree plan after two semesters,” described Connors. “You cannot be undeclared and use your Post-9/11 GI Bill for a long period of time. So you really have to declare a major.”

Additionally, Voris is a supporter of veteran students taking full advantage of colleges’ career services offices and academic advising centers, which can really help students narrow down their potential major of choice.

“At the end of the day, I advise students to pursue their passion – the subject that makes them want to do the work for a class — rather than choosing a program based on perceptions of future income or other factors,” Voris said.

Haynie echoed the same sentiments.

“We shouldn’t be talking about where a veteran ‘fits’ with regard to linking a particular academic major, to their military vocation. Instead, we should be giving veterans the same advice we give anyone pursing higher education; that is, pursue your passion,” he said. “Don’t let someone tell you what you should do just because it might relate to what you did in the military. While this might be one factor in the decision-making process, in the end choices related to both academic major and institution should be more holistic and motivated by future-focused goals and aspirations, as opposed to singularly tied to their military experience.”

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Vow to Hire Heroes Act

Initiatives such as the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 might impact the major-related decisions of veteran students between the ages of 35 and 60. This legislation targets unemployed former military personnel desiring an associate’s degree or non-credit certification, paying for a year of community college or technical school. But training must lead them towards a career in one of 211 most-needed positions and industries, like construction management, electrician, and more. Vow to Hire Heroes may not influence the degree plan choices of most veterans, but the promise of tuition reimbursement and jobs after completing a program could push some undecided students towards pursuing particular majors and career paths.

Shifting between the heavily regimented military lifestyle to the relatively freeform college and university environment can be incredibly jarring to returning veterans. Regardless of whether or not they elect for an online or offline degree, they experience stressors their peers could never fathom. Schools need to start paying attention to what these students require and take pains to ensure the transition occurs as smoothly as possible.

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Caffeinated Nation

Feb. 25th 2013

People in the US consume a lot of caffeine — 80% of us have some sort of caffeinated beverage every day. Everybody has their own caffeine-loaded drink of choice, from double lattes to ice-cold cola to strong-brewed green tea. More and more, however, people (and especially young people) are turning to less healthy caffeine options, like chemical-loaded energy drinks. While energy drinks aren’t always inherently bad, studies show that more and more people are using them in excess, often drinking many a day in order to stay awake and alert—and the effects can take a serious toll. Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, much like coffee or many sodas, but energy drinks are also often chock-full of other energy-giving, unhealthy substances. Among students, energy drinks are being consumed at heightened rates in unhealthy qualities, and in tandem with this, hospitalizations and even deaths related to energy drink consumption have seen a considerable uptick in recent years. While an occasional energy drink for most healthy people is harmless, when energy drinks are consumed at high volumes, and when they’re paired with alcohol, the risks become much higher. The following infographic takes a look at how the energy drink market has grown, and what some of the health impacts of this could be for those who consume them.

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Caffeinated Nation Infographic

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