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Tips for Mastering Academic Writing


Academic writing is one of the most difficult skills for graduate students to master. Combining hours of research, condensing your learning  onto a few pages and ensuring it reads effortlessly – versus a string of citations and paraphrases strung together – is not an intuitive skill. It is a learned ability.

But believe it or not, almost every student struggles with the writing process at some point in their academic career. Even the best writers are not immune to receiving feedback.

Current NCU student and Senior Marketing Manager, Alexis Castorina, has learned the value of applying instructor feedback. “Since receiving [constructive] feedback, I’ve been more actively reading economic news and finding ways to apply what’s going on in the world as supporting information in my papers,” Castorina explains.

For advice on how to become a more effective academic writer, Higher Degrees reached out to Susan Krause (M.Ed.), NCU’s Writing Center Coordinator. Krause’s daily interactions with students seeking advice from the Writing Center has given her an inside track to the most common mistakes graduate students make in their writing.

Over time, Krause has developed the following list of helpful academic writing tips and resources:

  1. Good academic writing starts with critical reading. Learn to think critically by questioning everything you read and you will become a better writer.
  2. Understand what plagiarism is by reviewing the NCU Academic Integrity section in the NCU Writing Center.
  3. Read and apply the feedback received from your instructor. There will be room for improvement on every assignment.
  4. Bookmark Chapter 3 in the APA Manual (6th ed.). It contains valuable information on clear and concise writing that all students can benefit from.
  5. Keep a copy of The Academic Writer’s Handbook (3rd ed.) by Leonard J.Rosen by your laptop.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Should You Consider a Certificate Program?


Certificate programs are an efficient way to expand your knowledge without committing to the time and cost of an additional degree. They can be completed for fun, or as part of a career development strategy.

David G. Moore Jr. (Ph.D.), curriculum and assessments faculty in NCU’s School of Business and Technology Management is a self-described collector of diplomas and certificates. Moore holds undergraduate certificates in culinary arts and bartending, plus commercial and workplace Spanish. This is in addition to Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) certificates.

Although he has completed certificates for personal knowledge, Moore is a staunch believer that certificate programs allow students to revise their career path without completing a second or third degree.  In fact, according to US News & World Report, “for some… a certificate or just a few courses are enough to get a promotion – and a raise.”

“Let’s say a student has an undergraduate degree in computer science and has been working in software development for several years,” says Moore. “If they decide they want to move into a managerial role, a certificate in project management would be perfect for them.  It augments their existing technical skills with the necessary project management skills to start seeking a more supervisory position.”

While some, like Moore collect certificates for fun, for others they become part of a licensing requirement.

Shannyn Stern, vice president and controller at Northcentral University is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In order to maintain her certification, Stern is required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing professional education each year. Enrolling in a certificate program allows Stern to fulfill her annual professional education hours while at the same time adding a new certificate to her resume.

Although educators are not required to complete professional development courses, it is an expectation that they will do so. Taking coursework to gain endorsements on top of their teaching certificate is a way for teachers to ensure continued professional growth.

NCU’s Assistant Dean of the School of Education, Karen Ferguson (Ph.D.) asserts that “academic certificates demonstrate content mastery, a dedication to lifelong learning and professional development.  Certificates… demonstrate to school leadership that [teachers] are dedicated to continuous improvement and learning.”

With the demand for fast and convenient education solutions rising, countless 100 percent online certificate programs are now available in almost any professional field out there. In fact, Drexel University offers an online graduate certificate in creativity and innovation!

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Tips on Effective Communication for Online Students

One of the most difficult skills for online students to perfect is communication in the virtual classroom. From emails to instructors to discussion posts and final papers, the online student communicates almost entirely in the written word.  For those weighing a few options for advancing their education, this can be an intimidating realization. Whether you’re already an online student or are pondering the possibility of becoming one, help yourself form a few great habits by browsing the tips below.

Be Professional

This may seem like a no-brainer, but making sure there are no errors, using a proper greeting and closing, and maintaining a professional tone in all communications will help you stand above your classmates. Also, remember to proofread your submissions, no matter how insignificant the assignment, discussion post, or email might be. Your instructors will appreciate the respect given, and your classmates will admire your attention to detail. Want an added bonus? Your professional habits in the classroom are sure to carry over to the workplace!

Stick to the Academics

If you’re required to participate in threaded discussions or you’re communicating via email with your instructor, remember you’re in a classroom, not a chat room. Just because you found a little extra courage by hiding in the protective technology bubble doesn’t mean anyone wants to read details of your latest family argument, how your best friend totally stabbed you in the back, or the fact that your 2-year-old is getting an F- in potty training. In other words – stick to the academics. Your audience – no matter who that may be – will appreciate it!

Avoid the Frantic “HELP!” Emails

Having trouble with an assignment that’s due in 3 days and not sure what to do? Don’t stress out on the details for the first 2 days, and then frantically email your instructor five hours before the submission deadline. As soon as you find yourself questioning your ability to complete the assignment, reach out for help! This helps you avoid the stress while giving your instructor ample time to give you the help you need to complete the assignment successfully.


You’ve taken the time to craft the perfect discussion post or email, so do yourself a favor and save it somewhere! Try creating a folder on your computer or on a flash drive for every class you take – then use it. Emailing your instructor? Copy yourself and file any response you receive in your class folder. Receive some particularly awesome (or scathing) feedback on a paper? Save it. As you move along in your academic journey, you may find the advice, feedback and general support you received from your instructors helpful in future courses.

Accreditation 101: Regional vs. National

The U.S. Department of Education states that “the goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” That sounds great, but how do you know which accreditation – regional or national – is best? Honestly, it’s not a question of which accreditation is best, but which accreditation best suits your needs.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional ground campus experience or searching for the right online program to give you the flexibility you need for your busy schedule, understanding accreditation and how it can impact your future is a must. Take a few minutes to expand your knowledge and become well-prepared for the great college search.

What is accreditation?

Let’s start with the basics. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to accredit is “to recognize [an educational institution] as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice.” Applying for accreditation from any organization is completely voluntary, which means that by choosing an accredited school, you’re choosing a school whose curriculum has been evaluated by peers in academia to ensure a quality learning experience.

In the United States, there are two kinds of institutional accreditation – regional and national.

What is regional accreditation?

Regional accreditation is granted to each institution by one of six organizations that focus mainly on academia and research-related areas of study.  Each organization focuses on a specific region in the United States, hence the name regional accreditation.

What is national accreditation?

National accreditation is granted by independent organizations that focus largely on career-oriented areas of study. Each organization focuses on accrediting schools that align with their organizational goals, no matter where they may be, rather than focusing on a geographical location.

Which is best for me?

For those still struggling to make sure they’re taking the right path, take a moment to really evaluate your future goals. As you do so, keep the following advice in mind.

  • If you’re planning on transferring credits to another school or pursuing further education in the future, your best bet is to stick with a regionally accredited institution.
  • If you’re looking for a trade-specific skill set that will serve as your last degree or as an addition to a degree you’ve already completed, a nationally accredited institution might be right for you.

Trends in K-12 Education: Tech Tools to Give Your Lesson Plans a New Look

The most successful teachers have the ability to take information and transform it in to an engaging lesson plan for students of all skill levels. A simple history lesson becomes a trip back in time to the days of George Washington that students not only enjoy, but also remember. Lesson planning is clearly an art form, but the introduction of technology to the classroom has brought its own set of challenges when it comes to utilizing new technology and engaging a generation of students who use it on a daily basis.

With this in mind, we took to the internet to search for useful tools for educators looking to bridge the gap between the tech-savvy teenager and veteran teacher. We found useful sites for lesson plans, creative projects, videos and even note taking.  Use these resources to supplement your lesson plan portfolio, infuse a bit of technology in to your next class, or simply take mental notes. The resources available are almost endless, but here are a few favorites.

Networking for Teachers

If you’re having trouble thinking of a new and creative way to present required material, try using ShareMyLesson to connect with teachers across the country. The site serves as a catalog of lesson plans for nearly every subject and grade level – search to find the one you need, or share your own tried-and-true lessons with others. What’s the best thing about it?  It’s free!

Creative Homework

Looking for new creative outlets for your classroom? Give students the opportunity to catch the acting bug with WeVideo. Students collaborate to bring their assignments to life through the creation and editing of video. Teachers can monitor progress, make notes and assign group work via the video platform. There’s even a way to use those darn cell phones to your advantage – it works via mobile app, too!

Innovative Note Taking

If you’re lucky enough to have computers in the classroom, take advantage of TodaysMeet. Create a room for your lesson, invite your students, and encourage them to interact (appropriately!) while recording their notes for your review later. You’ll uncover questions you didn’t know they had, weaknesses in your lesson plan, and you might even learn a thing or two about your students!


We recently chatted with Melanie E. Shaw, Ph.D., Faculty Mentor at Northcentral University, to discuss education, teaching – and all points in between.

“Mel” is a military spouse, and she jokes that she has the second best job in the world – her husband is a jazz drummer in the Air force! The couple has a daughter currently studying at Georgia State University in Atlanta, as well as younger daughter who is a freshman in High School in Illinois.

“My kids have seen me as a lifelong learner, and I’m proud to say that they’re both amazing academics in their own right,” beams Shaw.

Dr. Melanie Shaw

Dr. Melanie Shaw

Shaw has traveled a circuitous route to her present role at Northcentral, spending 13 years attaining her Bachelor’s Degree, while savoring life with a sense of wanderlust in the military; transforming herself from performance artist, to nursing school student, to healthcare administrator, and eventually enrolling at Northcentral while living in Germany to earn her Ph.D. in Education.

Online education was truly a panacea for me,” notes Shaw. At the time, her father, who held a Ph.D. from Princeton, one of the most renowned universities in the world, even noted: “Online education is the wave of the future, in fact, I just had a friend who graduated while studying online at Yale!”

Shaw completed her Ph.D. in 2006 – the second person to complete the Doctoral program in Education at NCU – and the rest is history. Mel believes that she became a faculty mentor that very evening: Her chair was in Utah, her dissertation committee was in Florida and she was in Germany – and her life has NEVER been the same.

Today, Shaw interacts daily with the staff, faculty and students of NCU and she firmly believes that Northcentral is one of the premier online institutions in the world.


Congratulations on your latest honor! (


Blush, blush – Ahhhhh, shucks!


What do you see as some current and upcoming trends in online education?


I think that we’re all life-long learners. We should all want to go to the next place intellectually, and the bright spot in this current economic downturn is that it forces us to reevaluate who we are and what we want to do. In crisis, we reflect on the trajectory of our life. It’s a chance to listen to that “little voice” inside to see if you’re really doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

The great thing about online education is that you DON’T have to stop what you’re currently doing. If you’re willing to dedicate time to advancing your education, you can continue to be a parent or a teacher or a bartender and get to the next place without leaving where you are currently. (Mel notes that her brother recently had to uproot his entire family in order to study at a bricks-and-mortar institution in Florida)

10 years ago, I think there was a stigma associated with online learning, but now, it’s an important modality. Going to school online is a great option – we are all pioneers in this amazing field (students, faculty, and staff) – and I am personally highly sought after. We’re making an impact on how education is delivered here at NCU.


What do you see as the critical needs and expectations of people studying to become a teacher?


The pedagogical and andragogical practices of teaching are really the same online – great educators translate across all mediums. You need a PASSION for knowledge – you need to fall in love with the subject you teach and discover the beauty and magic that lies within. You also need to be DISCIPLINED to educate students. Great teachers really create a vision of where you want to go. They create a path, which was probably already inside of you, of where you need to be in order to become successful. Finally, you need a PERSONALITY that wants to make people listen. Online engagement means being available and providing quick and substantive feedback to overcome that sense of isolation that online learners sometimes experience.


Would the world change dramatically if teachers were paid like rock stars???

(Laughs) My brother that I mentioned who is currently in Florida is studying organizational behavior and he notices that people complain more than they compliment! I really don’t think that external factors like money make for great accomplishments. It really has to be a sense of call that can’t be quieted. You need to follow an authentic path – no matter what the reward.

As a teacher, it’s really about the exchange of ideas or the “A-Ha” moment when a student calls you two years after graduating to thank you for changing their life!!! It’s when a student asks you a question you can’t answer – and you have to research and dig to stretch your own mind. It’s joy from within.


What are you most proud of as it relates to your work at NCU?

I think that it is being a part of NCU as it finds its own identity – we went through our growing pains – and now, we have a sense of our vision and commitment to excellence.


Okay, to paraphrase David Letterman, let’s end with your “Top 10 Signs that You May be an Exceptional Educator!”

10) Flexibility

9) Passion

8) Commitment

7) Intellect

6) Motivation

5) Inquiring Mind

4) Desire to further the knowledge in the field

3) Visionary

2) Understanding of the foundations of education

1) And the number one sign that you may be an EXCEPTIONAL EDUCATOR: You have the ability to do it differently than anyone has done it before!


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