Teaching Publication Style Guidelines Online

Blog Post created by on Jun 17, 2016



     When providing feedback on formal written assignments, what would you say are the most frequently made APA style guideline mistakes? Perhaps not including a running head on the title page of the manuscript. Or not using a hanging indent for references. Or any combination of errors seen in providing in-text citations or quotations. Are these errors so frequent that you have created a numbered list of style guideline feedback comments, provided the list of numbered comments to students, and when grading, made reference to the comment number next to student errors in the manuscript? I have known instructors to use this technique to manage the frequency with which they repeat the same comment. In fact, as a student, I have been the recipient of such numbered comments on graded written assignments.


     With mixed results, instructors tend to make the resources of the publication style guidelines of a specific discipline available to students and then hold them accountable for proper use of style guidelines by awarding points. Many high school, undergraduate, and graduate instructors have stated they’ve made resources such as the style guideline book, quick reference guides, or links to style guideline websites available to help students. And still, students are not able to apply style guidelines to the title page, the abstract, in-text citations, reference list, use of quotations, or to avoid plagiarism. As instructors, it’s easy to question whether or not students are reading the references made available to them. I am fairly confident that some of our students access the reading materials we provide them on style guidelines. However, I’m also confident that the written text is not always understood as intended.


     Based on Universal Design for Learning Principles, Active Learning Framework, and Multiple Intelligence theories, we know that students have varied learning styles and preferences. While there are some YouTube video resources available on aspects of a specific style guideline, most references I’ve seen for manuscript formatting are text-based. To provide online learners with an alternative resource for learning APA style guidelines, I was invited to collaborate with a colleague on the design of a learning object that would integrate a variety of media to teach APA style elements with which students frequently erred. What is meant by the term “learning object?”  For this discussion, the term refers to a self-contained file of interactive instructional content that is responsive to user input. The goal of using a learning object like this is to increase access and consumption of the APA style guideline resources through varied learning preferences.


     Other than knowing we didn’t want the primary format of the resource to be text-based, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted the resource to look like. So we searched for learning objects we liked and found a model of video instruction and interactions we might want to integrate into a learning object. The elements of the models we found and wanted to employ included:

  1. Story elements
  2. Game design elements
  3. Visual elements – images, graphics, animations


     Because this project is believed to be a solution to the challenges students face in producing an appropriately formatted manuscript using APA style guidelines, this series of four posts will describe our efforts to produce the learning object. This learning object is a work in progress. Currently, a draft of the project has been produced. A pilot of the learning object will be shared with a limited number of students for feedback. Revisions based on student feedback are expected, with the hope of making the learning object available to the larger student body no later than fall 2016.



Below is a sample of the learning object. The next post will highlight the story elements of the learning object. The third post will highlight the game design elements and the last post in this series will focus on the visual elements selected for the learning object.  Here's a link to the demo version of the learning object. Hope you’ll join me!


-Questions and comments welcome-