Nobody Ever Told Me That: The Academic Evaluation

Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When it comes to your academic evaluation, have you ever thought, “Hey, nobody ever told me that”? Your customized academic program evaluation is an invaluable planning tool that shows you where your previously earned credit (transfer, licenses/certifications) will fit into your degree, so you can see what courses you have left to take. It is organized into the different requirements needed to earn your degree (i.e. General Education, Area of Study, Free Electives), and as each requirement is fulfilled, the credit will appear with the corresponding grade.

But there’s more to it than that. Your academic evaluation requires planning and preparation:

• Print out and read your academic evaluation before you speak to your advisor. Jot down questions or comments, draw arrows, highlight – whatever works best for you to identify areas of concern or confusion so you can address them immediately and get the answers you need.
• Never conduct your advising appointments while driving. Not only are there far too many distractions on the road, but you will also not be able to see the websites, recommendations and resources your advisor will discuss as he or she explains the degree planning process. 
• Familiarize yourself with the codes and abbreviations on your academic evaluation. These codes indicate where credits have been applied and planned, pre-registered and in-progress, or if a course requirement has yet to be completed or selected.

By understanding your academic evaluation, you can make the right choices for completing your degree and planning ahead that are best for you.


Tags: Academic Credit , Academic Evaluation , Advising

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What is in a PLA Portfolio?

Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Documenting everything you know on a subject or topic seems… an overwhelming task, right?


The truth is, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is one of the most rewarding ways to earn credits because it acknowledges and validates the knowledge you have already gained in your lifetime. This is knowledge you already have – whether through work, the military, hobbies, or some kind of training – so there is no textbook or studying required!

You can earn credit for your accomplishments and capabilities by creating a portfolio through the PLA process – a written presentation that you assemble and submit to earn credit for knowledge you have, which is equivalent to what would be taught in a course. The College offers two courses to guide you through this process: PLA-100 Introduction to Prior Learning and PLA-200 Introduction to Portfolio Development. These courses will help you understand your options for earning college credit and teach you the skill of portfolio development both for your educational and future professional use. During PLA-200, you will develop and submit your portfolio for assessment to a Subject Matter Expert who has expertise in the subject area being assessed.
So what do you include in a portfolio? Where do you begin?

After you have assessed if you are a good candidate for PLA, (find that out here!) you’ll create a portfolio organized into the four main components explained below:

Review your job history, hobbies, areas of study or special training, volunteer work or other activities to help you narrow down subjects for your portfolio. Once you have identified the college-level knowledge and skills you possess, and the subject or content area to which you think they are related, you can identify an actual college course description.

You can select a course description from the PLA Course Description Database by searching keywords that best match your prior learning. If you cannot find a match there, you can locate a course description from the College catalog or from another regionally accredited college, and submit the course description for approval to an academic advisor. Ensure the portfolio course you have chosen fulfills your degree requirements, and you can demonstrate you already know the content that would be taught in that course. 

Tip: Create or expand upon your existing resume as if you were applying for a job. Detail your skills, experience and knowledge. Be as specific as possible. This exercise will enable you to develop a direction of where to begin.


After you’ve settled upon your course description, your mentor will then outline the course outcome objectives that will serve as a set of expectations and guidelines that you must demonstrate throughout your portfolio. Through these, your mentor will convey what capabilities and competencies someone would have if they had taken this course. You should be able to detail and support your knowledge of these objectives through your writing, experiences and evidence.

Tip: Because this is knowledge you already have, you must be able to explain what you know, not only through the required writing, but also as if you were conducting an interview.  Determine if you could complete the tasks outlined in the course’s learning outcomes, and can articulate that background and knowledge appropriately.

Portfolio development requires a great deal of writing, so college-level writing skills are a must, particularly as you develop your narrative. This component of your portfolio is a student statement that discusses your knowledge of the topics in the course description and correlates these to the course objectives. In the narrative, you should also address how, when, where and why you gained this knowledge, similar to a research paper that is supported by theory or concepts.

Tip: The narrative portion of your portfolio should answer four key questions:

  1. What do I know?
  2. How, when, why and where did I learn this?
  3. How have I or would I apply it?
  4. How will I prove that?


Treat this section as you would a court case; the better the evidence, the stronger your case. Your evidence may include letters of reference or support, transcripts or certificates of completed training, licenses, performance appraisals from supervisors or samples of your work, and much more. You may even include video or audio recordings, newspaper articles or websites demonstrating your experience and skills.  

Tip: Pay attention to the details. Your evidence and/or documentation must demonstrate and support all of the learning you describe in your narrative. The learning outcomes and course objectives should be reflected in your evidence. To cover theory, concepts and context for your experience, one of the most effective items is an informal, annotated bibliography. You can supply a list of publications that include the title of the book or article, the name of the author(s), its year of publication, and a few sentences that summarize the relevant contents of the publication.


Have you gone through the PLA process? What tips or advice can you offer students pursuing their own portfolios?

Tags: Advising , Prior Learning Assessment and Portfolio , Taking Courses

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10 Quick Tips for Easily Solving Your Biggest Technical Issues

Posted Thursday, May 15, 2014

By Kay Howard
Student Affairs Specialist
, Learner Support Center

The online learning environment can be a demanding one. Even with the latest advances in technology, we all run into glitches but still want them solved… yesterday. Save yourself a couple of HelpDesk tickets and frantic phone calls with these 10 foolproof resolutions to your technical issues:

Technical Issue #1: I can’t submit/upload my course assignments or drag and drop, and the page keeps getting stuck.

Solution: Are you using Internet Explorer as your browser? If you’ve ever experienced a myEdison® login fail, the inability to submit/upload course assignments, continually received a spinning loading icon or a missing submit button, the problem is normally caused by compatibility issues between Internet Explorer and Moodle. Switch your web browser to either Mozilla Firefox (download it for free, here) or Google Chrome (download it for free, here) to better function with the College’s Moodle system.

Technical Issue #2: The Moodle App doesn’t work to access courses on my mobile device!

Solution: The Moodle App (from the iOS or Android app store) is not configured for the College’s courses at this time, but you can still log into your courses with your mobile device. If you are using an:

For iPhone/iPad users: Download Google Chrome for iPhone (download it for free, here), and go to “” The mobile page will load; go to browser settings and select “Request Desktop Site.” (The browser settings icon is composed of three horizontal lines and can be found in the top right corner of your browser window.) The desktop version should load at that point. This will allow you to log in and access your courses.

For Android device users: From the main Android browser, go to “” and log in to the portal; the mobile page will load. Bring up your browser settings, and select “Request Mobile Site.” The page will reload with the desktop version.

Technical Issue #3: I can log into Moodle but keep getting an error message whenever I click on my courses.

Solution: Re-enter your credentials if you are getting this message:

Click on the GRAY “Enter your credentials” link on the error screen above and you will come to this screen.

Re-enter your credentials, including:
• Windows User Name: firstname.lastname (no students\)
• Windows Password: (Your Password)
• Confirm Windows Password: (Your Password)

Technical Issue #4: I can’t find my College email account.

Solution: Your student email account can only be found within the myEdison® portal.
To access it, log into the College portal ( Look along the bottom left side where you'll see a block called “My unread messages.” Click the link inside of this block, and a new window will open, taking you to your College email account (which is also part of Google Apps). Along the top of this window you will also find the Google Apps navigation, which includes your Drive, Calendar, and more!

Technical Issue #5: I’m overloaded with email notifications every time my classmates post in the course discussion boards.

Solution: You can control your email notifications through three options within your profile settings: email display, email digest type and forum auto-subscribe. To find these notification settings, click on “Edit profile” within the settings block. These settings control how often you receive an email, what email account is used, what the email contains and whether or not you’re automatically subscribed to a forum in which you post.

You can also unsubscribe within the individual forums. Once you're inside the forum, look along the left side for a link that says "Unsubscribe from this forum." You can click this link to unsubscribe. For instructional videos on how to manage your profile and forum settings, visit the Moodle Video Help Site.

Technical Issue #6: I’m trying to copy and paste my assignment from a Word document into my course discussion board.

Solution: Using right click and selecting copy/paste will not work. When copying and pasting into Moodle, you will need to use keyboard commands. You can copy by pressing Ctrl+C and paste using Ctrl+V.

Technical Issue #7: I need to schedule my course midterm and final exam.

Solution: Visit the ProctorU site and create an account or log in using your ProctorU user ID and password. Select the "New exam" tab and choose your semester. Be sure to pick the right semester, as that will determine the available test dates you see. Then choose the course and exam you would like to schedule. Select a date from the calendar and a time from the drop down menu. Available dates can be seen in blue and any available slots will be shown in the drop down menu. Click "Add reservation" to add your appointment.

If you need help scheduling an appointment with ProctorU, you can call the ProctorU exam line at 205-870-8122 or email them at [email protected]. Questions regarding the format of your midterm, final or any test-related inquiry can be sent to the Office of Test Administration at [email protected]

Technical Issue#8: I need to schedule an academic advising appointment.

Solution: Advising can assist with planning a degree program, provide course advisement and confirm completion of your graduation requirements, however, before you schedule an appointment, you must first be enrolled as a student. You can make an advising appointment by logging into your myEdison® account with students\firstname.lastname and the same password you use for Online Student Services. Scroll down to “Tools & Forms” and you will see the option, “Make an Advising Appointment.” Login with your College ID number and last name. You can then select your degree program, preferred advisor and the type of appointment you would like to make. You can also view any advisor's profile, and select a day and time to speak with them that accommodates your schedule.

Technical Issue #9: I can’t log in to my Online Student Services account?

Solution: If this is your first time logging into the new Online Student Services site, you will be asked to create your login information. To establish your User ID, use your last name and SSN or College ID.  Students will use firstname.lastname as a User ID. You will be emailed a temporary password, and then asked to change it upon your first login. Your new password must be between 6-9 characters in length, and comprised of letters and numbers.

If you have already established your User ID and do not remember your password, you can view your password hint or reset it under the “User Account” section at any time.

Technical Issue #10: I am trying to buy my course materials.

Solution: You can order your textbooks and course materials through the MBS Direct Book Store.  First select the appropriate term, and then enter the course codes for your courses. Each course code begins with a three letter departmental code (representing the department in which the course is academically based) and followed by three digits to signify the course level. The required texts will then populate and made available for purchase through the site. However, if you are taking a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) course, you will not have course materials. If you are taking a TECEP® exam, the test description for that exam will include a list of exam topics, suggested study materials, information about the test format and sample test questions.

For more information on common technical issues, visit the Common Issues page.

Tags: Advising , Online Tools and Resources , Student Services , Taking Courses

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10 Tips You Need to Know to Get Quicker, Better Advising Help

Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When you first apply to college, the idea seems simple. You are ready to take the required classes, write papers, pass your exams and eventually earn a college degree. But then the anxiety sets in: What is this academic evaluation? How do I read it? What classes am I supposed to take? How do I register? General education courseswhat are those???

You don’t have to figure all of this out on your own; academic advising can guide you through your college experience, interpret your academic evaluation and help you select courses and programs of study – everything you’ll need to get you to graduation day. Empowering you to take charge of your academic career is their number one goal. So, to get the most out of academic advising, here are 10 must-read tips from advisors that will help you save time and confusion (and probably, a handful of HelpDesk tickets and Expressline phone calls).

Tip #1: Always have your academic evaluation in front of you for each advising appointment.
Your academic evaluation is a rolling document, meaning it will always be updated with your previously earned credit, and shows you what courses you have left to take. Before any advising appointments, read it over and jot down a few notes and questions so you’re more than prepared. Your academic evaluation is an invaluable planning tool when talking to your advisor and key to developing an effective degree plan.

Tip #2: There is no such thing as an “easy course.”
College isn’t easy; it takes a lot of hard work and determination to succeed. But if you are interested and passionate about a subject, take a course on that topic. It can only contribute to a better experience for you.

Tip #3: Become familiar with the codes found at the bottom of your academic evaluation.
For every course you take, or plan to take, a code will be designated to identify the status of that requirement. By understanding the codes found at the bottom of your academic evaluation, you will be able to infer if a sub-area of your degree requirements have been completed or are in-progress, or if you are preregistered (PR) for a course or plan to take it (PL). When you become familiar with the codes, your evaluation will be much easier to read when they appear again in other places throughout your assessment.

Tip #4: Pay attention to course code descriptions so you do not duplicate a course.
By nature, names of courses will change. However, their course code descriptions, the unique identifier number that begins with a three-letter departmental code followed by three numbers to signify the course level, do not. Take a look at these codes when choosing your classes; if a course title is different, but the course code description remains the same as a course you have already taken, you can save yourself the trouble of repeating it again.

Tip #5: Bookmark or favorite a page on the College website so you can easily access it later.
If you’ve found yourself returning to the same page on the College website, forgetting its location and then trying to find it all over again, bookmark or add the page as a favorite within your Internet browser. Repeatedly looking for those general education requirements? Forgot what page your advisor told you to check out? Imagine how easily you will be able to find the page again in just one click.

Tip #6: If you could teach the course, then you may be a good candidate for Prior Learning Assessment.
Are you an expert in a certain field? Believe you could teach an entire course on that subject? If you have the appropriate background and knowledge, and the skills to articulate that, then Prior Learning Assessment may be a viable option for you to earn credit. Jot this option down, and speak with your advisor about the PLA process and how it can apply to your degree.

Tip #7: Schedule appointments based upon how much time you will need to talk to your advisor.
If you only have one or two questions, then sending an email or calling the Advisement Expressline might be your best option to get a quick answer. For questions that require more in-depth degree planning, enrolled students can schedule a half-hour appointment with the advising office. But if you are really confused (and we mean really), then it could be in your best interest to book two, back-to-back time slots to speak with an advisor. However, as long as you are prepared (see Tip #1), most appointments take just under 30 minutes to complete.

Tip #8: Include your College ID# in all of your correspondence.
Have a common name like John Smith? Or change your last name recently? Regardless the reason, your College ID# is unique to you and will never change. Include your ID# in any emails or messages to the advising office, which can help save time in pulling and reviewing your academic records. It may help you receive a faster response too, instead of waiting for your advisor to sift through all those other John Smiths, trying to determine which one you are.

Tip #9: Eliminate any and all distractions during your advising appointments, including driving.
Give your advising appointment your full attention; more than likely, you will need to write some things down, visit a few pages on the website or look at your academic evaluation. Conducting other activities, like driving, even with a hands-free set, would only be a disservice to you. Schedule an appointment with an advisor at a time that works for you, when outside distractions won’t be an issue. If your typical times are already booked up, or do not fit into your schedule, you can always send an email with your questions and concerns via the HelpDesk.

Tip #10: Be in front of a computer when you speak with your advisor.
When you speak with your advisor, especially during the degree planning process, you will be directed to helpful links on the College’s website. This may include the courses most applicable to your degree program, how to register for courses, where to find your academic evaluation, and much, much more. By saving this information, you can quickly and easily find everything you discussed with your advisor when you need it later.

Tags: Academic Evaluation , Advising , Majors and Degree Programs , Prior Learning Assessment and Portfolio , Student Services , Taking Courses

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9 Deadly Habits Every Student Should Avoid

Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2014

While there are an infinite number of strategies and tactics that can drive a student’s success, there are only a handful of reasons that may lead a student to crash in failure. But those reasons are MAJOR. And, oftentimes, hard to avoid. But not impossible.

By understanding the pitfalls that often plague students, you can better prepare for your own college success. Whether you are just learning how to navigate a work/life balance, or searching for a reason why going back to college is so much harder than you thought it would be, kick these 9 habits to the curb and give yourself a degree tune-up:

1. Poor Time Management
Work is calling. The kids are crying. Dishes are piling up in the sink. You miss a course deadline… or two… or three… We get it. Life gets busy. You can’t plan for everything. But you can plan for something.

The Fix: Set aside a few hours each day to do school work, uninterrupted, that will allow for your total focus on the task at hand. By planning your day or week in advance, and writing it down in a notebook, planner or on a post-it stuck to the fridge, will help you visualize what needs to be accomplished. Then you can make adjustments and arrangements as needed.

2. Not Keeping Up
We’re all guilty of procrastination. Putting off tasks until another day is going to happen in some way, shape or form while you pursue your degree. Telling yourself that you will just “do it later” will only hurt you in the long run. Getting totally lost in a course is a problem that happens far too often.

The Fix: Set personal deadlines that come before your course deadlines so you can assure that the work gets done in a timely manner. You may need that extra day or two to polish your work, or recap something you read earlier on. By staying on pace with your courses, even studying will come much easier to you; cramming for your courses is one thing you can leave behind.

3. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Ah, sleep. We can’t get enough of it, literally. With the hustle and bustle of balancing work, school and family, where is sleep supposed to fit in? But not getting enough sleep can hurt your test taking, studying and writing performance.

The Fix: Getting a good night sleep can actually improve your grades over pulling an all-nighter, help you to retain more information and much more. Find the balance that works for you so you’re refreshed and recharged to take on the day ahead, the right way.

4. Not Discussing Your Plans or Questions With Your Advisor
Not discussing your degree plans with your advisor could adversely affect the courses you take; who knew you didn’t need to take that class again?! Your advisor certainly did! Your advisor is the one that can offer the guidance and advice you need to finish your degree on time and as efficiently as possible.

The Fix: Your advisor is an invaluable resource. When in doubt, ask. As a Thomas Edison State College student, when you are in doubt, you can make an advising appointment through myEdison® 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or, you can call the College’s Advisement Expressline to reach an academic advisor quickly without the need for a formal appointment, especially for questions that typically take less than 10 minutes for an advisor to answer. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Every question is important because it applies to you.

5. Not Having the Right Supplies, Materials or Equipment
You wouldn’t take a test without studying, right? And you really wouldn’t take that test if you didn’t even have the book to study from, right? It is crucial to obtain your course materials in a timely manner so you can engage properly at the very beginning.

The Fix: Plan to purchase your materials, test out your equipment and review the syllabus before the course begins so you can understand what’s required of you. And don’t forget to test out your technology; be sure to have a reliable computer with the programs you’ll need and a dependable Internet connection to actively participate in courses.

6. Using Google and Wikipedia as Credible Research Sources
Sure, Google can be a great resource to help you develop ideas, but it should never be the only source you use to look for information. And neither should Wikipedia. Simply put, these sites are not credible sources in an academic paper.

The Fix: Public libraries, online journal databases, and credible online websites (typically those whose web addresses that end in .org, .gov, .edu, etc.) are the most reliable places to gather research information. As a Thomas Edison State College student, you do have access to the New Jersey State Library and its special databases, articles, books, journals and more that can help you nail that next research paper.

7. Taking On More Than You Realize
“Biting off more than you can chew,” as they say, can be detrimental to your success in any course you take. When you begin as a new student, ready and eager to get started as quickly as possible, it may seem tempting to take two or three courses at a time, and underestimate the time commitment required. Falling behind then becomes all too easy.

The Fix: Speak to your advisor and get their insight into what they think may be an appropriate course load for your first term. Keep in mind any job, family or outside commitments, and consider how much time in a week you will be able to dedicate to school. This will help you assess the right amount of courses to take without sacrificing your grades.

8. Not Participating
In any course, class participation is key. Whether you are raising your hand in a traditional classroom, or posting a reply to a discussion thread, your presence is noted. And assessed. And graded. If you don’t participate as required, not only are you putting your grade in danger, but you won’t get the most out of your course. Which, at the end of the day, is the whole reason you’ve chosen to pursue your degree.

The Fix: Actively participate with quality responses, and be sure to answer emails promptly and efficiently. Sure, your mentor is watching, but your classmates are also hoping to learn from you, as you are from them.

9. Not Writing Down Due Dates and Assignments
If you don’t have a planner, get one, stat! It will be your fail-safe throughout your academic career. Notating your course assignments and deadlines is fundamental to your time management skills, and will help you plan your life accordingly to stay on track.

The Fix: Whether it be a planner, a Google Calendar or a mobile calendar and reminder app, find the planning tool that works for you. Include the due dates of all your assignments, exams and readings. Being able to quickly and easily reference your commitments is the easiest way to stay organized and on top of everything.


Are you guilty of any of these habits? How have you overcome them?

Tags: Advising , Going Back to College , Online Tools and Resources , Student Services , Study Tips , Taking Courses , Time Management , Work-Life Balance

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