The OWL’s APA Refresher Module Supports Academic Integrity for Health Science Students

by Teri Gergen

Less than a minute…that’s how much time attendees are given to scan the round tables and choose a lightning round presentation to attend at the eLearning conference sponsored annually by the Instructional Technology Council. “Who Gives a Hoot?” This catchy phrase turned my head long enough for Dr. Francesco Crocco to convince me that learning about Excelsior’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) would benefit allied health science students, more specifically, occupational therapy assistant (OTA) students. He provided a general overview of the OWL to the small group gathered around his laptop. Following the presentation, Dr. Crocco and I spoke at some length about my specific needs and invited me to review the APA Style module prior to its formal launch. I was hooked!

The OTA program that I oversee as a director is delivered in a hybrid format to students throughout East Tennessee using a combination of asynchronous and synchronous technologies coupled with weekly face-to-face labs. The curriculum itself is not writing intensive. However, expectations for academic integrity require that students cite sources in their all work using APA format. The required general education English Composition course exposes students to MLA format, but it is rare for an entering OTA student to be familiar (or competent) with APA. Efforts to assist students with APA formatting had previously included provision of a link to another university’s resource and referral to staff and tutors in our own college’s learning center. Neither effort provided the consistent results that I desired.

My introduction to Excelsior’s OWL at eLearning occurred early in the spring semester. Second-semester OTA students had just submitted an assignment that involved in-text citations and a reference page. The grading rubric for this assignment included a criterion related to proper APA citations that represented 25% of the total available points. As with previous cohorts, point deductions were invariably tied to inaccuracies with APA formatting. I needed to try something different and thought, “This is the perfect opportunity to introduce students to the APA Refresher module!” When I returned from conference I included a slight variation of the following feedback message with their grade on this assignment:

Good first effort! You have paraphrased appropriately but are having difficulty citing direct quotes. Errors are noted in your references as well. I will be providing additional resources to the class regarding APA style and citations/references. You will have the opportunity to correct and re-submit to earn 10 bonus points in the course.

Students were asked to complete the module and submit a screenshot of the completion report summary slide for the “In-Text Citations” and “References” reviews. They were then to correct errors.


The good news is that 22/26 students completed the APA Refresher module as demonstrated by the submission of score report screenshots from each module. The not-so-good news is that many of the corrections submitted still had errors. A Google survey revealed that students overwhelmingly preferred the APA content in Excelsior’s Online Writing Lab to Purdue’s (more good news!). All occupational therapy students in our program have 24/7 access to the Excelsior OWL resource inside the OTA Student Information Area course shell within our Desire2Learn system. Access, however, does not equate to use. My current challenge is to determine optimal strategies for maximizing students’ use of the OWL APA Refresher module. Stay tuned, I’ll be reporting back!

Teri Gergen, EdD, OTR/L is an associate professor and director of the occupational therapy assistant program at Roane State Community College. Dr. Gergen has served in appointed and elected positions within professional organizations, has presented at state and national conferences, and is an active member of the Educational Technology committee at Roane State. Her areas of interest include instructional technology and distance education, particularly as related to OTA education. She adores dogs, relishes time spent in nature, and loves to design and create.