Lisa's History Class Help Page

Most frequent questions: finding good primary sources, citing sources, late quizzes, late writing assignments


Weekly tasks

During Spring semester, students should:

Accessing the class website

For classes in MiraCosta's Moodle installation, SURF automatically adds your name and ID to the class, and you just log in to

Viewing grades

Log in to the class website in Moodle, and on the main page, there are two ways to access your Grades. I've made quick links to My Profile and My Grades.

Also, in the Settings block under Course Administration, you can click on Grades.

These are your grades so far based on what has been done so far.

If you don't see the Administration block in the column of blocks, it's been "docked" in your Settings tab in the upper left corner of the site.

docked settings

You can dock any block. If you want to undock Settings so your Administration-Grades and Profile settings are in a block in the column, click the symbol to undock it.

undock settings


Plagiarism is "academic dishonesty", and it usually refers to the copying of someone else's words, phrasing or ideas without citing or referencing. It is against policy at all colleges and universities, because it amounts to intellectual theft, but my biggest concern is that plagiarism makes it impossible for me to see whether you know anything about the subject! If at any time any of your work is found to be plagiarized, all previous work will be reviewed and grades lowered accordingly.

To avoid plagiarism, do all your explanations in your own words. If you need to use a quotation or a bit of paraphrasing, cite it. It doesn't matter whether the source is Wikipedia, your textbook, my lecture, or a post from a colleague -- if it isn't your writing or a commonly known fact, it must be cited! The citation need not be formal -- for a secondary source, indicate author, title and date. Provide a link if it's an online source.

Example: "Abraham Lincoln was less interested in freeing slaves than he was in preserving the union." (Lane, Reconstruction lecture, Spring 2011).

For primary sources, follow this format.

I've posted the following on the Syllabus:

Academic dishonesty can lead to F grades on quizzes, contribution assessments (as a result of plagiarism in discussion forums), and the final exam. If cheating or plagiarism is discovered at any time (and I'm very good at it), all of the student's previous work will be checked, and grades revised as determined by the instructor. Cheating includes copying phrasing or paraphrasing from the textbook, documents, or other course materials without quoting and/or citing the source. It also includes creating work together with another person (see this plagiarism self-quiz). While you are welcome to study and talk together, all work you turn in or post must be your own, since all grades are individual. To protect yourself in an on-line environment, make sure that your quiz/test answers in no way resemble those of your colleagues.

Where's the discussion?

Most of my classes do not have separate discussion forums. Discussion should take place in the Primary Sources Boards and in the Writing Assignments forums. Responding to each others' work is what discussion is all about.

History 106 (History of Technology) has formal discussion forums. Discussion is worth 20% of the grade. Of the ten discussions, each student should participate in seven. The grades will reflect this because the lowest three discussions are dropped. Each post is worth 3 points, with the grade reflecting the connection of course materials to the readings and the ability to move discussion forward with new ideas. This can be done in one comment or several comments or posts, depending on quality and the fulfilling the parameters (since some requirements depend on when in the week  you post).

3 points = Excellent post(s) or comments connected to coursework and presenting new ideas
2 points = Good post(s) or comments that connect ideas at the interpretive level
1 point = Basic post(s) or comments fulfilling assignment and reflecting factual understanding
0 points = No post


Problems with the website

1. Most problems are caused by problems with the browser, so first try a different browser (Chrome, Explorer, Safari, Firefox) on your system.

2. Clear your cache. Browsers store things that take up space, so other big things won't load. Here's instructions on how to clear your cache.

3. Make sure that you don't have the pop-up blocker turned on.

4. Also, because iPads and iPhones can't do Flash or manage multiple layered windows, it's very difficult to work on this class using an iPad or iPhone. Laptops or desktop computers are recommended.

Problems with your computer

Online classes require reliable access to a good computer with a reliable internet connection. If you don't own one or something goes wrong with your system or connection, you are expected to use computers at the campus library, other college library, or public library to complete your work on time.

Broken links in lecture

Please please email me so I can fix it. I have been known to offer extra credit for finding a good alternative link!

Post doesn't show or doesn't show correctly

It is usually recommended to compose posts in TextEdit (Mac) or Notebook (PC) rather than Word. This is because certain characters, such as curly quotes or foreign characters, created by Word or another formal word processing program can be in a format that Moodle (or Blackboard) doesn't understand. Getting rid of such characters can solve the problem too.

Posts disappear or got lost

At any time, there could be a power failure or your ISP could knock you off the internet. Always write anything extensive in a text program first, then copy-and-paste it into Moodle.

Changing how the Boards displaydiscussion nesting

At the top of each forum, there is a drop-down menu. I set the default at nested form, which I like because each reply is indented and you can see the whole discussion on one screen. If that's not for you, try one of the other views. For a Blackboard-style experience where you click separately on every post, try "Display replies in threaded form".


Problems pasting from Word

Microsoft products do not play well with others. In tests and forums, pasting from Word shows all your formatting code. Here's what to do.

Go back to the Board or Forum and open the second level of the toolbar:

TinyMCE expand

Use the "paste from Word" button to paste your text.

paste from word

Other recommendations:
1. In Word, save as .rtf or plain text instead of .doc or .docx, then paste the text.
2. Don't use Word -- use Notepad or something very simple.
3. P ost, then go back to your post and click "Edit", and get rid of the extra code.

Using the toolbar to bold, link, etc.

First, if you're copying and pasting from Word, it doesn't carry over the formatting. You need to use the Editor toolbar to format text.

You should have these editor buttons visible for every forum post or essay question. The Editor looks like this:



If you can't see it, you may need to open the tab:


If you still don't see it, try a different browser (Safari and Explorer have trouble with the toolbar sometimes).

Hearing the audio or seeing the video.

If your computer speakers are on, it's probably a browser thing. Try a different browser (Explorer, Safari, Chrome or Firefox).

YouTube video showing twice in the final post.

In Moodle 2, the system can be set to automatically turn a link into embedded media. So don't use a http:// live link for source citation.

Error 404 or the page isn't there.

That happens! Let me know in the Help! forum so we all know a link isn't working. If you'd like a bit of extra credit, find and suggest a page that can take its place!

"Sorry, but your IP number seems to have changed from when you first logged in. This security feature prevents crackers stealing your identity while logged in to this site. Normal users should not be seeing this message - please ask the site administrator for help."

ip error

This is the big reason to always do your writing first in an outside program. If a second window is opened, or you access your account elsewhere without logging out of it where you first logged in, you will get this bizarre message. It means Moodle thinks you're logging in from two different places. Log out and log in again.

Huge images

Sometimes the image you want to use is huge. If it's an image you've downloaded, try . If it's one where you're putting in the URL of the image, you can use to find a smaller version, and/or you can shrink it down manually when you enter or edit it (see instructions for adding images).

In Firefox, you can use scrollbars to reach the lower right corner of your image, and drag the square inward. Keep doing this as many times and necessary till it's the right size. This only works in Firefox.

shrink image


"incorrect sessionkey" error when posting

If you log in and go to the forum to post, then open a new window or tab and go to Moodle to log in again, Moodle logs you out of the first window, ending that session.

Controlling the emails you receive

The default is that when you post to a forum, you are automatically "subscribed", and it sends you emails from that forum. To stop it, click on your name in the far upper right corner of the main page. Clike on Preferences.

Under Preferences - User Account, you'll see Forum Preferences. Click there and turn off Forum Autosubscribe.

Change the setting "Forum auto-subscribe" to "No". The only forums everyone is forced to subscribe to is "Latest News" (my announcements) and maybe Comments.

don't subscribe

Sometimes the system keeps sending you emails from the forums even though you've turned this setting off. When you go into a forum, check the upper right-hand corner of the discussion page. I have set all discussions so that you have a choice about whether to subscribe. If it has the option "Unsubscribe to this forum", click that link.


Big hairy technical problems

Please email me if it's about the class. If it's about passwords or access to the class, contact MCC's student helpdesk.


The questions on the primary source documents

Some of the primary source documents linked from the lecture have questions. These are just for studying - they are not turned in anywhere.

Text reading

Context or background reading may be from a textbook, Wikipedia*, a textbook website, or any other secondary source. It is required reading to provide context for the lectures and forum work, although some people may be able to only skim it because they have been exposed to the material before in another class. The information is expected to be referenced in forum posts, writing assignments and essay exams.

* Some people question the use of Wikipedia for a college history class. I've been online for a very long time (my first web page, written in HTML, was in 1998) and I've watched Wikipedia very carefully, and participated myself in the editing of an entry on online education. I have also reviewed, and written chapters for, several textbooks. My conclusion is that there isn't much difference in accuracy or quality between the standard, multiple-author college textbook and the less-controversial entries in Wikipedia. In fact, because of the nature of publication and book revisions (again, I've participated in quite a few), the editing functions in Wikipedia, and the interest on the part of those doing the editing, errors tend to get fixed more quickly than in textbooks. So the choice of Wikipedia was not a "cheat" - I know of almost a dozen textbooks we could have used - but rather a conscious decision that under the circumstances of ongoing, minor revisions in textbook editions that increase the price for students without increasing quality, Wikipedia is as good or better a choice for the factual background that we need as a base for our own research. If you really want a textbook for History 110 and 111, I recommend Faragher's Out of Many (Pearson publishers). For History  103 or 104, I recommend Noble's Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries (Cengage publishers).

If you'd like the text read to you, download Read & Write Gold. It's free to MCC students.


Quiz information

All quizzes that check reading/listening comprehension of the content contained in lecture (denoted with * or "Lecture"), documents (denoted with "Document" or "Source"), and/or textbook reading (all other questions) are multiple-choice. The questions are randomly selected from a bank of questions. Only one attempt is allowed.

Deadlines and late quizzes

Once the deadline has passed and a quiz is closed, you need a password. A quiz may be taken up to one week late for partial credit, but only after emailing me to request the password.

Untimed quizzes

Quizzes are not timed, BUT your Internet Service Provider (AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner) may close your internet connection if you leave your quiz open too long! Many ISPs break the connection after 30 minutes of "inactivity".

Password needed

I passcode the quiz after the deadline. Use the form on the main page of the class to get the password for taking the quiz up to one week late for partial credit.

Accessing text and viewing lectures during a quiz

Please access all the information you need during a quiz, but be careful. If you have to log in again in a tab or new window, you may log yourself out of the quiz and lose what you've done. A better solution is to open the lecture in a different browser.

To do this, open another browser (such as Explorer of you're using Firefox for the quiz). Do NOT log in to Moodle. Instead, find the lecture you need in your first browser, right click, and copy the URL into the second browser. That way you're not logged in to Moodle in the second browser and it won't even know!

Seeing the grade/feedback on a quiz

To see your quiz or assessment feedback after grading is completed, either click on the quiz on the main page or go to Grades, then click on the link for the quiz.

click on grade

If you don't see a score, it could be that you didn't actually submit the quiz. It is common for students to save, but not actually click the "Submit all and finish" button. The instructor can't grade a quiz that isn't submitted. Email me at for the password to submit the quiz, but be sure it's not more than a week after it was due. Be sure to tell me which class, section, and quiz.

Quiz points different from grade points

Quizzes are worth a certain number of points, but that isn't the same number as the total number of questions. For example, you may have 20 questions, but the quiz is only worth 3% for the class.

Viewing old quizzes

Click on My Grades from the box or from the Administration menu, then see them listed under the Quiz category. You can then select the quiz itself to view the whole quiz, so long as it has been graded and released to all.


Defining a primary source

A primary source was created during the time period we're studying. An example would be a letter, diary, artwork or document produced during that era. A secondary source is something about that time, but created later. Examples of primary sources might be a book by Mark Twain, a political cartoon from the 19th century, or an ancient Greek statue. Examples of secondary sources might include your textbook, Wikipedia, or a website about Mark Twain.

There's one more complication! A clip from a film made during the 1930s would be a primary source if we were studying the 1930s. But if that 1930s film were about something that happened in 1870, that same film would be a secondary source if we were studying the 1870s.

Why portraits often don't work as primary sources

We use primary sources only as evidence to prove a point. A portrait is usually just an image of a person. Like all primary sources, portraits are evidence, so we can't use them to represent something they don't show, like a person's life or deeds (you'd need instead to find something they'd written or a report of what they'd done). However, portraits can be used to prove something about an artistic style, or the character of the person shown, or the significance of what they're wearing.

Deadline for posting primary sources

The primary source post each week is always due by Wednesday midnight. Late primary sources must be posted by the following Sunday (4 days late) to earn 44-50%. No comments are given for late work.

Adding a primary source to the Board: image, video, link

See these instructions:

It says my image is too big to upload?

The default upload size is set pretty darn small in Moodle. If  you get this message, let me know right away so I can change the upload allowance for that forum. Be sure to say which class and section you're in. Or you can find an image that's under 2 MB.

Finding good primary sources, with good citations

Most students start with an image search, or look at websites about a particular era. But often, people who use images on websites do not cite author/artist, title, and date. What to do?

There are two options. The first is to use Advanced Search to limit the results to particular domains, such as .edu, that are more likely to cite sources than a blog or fan page. In Google, you can add to your search, or use Advanced Search.

Another option is a reverse image search. Sites like let you search for an image by the appearance of that image, showing you other sites where that image may appear. This lets you track it down to a museum or university that might cite the source properly. Another option is to use Google's Reverse Image Search.

Where you start the search can have an impact too. Google Images will take you longer to track something down than using museum collections, university pages, and historical sites. I have collected some good sites for you to use: History 103, History 104, History 105, History 106, and History 111.

Citing and commenting on primary sources

The basic format is: (name of artist/photographer/writer, name of source, date, website retrieved from, then your comment referencing the item as evidence)



Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921, Retrieved from WebMuseum Paris

Comment: The geometric shapes and use of white space in this painting is related to the post-Great War experience, where there was a questioning of rationality as a result of the brutality of the war. Mondrian may have been trying to use abstraction to portray hope for order and unity among nations.

Please note - the commentary must be your own phrasing rather than language from the website containing the source (otherwise it's plagiarism), and the comment must reference the image as evidence that could be used to prove a point. Comments that just describe the image aren't useful.

Correct format for the "Retrieved from" URL in a citation?

The URL should refer to the web page where the image, audio or video file is featured, such as above.

Bad URLs include those that reference the search rather than a webpage, such as a Google Image or Bing search.

BAD Example. URL not OK because it is an image search result, not a web page:,r:1,s:0,i:145

Creating a "live link"

Moodle in its newer versions will make a link live automatically - just paste in the full URL from the address line in your browse (for example, If it doesn't work, do this:

First, copy the link to the webpage from your browser (for example, Paste it into your post. Then select the whole thing, and click the link symbol in the toolbar.

insert link

Paste the URL in and click Create Link:

create link

Using textual documents as primary sources

To use a primary source that is a textual document (treaty, book, document from the lecture, article), post an excerpt from that document, in quotations, then cite as you would for any other source (author, title, date, live link to an information page about it). The textual document must have been composed during the time we're studying.

A book cover is a visual source, so treat it as an artwork. To use the book, we need an excerpt or an image of a first edition.

Quotation banks

An online quotation "bank" is not an appropriate source unless it lists the original location of the quotation. These websites are unreliable, and frequently attribute sayings to a person that the person never wrote or said. For a quotation, find the original source (the speech or book) and use that to retrieve the quotation.

Example. URL not OK because it is from a quotation website instead of the original source:

"A conservative is a man who just sits and thinks, mostly sits."
Woodrow Wilson, 1912 speech, Retrieved from

Grading of primary source posts

Primary source posts are graded as part of the Sources and Writing Boards posts each week, and are graded on a scale of

Late, corrected, and additional primary sources

Required primary sources submitted the same week (by the following Sunday) will receive partial points. Primary sources may be corrected after grading one time only during the semester, by adding the missing information using Reply to your original source post. Primary sources beyond the required post can be added at any time throughout the class for all to use.

Duplicate primary sources

Students must post a source that has not already been posted. You may be asked to post another, or the duplicate source will be graded, but at less than half points.


What are the Writing Assignments?

The writing assignments for this class are "scaffolded" - we start with small assignments and get larger and more complex, until we're writing full historical analysis essays.

Writing Assignment I: The first writing assignment consists of an interpretive thesis supported by three sources from the Primary Sources Board, with each source fully cited.

Writing Assignment II: We add topic sentences to interpret three pairs of sources, and continue to work on developing a strong thesis and supporting it.

Writing Assignment III: Here the thesis becomes an analytical theme, with evidence from several different eras and six sources in pairs.

All assignments require that the thesis be in bold text and that the sources be fully cited.  All writing assignments may use only primary sources from the Primary Sources Boards, although students may add any source to any Board at any time.

Constructing an interpretive thesis

A thesis is a sentence that is supported by your primary sources and your writing. In high school (or earlier) history classes, you may have been able to write a factual thesis, then write about that fact. For example, one could say, "The American Civil War was a series of battles fought between 1861 and 1865, and it involved both military and civilian populations on both sides of North and South, often pitting brother against brother." You could then add a bunch of information about the battles, the people involved, and show brother fighting brother. But this is a factual thesis - there is no element here of interpretation or point of view. No one can argue that the Civil War was not a series of battles, or that it wasn't fought during those years, or that it didn't involve everyone, or that brother was not pitted against brother. A factual thesis is not college-level work, because it is only descriptive. There is no critical thinking involved.

To make the thesis interpretive, once could add some form of explanation, cause-and-effect, or connection that shows a point of view. An example could be, "The American Civil War was won by the north because of its superiority in industrial production". That thesis could be proven with facts and sources about industrial production in the North versus the South, perhaps newspaper illustrations of northern factories versus images of raw cotton being loaded on to a southern steamboat. Why is this interpretive? Becaus another person could come along and say no, the north did not win because of industry - it was because of better leadership. They could then use facts and primary sources to prove that alternative, interpretive thesis. It might be proven with military orders from General Grant, or letters written by Lincoln explaining his strategy. Either of these theses are interpretive, because they express a point of view and use evidence to back it up.

Tips for writing an interpretive thesis

Here are some common problems and recommendations for interpretive theses in general:

Choosing primary sources for the writing post

You may only use sources that have been posted in a Primary Source Board, but you may add sources yourself to any previous Board. So long as the sources you add are fully cited and available to all, you may use it in your essay.


Writing assignment grade scales are located within the assignment. .


In the last several weeks of the class, we will be transitioning from interpretive theses with a set timeframe, to larger analytical themes. Themes are interpretive theses that can be supported by evidence from at least three different eras or timeframes. Themes must:

Help with themes: before writing a theme, take a look at these helpful resources:

Also see the next topic below for problems and recommendations with themes.

Tips for writing the final essay

The final essay is a five-paragraph thematic essay with nine primary sources, three in each body paragraph, each paragraph designed around a topical subject, supporting a theme. See student-written examples here.

Here are some common theme problems and recommendations when working on the final essay:

When organizing the final exam essay:

Two organizational schemes:

Method 2 is more sophisticated, but a solid Method 1 essay would still be an A at university.

The topic sentence for each paragraph is like a mini-theme. It must support the main theme of the essay fully, and each primary source must support the topic sentence.

Organizing the paragraphs:

As you construct your paragraphs, keep three things in mind:

1. The arrangement of evidence is important. If you have three items from different chronological eras, arrange them in chronological order. This helps with transitions - there can be progress within paragraphs, just not as a premise for the whole essay.

2. The evidence must attempt to prove, not just illustrate. An example would be if you show a photo of a steam engine. It can't be used to illustrate the idea that there were steam engines. It can be used to support an interpretive statement about industry.

3. Allow your evidence to change your theme. It's not uncommon for the writing of the essay to force a change in the theme - that's OK.

Using and citing primary sources in your writing

The primary sources for this class will come from either the documents linked from lecture or from the Primary Source Boards.

You do not need to use MLA or APA format for your work, so long as artist/author, title, date and a live link to an information page are included. Since primary sources are evidence for points you make in your essay, so they need to be mentioned within your paragraphs, and can be cited right there. Some examples:

This war resulted in injuries that made it difficult for soldiers to resume their former lives. Jim posted an image of soldiers during the American Civil War sitting with their crutches outside the hospital (Matthew Brady, May 1864, from These men often lost the use of limbs, or the limbs themselves, making it difficult to return to farming or manual labor.

You can instead cite with footnotes or endnotes if you wish, but this is not required.

For sources from the lecture, use this form:

(name of artist/photographer/writer, name of source, date, Lane's 111 Documents Workbook)

For sources from the Boards:

(name of artist/photographer/writer, name of source, date, website retrieved from)
Image  Example: Piet Mondrian,Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921, Retrieved from WebMuseum Paris

If the source is not cited correctly in the Primary Source Board, you need to find the correct citation and post it as a reply to that source in the appropriate Board. Then you may use it in the essay. You may not use sources that are not properly cited.

Accessing primary sources in the Primary Source Boards while writing

You can open another window or tab and navigate to forums individually any time. You can also use the Search Forums box on the main page.

Creating all writing in a separate program

If your ISP kicks you off the internet, or there's a power outage, or you get accidentally logged off of Moodle, you'll lose your work. Always create text in a text program, then copy-and-paste.

Copying, pasting and formatting writing assignments

On Windows, it's control-C to copy, then control-V to paste. On Mac, it's command-c and command-v.

Most formatting will be lost when you paste from another program. Please use the toolbar to bold your thesis and italicize your sources. If you can't see the toolbar or formatting isn't working, see this item.

Late Writing Assignments

Late writing assignments may be turned in by the following Sunday (one week late) for half credit. No late final essays are accepted.

Sample Writing Assignments

You may view samples of Writing Assignment I, Writing Assignment II, Writing Assignment III, and Sample Themes). You may also view sample Final Essays. All were written by former students in my classes.



Note: not all sections of all my classes have a contribution assessment or self-assessment.

Definition of the Contribution Assessment

Each Contribution Assessment is where points are assigned for participation, the discussion forums, responses to guidance for your work, attendance, and more - in other words, the fulfillment of the student expectations listed in the syllabus. You can click on the Contribution Assessment link to read the instructions, and open it as many times as you need to. The idea is that after examining the expectations, your logs, and your records, you suggest the grade you receive for your contribution, and I assign that grade unless there's a good reason not to.

For classes with a Mid-term Contribution Assessment only, the points assigned may be changed if the contribution is not the same for the second half of the class. It may be increased or decreased depending on your contribution in the second half.

Finding your Board posts, Activity Reports and logs in Moodle

You need to use the Navigation menu to find your Board ("Forum") posts:.

Navigation menu

You need to use the Administration menu to find your Activity Reports (Outline report):

Settings menu

Assessment feedback

You will have feedback if you wrote "COMMENTS PLEASE" at the end of your assessment. To view the feedback on your Contribution Assessment, go to your Grades, click on the assessment, and click on the "Review" to see your feedback.


Office location and hours

During the regular semester, my office is in room 605 at the San Elijo campus. I'm there Mondays and Wednesdays 9:30-10:50 am. I'm available online every weekday!

Response times online

I will respond to your email within 48 hours (at the latest - I'm usually faster). I also expect a response to my emails to you within 72 hours.

Emailing me

It's best to use the form on the main page of the class, but you may also email me at Please include your class and section number in the subject line, and use a greeting that indicates you know I'm a person rather than a computer. "Hi Lisa" or "Hi Professor" is fine. Be sure to "sign" your email with your name.

Chatting in real time

If you have a gmail account, you can invite me to chat with you using my gmail address: