Monday, June 28, 2010

Teaching Students Academic Integrity

I teach online. I require students to defend their opinions about cases on 5 assignments. I encourage them to use and cite the textbook and other sources for evidence, so that they learn to evaluate evidence and justify their opinions and conclusions. I offer extra credit for those who go to the writing lab and offer to read rough drafts to show them how to cite and write; at best 10% in a given class will take me up on my offer and help themselves out. I seek to promote two things with this tactic: 1) significant learning; 2) academic integrity.

I just had yet another case of a student (who did not seek any help) plagiarizing by pasting personal opinions found at other online community-based sites and at essay production sites while filling in personal fill-in-the-blank spots with current information. This student did defend the actions as thinking it was okay as long as the sentences were about the student and not the originator of the paragraph. What made this situation so heartbreaking for me was that the student could not put a sentence together properly in even an email (i.e., proper capitalization, punctuation/grammar, and use of subject-verb agreement) but stated the goal of upper division college at the beginning of the course. The student had made passing scores on the first two essay submissions thanks to content but must have been feeling desperate about the course grade to break down and paste content on two essays back to back.

Normally, students try me with the behavior at the beginning of class under the excuse of "nobody ever told me this was cheating" or "I've always written this way and no other professor has complained." I usually reply with the following: "here's how it works in my class, you get zeros until you figure out how to write a paper without cheating, or if you don't figure out how to write original work, you will fail; how you handle yourself at this point is your choice."

I have actually had a nearly perfect success rate in working with those students needing to learn not only course content but also better writing and citing. They are usually rewarded with the opportunity in the last few days of class to submit extra credit essays! They earn the reward of making up points lost due to needing to learn academic integrity. I've even had a couple students follow up in the subsequent semesters to tell me a heart-felt thank you for "being mean" and caring about their success enough to "stick it out" with them, because the next time they encountered a professor like me, they wrote better, cited well, and earned As--a big-time, long term reward, if you ask me.

Back to today, I encourage you to consider what you would do to improve the learning potential for a student in a bad situation of the student's own making. If the student's test scores were not so bad, which was probably what led to the desperate acts, then I would have told the student the writing lab and SafeAssign was mandatory. For this student in the case study, I encouraged the student to drop: Something I do not do if I can avoid it, but in this student's case, why make the situation more painful on both of us! We humans avoid pain. Other than telling the student to use the writing lab in the future, knowing the student is already failing the exams and really in no hope of getting better than a low D, if that, what could I do?

Alas, the significant learning here is that sometimes the caring professor has to learn to let go too. However, the caring professor has to let go with compassion and hope the student reflects on the past and works toward the successes waiting in the future.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Helping Students Juggle Classes Just as I Help Dissertation Writes Juggle Chapters

In private practice, I coach people wanting to write dissertations and earn PhDs, EdDs, DrPHs, DBAs, etc. The dissertation is a series of papers written into chapters, or 4, 5, or 6 pieces parts, depending on the degree program and field of study. The dissertation is simply a few papers connected together by a stapler or a binding machine. The dissertation is a quilt created by the writer.

Quilts are created one piece at a time. Therefore, think about the dissertation (or the set of classes taken by an undergraduate students) one piece (or class) at a time. Once a piece is finished, however small or large, the writer, student, or quilter puts that part away and begins constructing the next piece. Now, when the writer/student/quilter finds a particle of an older, completed piece prepared for this quilt that ought to belong within the next piece, then I say simply to open, select, copy, and paste away! Redundancy feeds the length of a dissertation or a semester, just as identical quilt pieces fill in the patterns of the basic quilt.

As we who teach all know all too well, writing one paper is easy, and we've done that a million times. All we need to do is connect the patterns of any major topic just as an artist might craft together the pattern of a quilt. If we work on more than a specific piece's part, we know how we might feel overwhelmed. We know to avoid being overwhelmed by the big paper by focusing energy on the smaller little papers within the big project. We want to look forward one piece at a time and be able to reflect backward on the treasure trove quilt we've already pieced together so beautifully, One Piece at a Time.

We desperately want our undergraduate students to begin to have the same skills they will need in life, career, and further schooling. Therefore, I work with students both inside and outside of the classroom to understand that their semester by semester experiences also compose a quilt: a quilt of learning. Each semester they face the same themes and patterns; however, each semester they face unique experiences, professors, and course specific expectations that may not be mirrored in their ongoing pattern of experiences. Helping students juggle their semesters one course at a time, priority by priority, within the weave of their lives, means acknowledging that school is like a quilt!

Happy Educational "Quilting," Dr. C

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Textbooks, Real Books, Lean Books, Reference Books, Poetry and More !

I thought I was being efficient. I'd use the WorldCat List Maker so we can easily keep track of the books being considered as texts for the Learning Frameworks course. Then MaryAnn told me there were only a few titles on the list. A few titles don't make for a very interesting list.

So I thought about the fact that this class is supposed to be an overture to the CORE. Might this be a place where we could think out loud about some other kinds of readings?

We've talked about the possibility of including some "lean books" so I added some of those to my list. Note especially the Thinker's Guides from the Foundation for Critical Thinking (most are 50 pages or less and can be had for as little as a$1.00 when bought in large lots). And don't overlook their auxiliary web site for improving critical thinking called Can a web site be a text?

I also wondered out loud if we might include some "real books." (memoirs, non-fiction, self-help, etc.) And what about a little poetry?

Remember. We're in brainstorming mode. So (almost) anything goes...

Since I personally would like to see StrengthsQuest included I decided to add a little reference book that would both pay the fee and provide an easy handbook for interpreting results.

There's always discussion of a self-produced book like the one that UNT did for similar course. While desireable, it may not be practical given the timelines we're working with right now.

And last, but certainly not least are those few lonely textbooks whose publishers we will hear from in a few weeks.

If you'd like to look at the entire list you can do that too.

PS. You can add to the list either by emailing the title to me or by becoming a WorldCat member,creating your own list, and using a set of common tags (I suggest two word tags with a hyphen in between). For examples, look all the way to the bottom of my main list.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Own Your Words

I had a bright idea.

I'd pass index cards around at the meeting and have people write their personal definitions of "significant learning experiences." But I ran into a snag.

What I really wanted to do was attach them (as comments) to the earlier post "What is an SLE?" as comments.

But there was a problem.

I didn't want to allow anonymous posts or comments.

In the 90s there was a famous online virtual community called The Well. There were incredible conversations including some of the most brilliant people around. But The Well had one rule that is quite different from the Internet of today. You had to reveal who you were. "You own your words" was the oft stated principle.

I have a feeling that the Internet of today would be much better if such a rule existed. Unfortunately that boat has left the dock.

But not here. On the blogs that I administer the rules of The Well will be observed.

PS. Here are the index card definitions I picked up at the meeting. Some of them are quite good.


1. Learning that causes one to see things / the world, etc ... differently, to see new/different connections.

2. An emotional intellectual and behavioral event that is life changing.

3. When the students are engaged in a risk-free learning environment and have a sense of success.

4. When I can do something I couldn't do before -- and remember it the next day or longer.

6. When I know/see/understanding in a new way.

7. Something that can be applied outside a classroom or enhance further learning.

8. Understanding a concept or information and the ability to apply that learning to future learning/ working experiences.

9. One that can be transferred between settings and reinforced in a personally meaningful way for long term memory.

10. Something that effects my mind and behavior. Involved with someone / something that is new and important to me.

11. An experience that is based on the need to know.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to Learn Brain-Based Learning and More ... Using Brain Based Learning Principles: an Experiential Approach

1. Assign students to do research on brain-based learning as homework. Don't give any more details than that. (At least not until you've gone through this experience at least once). This could also be adjusted depending on what your objectives are. Mine is to give them an experience which builds on their existing habits, then moves beyond it.

2. At the next class each student should bring a hardcopy article of his or her choosing on the topic at hand (brain-based learning). The article should be marked up and/or annotated in a way that would demonstrate that the student has actually read it, spent some time with it, engaged with it on some level.

3. Instructor begins by checking markups on papers of students present. Only those who have a marked up copy can participate In discussion. (If we do this early in the semester .. without warning .. I suspect the "preparation for class index" will rise). This piece can be omitted, of course) if it doesn't fit with your objectives.

4. Either with assistance or entirely on their own students should construct their own 12 commandments for brain-based learning. It's a single group-authored document that is, in one version of this, done in the classroom that has been vacated by the instructor. Students must agree on language, order of the commandments, presentafion format, how or whether to give credit to sources. (They should remember it will be due at the next class meeting. This is an intentional constraint). I envision this as perhaps the first group project of the semester. Again, in keeping with the objective of providing them with experiences where they make mistakes, then learn (mostly from themselves and each other) how to move beyond them. This could also provide an excellent learning moment for encountering the skills of cooperative learning. (See almost anything by David and Roger Johnson).

5. If you do decide to let students do the list entirely on their own...this would be a good activity for the following class. They can present it to instructor with a kind of "reading aloud" ceremony. Let them discuss the process that resulted in the 12 commandments document. Part of the assignment is their "presentation" must include as much of the rationale for their decisions on the content of the document as they can recall. Again, the instructor can highlight key cooperative learning skills, both observed and needed.

6. Watch Brain Rules video and show the students the book. Help them note the differences between their list and the ones in the video and the book. Can they explain any of those differences? Finally they (the students as a whole) should rank order the brain rules list in terms of what order would be best for students. There is no wrong answer here but you do want to push them to justify their choices.

7. As a summing up activity and assessment, each student will write a reflection on the whole experience in their e-portfolio. A grade will be taken. They should be told that the quality of their contribution will be evaluated primarily on the basis of the following definition of reflection:
a. "Reflective differs from thoughtful in its stronger implication of orderly processes of thought, such as analysis and logical reasoning, in its suggestion of a definite aim, such as the understanding of a thing's nature or of its relation to other things or the reaching of a definite conclusion." From: "Thoughtful." Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield: Merriam Webster, 1984. COMMENT: This may be too difficult. I'll try to find a way to make it not quite so, yet still challenging. On the other hand, it could provide a significant teaching moment, especially if you allow them drop this grade.
8. Consider challenging the students' decision about how and whether to give credit unless,of course, it was perfect in every way. Please note: This is optional and is left to the very end because it may violate some of the principles of brain-based learning. The instructor may also want to include one of the best videos ever on the consequences of plagiarism.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Brain-Based Learning as a Problem to Be Solved

My task as I understood it was to create an activity that would incorporate active learning and include an educative assessment piece. This activity is not fully developed, but is suggestive. I will try to remove the rough edges in time. Let me begin with the resources I have in mind:

Resource 1: John Medina. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.Seattle: Pear, 2008.
This is a superb book recommended by one of our librarians who until joining us recently was a librarian at Microsoft where this book and the accompanying videos are, apparently, all the rage. I'm selecting it as a resource because it has the business angle, the author has impeccable credentials, and the video material is dynamite. The DVD with one 3-5 minute clip for each of the 12 "rules" comes free with purchase of the book and the free web site at is also quite good.

Resource 2: "Brain based education: Fad or breakthrough?" YouTube.
Professor Daniel Willingham looks at when and how neuroscience can inform education. The professor also has very good credentials. Some may not particularly like his demeanor. But that is beside the point. "

The problem for the class to work out is "Who shall we believe? Or "Is Dr. Medina's work in the 95% group of publications that Willingham says is garbage?"

I'm tempted to stop right here and simply put these rich materials into the hands of creative teachers and let them make a significant learning experience out of this. I've got some ideas on how to proceed but I probably won't be able to post them for a while. Until then, feel free to extend this activity stem with comments...

Friday, January 29, 2010

John Gardner on The First Year Experience: Irving, Texas, Jan 27,2010

These are my "very rough" notes of the meeting with John Gardner. There were 12 or 13 of us. The Cool Ranch Restaurant was HUGE. The food was very good. And what John shared was most informative. At least in my humble opinion. GD

Anyway for what they're worth, here are the notes. Maybe they'll help jog the memories of those who were there ... and provide a small glimpse for those who were not.

I've also enjoyed reading Gardner's blog. Particularly the latter part of the tagline:

"He is alert to national and institutional policies that support or sabotage students’ progress through undergraduate education."