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.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

I just found this helpful post at the beginning of Spring 2011, but it contains many helpful, reinforcing insights as we begin anew. Your students are fortunate to have your compassionate perspective on their goals and motivations.