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    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Academic Integrity Redux, Part III
March 7, 2013 - 8:22pm

Reviewing the spectrum of challenges leads us to think about pedagogy itself. Rote test questions and answers increasingly are not how students learn, if they were ever useful for anything more than a benchmark of basic facts. Just think of how someone of my generation received information: lecture, study and spit it back. Technologically, television was the most exciting medium, and yet it, too, was a one-way street.  Compare that model with multi-player video games, Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Wikipedia, Bing and Google search and one could readily identify the disconnect.  Pedagogy needs to change … but how exactly?  With new smart boards?  Video capture?  Learning Management Systems?  Well sure, especially from the perspective of vendors, but are technology and market forces really all that is needed to bridge the gap?  Intuitively, we know the challenge is greater than meeting the demand of those factors.  What we struggle with is exactly how do we create new and effective means of teaching and learning?  Academic integrity can play a central role in that process.

I think we are at the heart of something.  First, observers tell us that students view college instrumentally.  To the degree that is true, violations of academic integrity, which observers tell us are wide-spread and to which anecdotally I have no reason to doubt, may be part and parcel of depersonalized education. When students feel like cogs in the big corporate machines of higher education, they react in kind. Deep education is based on relationships, not multiple choice tests. It starts with an instructor and material that acts as the vehicle for the student to develop the skills, discipline, and appetite for the life of the mind.  While in our institutions, we pray for engagement.  When students leave, we hope that they have acquired an internal roadmap and thoughtful approach to navigate life as an autonomous individual meeting the obligations of society with energy and insight.

The second point is procedural.  And what I am about to describe may be more true for a large, distributed institution such as Cornell and less for a more person-oriented community such as Canisius, but either way, the point is this: we need to tie violations of academic integrity to a central reporting system that tracks students holistically and designed to address the overall health and well-being of the student.  More than one faculty member has told me that these violations are often signs of other challenges, psychological, financial or family struggles for instance, and in the course of the actions they have come to understand better the student.  Can you imagine a better teaching moment than that?  In the same vein, every institution should routinize the procedures to ensure fairness and due process.  That approach not only protects the institution from a legal and reputation perspective, but makes it a process that everyone can respect.

Good process also assists the faculty member.  In the era of “Rate Your Professor” and constricted stability for full-time faculty in terms of promotion and tenure, without the full support of the institution and consistent administrative procedures, the question of whether to bring forward violations can be very tricky for faculty.  I know of a professor who discovered that more than 50% of her 200+ class had cheated on a homework assignment because the “cheaters” used the same incorrect chemical the instructor identified in the manual.  When she weighed the risk of unfavorable student evaluations against her tenure file, she decided to do nothing about it.  She is neither the first nor the last professor to do a risk assessment and come to that conclusion.  The institution must support its faculty not to put them in this kind of rock and a hard place position as a matter of academic freedom.

So let’s go back to Sam’s sarcastic utterance at the base of the broken shale driveway on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Were it an academic assignment, as a matter of copyright, his utterance was a performance and technically a copyright violation, but one that the fair use doctrine would correct. As a matter of academic integrity, it must be acknowledged. Knowing it is a quotation shifts the evaluation. When he first spoke, I thought, “Wow, how original!” After he told me it was borrowed, I switched to “Hey, he has perfect pitch as a mimic!” Both interpretations get an A, but the distinction makes a difference. If I were his instructor, I would need to be aware of the difference in order to coach him forward, advise him on academic or career choices, or perhaps write a more informed recommendation for work or graduate or professional school. In short, as his instructor, I would understand him better as a person.

Third, how do we integrate academic integrity into instruction?  With a more complicated landscape that technology has created, it is no longer sufficient to point to an existing policy and leave it at that.  The Provost might join in a discussion with the Faculty Senate (or whatever the name of your governing body is) about how your Policy is playing in teaching, learning and research.  Devote agenda time to the topic.  Dust it off and discuss how and what ways it is a part of your institution’s academic life.  Insist that faculty not merely point to it in the beginning of a semester, but encourage that it be a topic of discussion in the class.  Show examples as to how students might run afoul of it. For example, is there an instructor’s manual on the local Intranet?  Are students using sites such as CoureHero that posts past papers and tests?  What constitutes plagiarism in the field?  Tell students what manuals of style to use for citation.  Create clear rules for group projects.  Share examples from your discipline about how it has affected colleagues and operates for faculty as well as students.  This approach will reduce the anxiety among students about what academic integrity is and how to live into it.  We teach the meaning of education in the process.  It sets the tone for the unique world of academia as a privilege and makes learning dynamic.

Why? Because it personalizes education. It connects faculty to students. It brings us into the fold together, and provides meaning for students’ work.



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