Sunday, April 30, 2017

Week 13: Final Project

My project is going to be a video in which I demonstrate how to plagiarize writing. The reason for this is because many students, especially those from other cultures and countries, are unfamiliar with what is considered plagiarism in the United States. Sometimes, they are also unfamiliar with the expectations for a research paper. I have had students in the past who thought it was appropriate to take relevant passages from articles they had read and copy and paste them into a word processing document. There was little to none of their own writing between these passages explaining, in their own words, the connection to their research interest. In other words, as a reader, I didn't know why they had selected the passages they did or how it related to their paper topic.

The barrier I'm encountering with this project is the utter futility I feel about completing it, and this course, in the first place. I realize this is some kind of blanket requirement from the grad school, and I appreciate and value an eye toward ethical behavior in higher education. At the same time, to make this a requirement of students who teach writing and encounter ethical discussions and questions of ethical practice just about every day is borderline ridiculous. As a PhD student, I have serious demands on my time. Every week, I have three courses to read for; usually, our professors assign an entire book or 7-8 academic research articles. This is usually around 150 pages of reading, x 3 = 450 pages of reading per week. In addition to my reading, of course, are any papers assigned for midterms and finals. Besides my coursework, I am a teaching assistant with my own lecture preparation, administrative work such as updating and posting information on Canvas, and grading to complete. The sheer quantity of work is ghastly. This is my last semester of coursework, so I'm kind of amazed that I even got this far, especially as a nontraditional student (which many PhD students are). Adding this course to my workload, well, frankly, just pisses me off. But I suppose I'd better stop wasting my time complaining and work on my final project.

p.s. Oh, and let me add to this post that the fact that I find it EXTREMELY unethical to ask students to spend time writing blog posts (or any kind of writing, for that matter) which no one is actually reading, save for the occasional other student who may comment on this blog post out of necessity because it's required for this course. When we assign writing to students in the English department, at least the course professor is reading it closely and offering detailed feedback on it.

Week 12: Ethics and Personal Ethos

Ethics loom fairly large for a student studying rhetoric and writing. We discuss ethics...pretty much all the time. For instance, one of the topics in my Classical Rhetoric course last semester was whether or not teachers should attach ethics, especially those of a democratic society, to the teaching of writing and/or rhetoric. Concerns about writing and language go back to the Sophists, a group of oratory teachers who charged students for their services to prepare them to defend themselves in court. Gorgias is famously known for taking his payments up front, a practice he caught some flack for from his students because, they argued, they shouldn't have to pay if they were unsuccessful in defending themselves. Gorgias responded that if students were able to defend themselves successfully, then their paying up front was a defensible and acceptable practice. 

Interestingly, this practice continues today: students pay for their classes up front. If students don't pay, they can't continue taking the course. The automatic assumption made in higher education is that students will benefit or learn from their coursework. If they fail, that's on them: they still have to pay for the course (unless they withdraw by the appropriate time, and in many institutions, that still doesn't constitute a full refund). What if we were to change that practice? If students pass the course, they pay tuition. Or perhaps if they fail, they would be entitled to either a refund or the opportunity to take the class again at no additional charge. How would that change the status of higher education today, as we discussed in last week's topic, Declining by Degrees? 

Week 11: Declining by Degrees

I'm actually writing one of my final papers on the convergence of open access, social justice, and basic writing. Many of the issues raised in this film are ones I will address in my paper, such as a) finances, b) attrition rates and retention, c) students' backgrounds (educational performance, socioeconomic status, race, and more), d) remedial education in community colleges, and e) open access. Making colleges "open" to anyone who wants to apply gives the public the impression that education is equal and therefore, socially just. Not so. Having attended, tutored in a learning support center, and taught reading and writing at a large community college, I saw firsthand a diversity of students with a plethora of goals, attitudes, and abilities. I saw students achieve success who I thought were unlikely to, such as the young pregnant woman in my reading class who delivered her baby during the semester and returned to take her final exam and passed. I saw other students try hard and fail, such as the young man working a 40+ hour job and taking five (!) classes who got so far behind on his work, it was impossible for him to pass my class. I saw a nontraditional student develop strong English skills over the course of a year, and she worked diligently on application and scholarship essays that earned her admission to a competitive nursing program as well as a scholarship. As a student, I saw classmates who didn't give a flying frisbee about their classes and only distracted those of us who were trying to learn.

All of this is to say that while I acknowledge the many issues that plague the current state of higher education, I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that it is declining, especially as more nontraditional and "unprepared" students are attending. College education is no longer for the wealthy and elite; open admissions were instituted in the 1960s and 70s as a remedy to that practice. However, giving students the ability to attend college doesn't also provide the ability to succeed. In order to do that, students, especially nontraditional and under-prepared ones, need learning support such as tutoring services, careful and frequent academic and financial advising, and teachers who are invested in pedagogy as much as research.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week 10: CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies

This semester, I'm taking a course called Rhetoric in Digital Environments. This past week, we discussed the ethics of conducting research online. I decided to look at one of our field's organizations, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, to see what they had to say about digital research. The guidelines state that the public/private split should be taken into consideration and that "We do not assume, for example, that all digital/online communications are available for research studies simply because they can be accessed" ("CCCC Guidelines"). For instance, I have done research on writing center mission statements which are published on writing center websites. Because these statements are published on public, widely accessed websites, I have no ethical qualms with writing about them or directly quoting from them in my papers. To help understand how research in digital environments is not so straightforward, I think this figure from Heidi McKee and James Porter's article, "The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach," is useful:

For instance, McKee and Porter place a person talking about experiences with sexual abuse on different sides of the public/private divide based upon where that talk happens: on a blog is more public whereas in a private interview is more private. Nonetheless, this does not mean that directly quoting a blog in which the author discusses their sexual abuse could not be considered an ethical violation.

Week 9: Copyright

I haven't really experienced teachers using course packs, but most of my professors assign books or multiple journal articles every week for class readings. We had a librarian visit our department once who recommended that teachers use the permalink for journal articles instead of downloading the article and uploading it to an LMS because clicking the permalink gives the library data they need to see how many people are using a particular database. Obviously, if librarians see a database getting a lot of use, they will be more likely to renew the subscription. I think this practice is a good way to abide by fair use policies because it avoids the need for course packs and may even show how much attention a specific journal or even a specific article is receiving. I would think that would be helpful information for the library to have.  

Personally, I don't see a problem with professors scanning book chapters to share with their students because, to take this back to last week's topic of authorship, I would appreciate as an author if my work was shared. Academic publishing isn't really lucrative; the point is to create scholarship that helps one gain tenure. To give this project more impact, it would be great if all academic publications were turned over to a Creative Commons site after a certain amount of time because then the number of times the article/book is accessed could be tracked. I think it would also allow more people, especially those who don't have access to a fantastic university library like ours, to access that scholarship and benefit from its ideas spreading. 

Week 7: Authorship

I love the TED Talk by Austin Kleon. In my theory class this semester, we read Michael Carter's Where Writing Begins, and I think there is much to take from Carter's book and Kleon's talk about authorship and where writing, art, and ideas come from. Since the Enlightenment era, we have this notion (particularly in the West) that the author is a lone genius, toiling away in an attic somewhere. This concept leaves no room for what Kleon calls the "genealogy of ideas," a beautiful turn of phrase. Instead, Enlightenment thinkers would have us believe that ideas have to spring forth from one's mind like Zeus's children from his forehead (I might be taking that idea from Carter's book, but I can't remember at the moment). The whole point is that if we ascribe to Enlightenment thinking, we get this rascally notion that we own ideas, and this is part of what can cause writer's block. We don't know what to say or type or jot down because we think it has to be something original that no one has ever thought of before. Sorry, but we're just not that smart. Whatever we've thought, someone else has thought before. I'm sure those who have made scientific discoveries would argue that point, but I'm talking more generally about ideas and writing. 

Paul Prior describes a similar idea to Carter's and Kleon's: he uses the term "laminated trajectories." For Prior, everything you write touches upon your life experiences and helps create that piece of writing. Your conversation at a coffee shop earlier in the day, the drawings you created as a child (he used his daughter's drawings as an example because she become a biologist), and so forth, are part of the work you produce. He used the specific example of his daughter's dissertation, but the idea applies to just about any piece of writing. There is no original; I agree with Kleon. But damned if as academics we don't all still have to slap our names on an article or a book in order to prove that what we're researching is producing knowledge. At least it gives us all something interesting to read.

Week 6: Purdue OWL

The Purdue OWL is an invaluable resource to scholars and students around the world. I would argue that when the Writing Lab went online in 1995, it put writing centers on the international map. While many people still aren't familiar with writing centers, if anyone has Googled information about MLA or APA (or even Chicago style) citations, the Purdue OWL probably came up in the search results. According to its webpage, Giving to the Purdue Writing Lab, it "received in excess of 128,000,000 visits from people last year." That is an incredible number and should be evidence enough to convince higher ed administrators nationwide to fund writing centers on their own campuses.

The work of those creating and updating pages for the Purdue OWL cannot be appreciated enough. Harry Denny, the current director, just posted to a listserv recently that the OWL now has a Research section of its site. The goal of this section is to share research conducted about the Purdue OWL, such as the number of tutoring appointments they receive, as well as a usability report produced by former PhD students. This work is imperative for the ethos of the OWL and its administration, as Doug Hesse would call it. The OWL is setting an example that should be heeded by writing center administrators nationwide: sharing research to increase visibility of the writing center and producing empirical research that demonstrates its benefits to a wider audience.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Week 8: Plagiarism Project Proposal

Coming from the rhetoric and composition discipline, plagiarism is an often discussed topic in our classrooms. Many students come to writing classrooms with varying levels of familiarity with plagiarism. Some are taught the concept in high school; some are taught and forget; others are confused about the blurry lines in using source material; and yet others come from cultures or countries where plagiarism is either treated differently or perhaps even nonexistent. For instance, the often-cited example that China does not have copyright laws might come up, and Virginia Tech has a significant amount of international students from China. For a student unfamiliar with the conventions of academic writing in the United States, the concept of plagiarism is almost incomprehensible. In my own experience, students in my classes have copied and pasted large segments of articles into an essay without any context such as signal phrases, introduction or conclusion sentences, much less the required punctuation such as quotation marks and parenthesis around the citation.
In order to try to address this situation in a potentially new way, I propose to create a short video demonstrating how to plagiarize. By this, I mean to demonstrate how a writer might actually perform the act of plagiarism, whether they intend to or not. I will use screen capture software to show how to highlight text from an article, copy and paste it into a word processing document, and leave out the aforementioned punctuation and language signposts indicating these words are someone else’s. I will also demonstrate patchwork plagiarism by taking a quoted sentence and substituting certain words using the dictionary. With this video, I aim to add an element of humor to the situation while still making the point about how plagiarism is actually done in order for students from all kinds of backgrounds to understand what they should not do.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Week 5: Honors System Part II

In my experience, students cheat and plagiarize when they run out of time to work on an assignment and when they misunderstand what plagiarism is, especially when they come from another country that has different understandings or an absence of copyright. After all, in many places, saying that one "owns" certain knowledge probably seems a bit strange. I like to believe that students don't plagiarize or cheat simply because they're lazy or they think they can get away with it because they think I'm a young and inexperienced teacher. I tell them I have Spidey senses for being able to detect plagiarism, and some of think I'm kidding, but when you teach writing, I think you really do get a sense of how a person uses language and what seems unnatural or inauthentic. Increasingly, it seems like students are taking heavier course loads, and that definitely decreases the amount of time they have to complete assignments, which can cause more dishonest behavior. I really wish students didn't have to take more than 4 courses per semester, or were even prohibited from doing so, because I think it cheapens and makes shallow the rest of their learning experiences. Double majoring and all this kind of stuff to be more competitive on the job market just doesn't make sense if you're not getting a real depth of interaction with various subject matter.

To avoid academic integrity violations, I think it's a good idea for instructors to be up front about the Honor Code (we include it in all our syllabi in the department), to be familiar with it themselves, and to discuss the conventions of plagiarism in this country. My husband has an interesting idea about this whole problem, which is to teach students how to plagiarize. That way, he argues, they will know exactly what they're not supposed to do. That idea probably seems silly, but I almost wonder if maybe it's something I shouldn't try. Then again, I think there are plenty of other ways to be dishonest that I probably would never think of when it comes to completing an assignment. The best way to avoid problems is just to talk to your instructor and make sure that what you're doing is acceptable. That way, they can head you off at the pass if you're going astray. 

Week 4: Honors System

"What is the responsibility of the university to maintain academic integrity? What else ought the university be responsible for in terms of academic integrity with faculty, students, staff, and administrators?"

The university seems to be pretty proactive about academic integrity, as it should be. Without academic integrity, there would probably be a greater number of people with graduate degrees because you could just cheat your way through various programs. Demonstrating and applying knowledge seem to be the basis for any education, and to graduate education is usually the added component of building or creating knowledge by performing research. When someone else has gone to so much hard work to create a research question, find appropriate/applicable methods and methodology, and then conduct and analyze that research, it's just plain rude and crappy as a human being to represent that work as your own. For that reason, I think the university should do everything it can to avoid situations like that from happening, up to and including expulsion, as the most extreme case of the Honor Code calls for.

In my field, plagiarism and cheating are hard to pull off because we do so much writing in which you are expected to make an original argument and/or perform research that you then present in writing. At the graduate level, our professors are so familiar with so many scholars in our field that I think you'd probably look like an idiot if you tried to pass someone else's work off as your own. Many of the professors in our department are on the editorial boards or the peer review staff of national journals, and because they read so many seminar papers, they can usually spot graduate submissions easily. I can't imagine what the consequence would be of submitting plagiarized or ethically sloppy work to an academic journal. You would surely be talked about, your work would be rejected, and you might not ever be taken seriously by that journal again. It's just too risky a gamble to take.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Week 3: Ethics

In the field of composition, research has many standards that to me seem the same as they are in every other discipline. We need to gain informed consent from research participants, we have to properly recruit, and we have to take special care if we are using students from our own classes as research participants. That all just seems to make sense if you are even remotely aware of ethics or have ever taken an ethics course. In our department, you are required to take research methods and field methods. Both of these courses discuss MANY aspects of conducting research, almost to the point where it makes you worried about conducting research in the first place because you're worried you're going to unintentionally damage someone's emotions in some way. In our field, human subjects aren't tested on, like we don't inject them with serums or something; rather, we observe the way they interact in a classroom environment or how they write or how they respond to a peer review--things of that nature. Of course, there are many other forms of research besides that in the larger field of rhetoric and composition, but those are just some examples. I'm familiar with VT'S IRB and have had positive experiences with them so far. In fact, I have an IRB-approved study that just came up for review because it's expiring, so I have to decide whether or not to renew it because I'm still in the data analysis stage of the project. We'll see if I have time to transcribe my interviews and analyze that data sometime within the next year.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Week 2: Research University

My general, sort of 10,000 foot view of higher education is from a more liberal education approach: that college is meant to help you become an adult person. What I mean by that is that higher ed is a place not just where you learn about math, science, writing, history, engineering, art, and so on, but also where you find yourself, your interests, what motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what kind of person you want to be. The motto of my undergrad institution is, "Make a life. Make a living. Make a difference." It's a private, liberal arts university, and I think it partially made me who I am today. Of course, I didn't see myself coming back to school after that, and certainly not for a PhD after getting my MFA.

Having worked at a community college, I have a lot of feelings about how the community should be served by higher education institutions. I think first and foremost is serving students, which might sound stupid to say, but there have been plenty of times in my own experience that it seems students are forgotten in the big picture of higher ed. We get wrapped up in institutional memory, "how things are always done," and forget that students are the #1 priority in any higher ed institution. Community college students often have different needs and experiences than do ones in a four-year university, so it's important to understand what challenges and opportunities are present for them. Helping students learn best in my discipline is pretty much my life's purpose. I feel strongly connected to education, pedagogy, and writing, and when I found that such a job existed, I had to have it. But in order to have it, I found I pretty much needed a PhD. So here I am. When it comes to research, I think that has to benefit students and how they learn also because a first priority in a community college or even land-grant university should be serving students. Whatever I research, I want it to have impact and importance for my students and future ones. Otherwise, I feel like it's pretty useless. I'm sure plenty of people feel differently, but that's because they have a different purpose in life than mine. This is my ut prosim.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 1: Introduction

Hi everyone, I'm Allison Hutchison, a second-year PhD student in the Rhetoric & Writing program. I've taught reading and writing at community colleges and an online university. My research interests are writing centers, sonic/sound pedagogy, and learning management systems.

The Principles of Community are interesting to me in that they pertain to a previous research project I did on writing center mission statements. I am interested in how writing centers may or may not reflect the larger institution's mission statement in their own. Like writing centers, I see these principles as guides for how one is expected to behave in the VT community. I'm actually really impressed that the Principles statement recognizes previous "bias and exclusion" because it's a way of admitting that the university has made mistakes but is willing to learn from them. It's like admitting that you come from a place of privilege that alters how you see the world, what in my field might be referred to by Kenneth Burke's notion of the "terministic screen." 

I'm drawn to the inclusion of VT's motto because I think service is an integral part of a land grant university's mission. Last semester, Rosemary Blieszner, Associate Dean of the graduate school, came to speak in our Field Methods class, and I was so impressed and inspired by her dedication to service. In our field, service is sometimes looked down upon because our field often gets reduced to an emblem of service; in other words, teaching writing is viewed as a service to the university and, therefore, not very important. Of course, I think that's a load of crap. At the same time, I value service very much. I think it's possible to teach writing, serve your institution, and not be reduced to "that department that teaches students where to put commas." That ain't what it's about. So naturally, I'm drawn to "the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely" and how, specifically, that expression comes into being.