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.