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.