Week 5: Placing Blame and Accepting Responsibility for Academic Dishonesty

This week’s texts seemed to be more concerned with placing blame for acts of academic misconduct that with the possible positive outcomes of intervention, and I’m not convinced that this is the best approach to discourage the practice or to teach graduate students about their role in the system.

For example, in Jason Stephens’ presentation for Turnitin.com, he┬ácalls on teachers to take steps to reduce the temptation for students to cheat. Much of his talk concerns the motivations for students, which I would agree is somewhat informative for our practices as instructors, but the only component of his presentation that I felt was particularly useful was his discussion of goals based on performance versus mastery. Addressing this in our classrooms as instructors is not about removing the temptation to cheat. Making sure that we are assessing students in a way that conveys the importance of mastery instead of meeting temporal performance goals should be a pedagogical concern that informs every decision we make about teaching. It was this disconnect that seemed problematic for me in Stephens’ talk. While he talked a little about approaches from a K-12 perspective, he didn’t really offer anything for high education instructors except a generalized view of why students cheat so that we can place the blame in the right place.

Furthermore, I found “The Lab” frustrating as an instructional tool. It didn’t really create a positive perception of standing by your principles and, ultimately, showed that the graduate student who raised the issue was the only one negatively impacted by her supposedly “right” action. By not showing the offending postdoc (in the graduate student version) being penalized and just showing the complainant being displaced and inconvenience, “The Lab” may be further discouraging students from coming forward. “The Lab” did force me to consider the policies at VT has in place for whistle-blower protection. In the workplace, a supervisor reacting the way the PI did in this example would be grounds for further investigation and possibly sanctions. Not seeing any negative outcomes for the “bad actors” in this examples does not do much to support the idea that it is our job to speak up so that things can be set right.

From my perspective and in my field, the best ways to discourage academic dishonesty are to:

1) Create a classroom community that values individuals and growth.

2) Use an assessment system that encourages incremental assessment and indivicual improvements.

3) Ask students to complete assignments that require kairotic critical-thinking instead of asking them to complete the same assignments students have been writing for decades.

4) Set clear boundaries and expectations for students and student work.

These strategies are not directly transferable to all disciplines, but I think that they would be a good place for anyone to start thinking about their own pedagogy.

2 thoughts on “Week 5: Placing Blame and Accepting Responsibility for Academic Dishonesty

  1. I found “The Lab” incredibly frustrating as well, for similar reasons. From the perspective of the graduate student in the lab, I felt there were people she should have been able to go to (like her PI, Aaron) with the problem but was ultimately shut-down and then there were no sanctions or actions taken against them for what they did. It seems as though a student should be able to go to more than just a RIO for something like this and the video seemed to convey that the RIO was the only option. I also was frustrated that there was such a negative reaction, I understand that there could possibly be some backlash if this type of action is taken, but I think it was too extreme and possibly scared students away from reporting any misconduct.

  2. Your comments on turnitin are very poignant. I agree that the presentation did not take the best approach in discussing this matter. I think we need to go beyond discussing the temptation of cheating. Additionally, I don’t think it’s right for teachers/instructors to spend a large portion of their time discussing “why you shouldn’t cheat” but rather we should talk about the content we expect from them and how we will be assessing it. If we constantly say “don’t cheat,” students are going to become deaf to our warnings – instead we should instill high expectations and push our students to rise to these expectations.

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