Academic Authenticity & Character Building

In a previous post I talked about how teaching students the concepts academic honesty and plagiarism should be done in a positive context. In other words, teachers should, in my opinion, do their best to associate the idea of academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism with a positive learning experience that students may retain for a lifetime. In this post, I’ll present some suggestions for teachers that may help in achieving this goal. The first problem you need to consider is how to introduce the idea to your students?  Would you write the word plagiarism on the board and start giving a lecture on the definition of the concept and its applications?  Or perhaps start with talking about the penalties to boost students’ feelings of fear and discomfort and then offer the solution, which is to avoid plagiarism and simply be “honest”?  Although I’ve personally known very good teachers and professors who follow these patterns in giving courses on academic writing and/or research, I believe that starting your session this way won’t help students learn about plagiarism. It is true that you, as a teacher, would have done your job: you have taught them about what the word “plagiarism” means and that being a plagiarist violates the university’s ethics. However, students have not learnt the message behind such a lesson; they haven’t learnt that being true to oneself should simply be a part of their own character; that academic honesty has many manifestations outside the academia: for example, in the workplace and at home with your own family.

A warmer or icebreaker to the lesson can be an example of a plagiarized painting or a song that quickly draws students’ attention to the manifestations of the concept in real life. I’ve thought of these two pictures below of a famous painting by Bob Dylan which turned out to be a “plagiarized” version of a well-known photo; the pictures can be found at: http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/bob-dylan-accused-of-plagiarism-ahead-of-hank-release

bob-dylan-plagiarism

You can ask your students, for example, what do they think of Dylan or any other painter/musician/ writer who follows his path? Do they respect him? Can they call him an “artist”?  What other names can they call him? You can even ask students to write on a piece of paper a list of all adjectives they can think of to describe such an act. At this point you can introduce the word plagiarism and its meaning. This activity can be followed by another question: what if Dylan had put an attribution to the photographer and said, for example, “I thank Leon Busy for allowing me to reproduce his photo in my painting?” Would your opinion of Dylan change? Why?

As for the types of plagiarism, I think a video or an on-line tutorial can be useful, as it will allow students to explore the full dimensions of the concept by themselves. You can check students’ understanding by giving them a short exercise or simply by asking them direct questions. By the end of the session the following ILOS (Intended Learning Outcomes) should have been achieved:

1. Students understand that academic integrity is not simply about passing “turntin”, but about gaining self-respect and the respect of others.

2. Students become aware of the different types of plagiarism and   their manifestations not only in academic contexts, but also in the real life situations.

3.  Students realize that academic honesty is not about spending nights rephrasing words or inserting quotation marks, but about bringing a bit of oneself to his/her own work,  about the uniqueness of one’s character and the distinctiveness of  one’s own experience and culture.

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How can we introduce the idea of plagiarism in our classrooms?

Most students in our schools and universities are not familiar with the concept of plagiarism and/or copyright.  Therefore, introducing the idea of academic integrity to learners is a challenge that most teachers face, particularly if the concept is uncommon or hardly emphasized in the learners’ earlier stages of education. Unfortunately, many teachers fall into the trap of the behaviorist learning model (of reward and punishment) in order to teach the idea. In other words, they start their lesson by showing their students the heavy academic penalties they will pay if they were caught plagiarizing or adopting other people’s ideas without proper referencing. While this approach seems reasonable in the way it highlights the serious consequences of violating academic ethics, it hardly helps students understand the real message behind such policies. By creating a negative atmosphere of threat and expulsion from school, students are intimidated by the concept of academic honesty and start thinking of it as a mere punishment tool. In my opinion, teachers should demonstrate to students the moral and intellectual values behind submitting authentic papers rather than copied ones. He/she should show their learners how creating one’s own piece of work is a source of both self-confidence and self-respect. Students, hence, learn to take pride in their own creation rather than passively depending on others. They also learn how their authentic work can be a source of inspiration to others who follow their path and choose the hard way of producing their own work instead of stealing it from others. Our learners can, hence, grow into productive and independent citizens who are capable of achieving success on personal, professional and intellectual levels.

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MOOCS and The Same Old Question: Can On-line Learning Replace the “Real” Classroom?

The idea of MOOCs or a massive open online course is really new to me. Yet, I find it extremely interesting and eye-opening. The fact that anyone can access a course at anytime from anywhere is definitely worth thinking of and investigating. I even joined a course in writing on Coursera at https://class.coursera.org/basicwriting-003/ to have firsthand experience of the concept of online learning. The idea has many advantages and can be appealing to almost any student who finds it difficult to join an educational institution or college.   Graduate students, like myself, those with disabilities, working mothers, people who are home bound for health reasons, and many others can now learn comfortably at their own place. Even younger students whom we call “slow learners” or those who feel nervous in the traditional classrooms, due to peer pressure for example, can benefit from such an idea. But the question that keeps nagging: can online courses replace traditional ones? Does the lack of face-to-face interaction with tutors and students negatively affect the learning process? And above all, do employers take a certificate or a degree obtained on-line as seriously as ones provided by  reputable universities? Again more questions that we, as educators, need to think thoroughly about.

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The Learner’s Perspective

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend last Saturday’s class due to health reasons. However, I watched the presentation, followed the links and read the activities posted by our instructors. The most interesting point I have learnt is how to put yourself in other people’s place; how to imagine what it is like to belong to a disadvantaged group or those having physical disabilities. This idea, I think, is highly important for us as teachers as we encounter a variety of students everyday. As a language instructor I teach English to students who belong to different backgrounds and have diverse language proficiency levels.I learnt that thinking about the teaching experience from a learner’s perspective contributes to a productive learning environment.

However, I still find the part of the lesson about using twitter in a classroom a bit unclear. I’ve watched the video about the use of twitter in learning situations; yet I find it challenging to use such a tool in my classroom. Firstly, I do not fully understand how twitter, as a social media platform, works, may be because I’m more familiar with Facebook. Secondly, can we as teachers control the kind of language and the type of comments posted by our students? This is a question which we may seek to answer in the coming classes.

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