Week 9: Final Project

I would like to explore how the class concepts have related to my actual teaching experiences at both Virginia Tech and at Radford University. I will compare the academic integrity programs at both schools and combine that with my own anecdotal experiences as well as relevant research. There are many similarities in the underlying goals of both policies regarding plagiarism and cheating, but how those two programs are executed and what is expected as an instructor are very different.

The purpose of the paper would be to expose future GTAs and adjunct faculty to the different environments they may find themselves in as they enter the teaching profession. The policies and experiences at Virginia Tech do not always translate directly to different types of institutions who have their own culture regarding ethics in the classroom. At times I personally felt challenged by the different cultures and had to figure out how to navigate them in a way that was both fair and ethical.

This paper essentially is a discussion that I wish I had had, prior to starting my position as an adjunct faculty. Topics will include the process for reporting discrepancies to the university, how teachers use their discretion in such instances and the guidance and support that new adjunct faculty is given in navigating these systems.

Week 8: Authorship

So far everything I’ve written has one author only, me. I haven’t had the experience of co-authorship yet, so many the concepts from this week were relatively new to me.

I have fortunately had one of my teaching mentors relate her experience to me, in the hopes that I would avoid the pitfalls that she had to work through. She said that as a student she had co-written a paper with one of her committee members. She claims that the work was essentially 50/50 on the publication, but that after she had left her institution and the paper was finally published there was only 1 author listed. She was not that author. As a young faculty member at a small liberal arts school, she said that it was really difficult for her to argue against the tenured faculty member who was listed as the sole author. The faculty member had a lot sway and was an important member and leader in the school’s Political Science department. Eventually, this situation was resolved, but it was a lot of work and stress for my mentor.

I think the best way to avoid this type of interaction is to be very clear from the beginning how authorship for a shared project will look at the end. The guides that this week’s reading offered are helpful frameworks to start that conversation.

Week 7: Citations

This could not be a more timely reading. This week I had a student who had written a paper without attributing the words and ideas she used to the original author. It was such a blatant case of plagiarism that I felt compelled to refer the student to the academic integrity board at the university I teach at.

During the next class, we discussed as a group some of the fundamentals of good citations and why we need to do this as scholars. There were a number of students who were having trouble citing work and I think it was a beneficial lesson.

The students brought up at least two questions about some of the finer points in citations that I didn’t know. I said that I would research the answer and get back to them. I take for granted that I try to cite work correctly and that I am experienced in it. Going through the last couple of weeks has made me reexamine my own citation strategies and teaching students has definitely made my own research stronger.

Week 6:

I really like the video that we reviewed this week. Even though it was a little cheesy,  it helped to take the ethical concerns that we have been reading about seem less abstract. I haven’t been part of the research situation like this, but it something we hear about a lot.

I think that especially in today’s environment where the public and elected officials are not giving their full confidence to academics and scientist and researchers, we all have to do our best to be above reproach. Issues like global warming become muddled in the public debate when the public, begins to trust charismatic but non-experts over experts in the field.

In the video, I was the graduate student Kim who had to report Gregg. There were times when I realized how social and departmental pressures could be a barrier to the types of actions that this situation required. I’m happy I went through the exercise to hopefully better prepare me if something like this comes up at a later date. In the military, we trained for every contingency that we could think of before going on a mission. The scenarios that we encountered didn’t always come true but we were better able to do our job when we prepared for them.


Week 5: Ethics in the classroom

This is one of the moral difficult readings for me. I really have anxiety about cheating and plagiarism in my classrooms. I have had instances when the student turns in papers or answers that are plagiarized. I usually begin every instance of an infraction or a possible infraction by talking to my supervisor or a faculty member I trust. I don’t necessarily give the mentor details about who the student is, but I look for their experience in similar situations. They’ve given me a lot of ways to handle the issue including reporting it at times.

One of the ways that I have handled cheating is to try to create assessments that are difficult to cheat on. Rather than students picking A, B, C, or D in a multiple choice exam, I will try to assess them using essays or short answers. In political science and international relations, we have the luxury of testing a student’s critical thinking. I don’t want to make an assessment typically where the student can pass by just parroting back the facts that I gave to him or her.

I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this topic. It’s something that unfortunately is not going away.

Week 4: Ethics in Teaching

This weeks reading reminded me of the reasons I wanted to teach. I had a handful of teachers who have helped me over the years and did so ethically. I had an IR professor who was very vocally in one theories camp. He never said that I needed to see the world the way that he did, but he was honest about his own views. I was very early in my education and didn’t know much about the field, I questioned him about his theoretical camp and brought up one of the major flaws in it. He thought about it for a minute and then looked me in the eye and said, yes that was true.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but he could have very easily lied or exaggerated or told me a half-truth; because I was so ignorant I wouldn’t have known the difference. He took the high road and it made all the difference in the world to me. He allowed me to come to my own conclusions.

Not all of my professors have been ethical or competent, but the good ones have made all the time and money I’ve spent on education worth it.

Week 3: Ethics in the Social Sciences

I found this week’s reading interesting. The first concept that I liked out of the reading was that ethics are based on common sense. That with all of the complex and convoluted rules that go along with professional ethics, I think it’s important that we maintain enough agency as teachers as researchers as administrators to ask the question “is this right or wrong”. We should learn the rules and work to stay inside of their boundaries, but we can’t rely on a dead sheet of paper to tell us what’s right or wrong. The most important rules in our country, the U.S. Constitution, are interpreted and re-interpreted over and over. The rules only have value as long as we are critically and objectively thinking about them.

The second idea I really liked is that the ethics of the social sciences dictate that we work on issues that improve society. I have often felt this but didn’t know how to articulate it or if I should. I’ve seen a lot of research done on subjects because they were easy to research or a paper could be published quickly. While these criteria help people’s careers they don’t necessarily help the societies that they live in. Karl Marx one of the great heroes of the social sciences wrote so that he could help a group of people he thought were being exploited. In our publish or perish culture I feel like many of us, myself included, have lost track of what we’re actually aiming to do.

Thanks for giving me room to think about this

Week 2: The role of the research institution

I really enjoyed reading about the history of academia in the U.S. and specifically, the role played by the research institution. Thinking about what the U.S. university should do in America today became a lot more complex idea after learning this history. Should universities primarily be “teaching” institutions that try to transfer knowledge to students or should they be “research” institutions and work to create new knowledge? I’m not sure as a society we have to choose one or the other. It is a false dichotomy.  We have a huge and diverse population with the biggest economy in the world. There is room for both institutions and a need for both institutions. As a society, we have more than enough money and resources to support a whole host of different models.

Engineering students need to learn about ethics and the society they live in as much as social science students need an understanding of the science and technology that is changing their worlds.


Week 1: Introductions

Hello class! My name is Ben Louis and I am a graduate student in the PGG program. I began teaching as a GTA and Adjunct faculty and have run into some type of ethical question almost semester. I’m taking this course and getting the future professoriate certificate because my teaching experiences have made me aware of how much more complex and at time challenging teaching can be.

I really love the classroom and hope that I can learn and explore in this course new ways of thinking about what it is we do.

The fear of failure

I suppose that I am not unusual in having a fear of failure. It seems to be pretty inherent to the human condition. At times in my life, that fear has been so strong that it has paralyzed my actions. I wouldn’t take on certain projects or jobs because I thought that I might fail. This was unfortunate, thinking back to the opportunities I missed.

I found that a fear of failure is incredibly difficult to maintain when teaching. Every single day that I am in the classroom I am in front of students. Doing my best to engage them and develop concepts that can help them understand the world around them. If I am not brave that is a difficult environment to go into.

I know for a fact that I have a failed a number of times in the classroom this semester. I attempted a group project which despite my best efforts simply didn’t work out. I think the students were bored and didn’t learn much out of it. But by showing them and honestly acknowledging to them that I make mistakes, that I fail at things, I think it has created an environment where they feel more comfortable taking a chance in the class. Like my Grandpa used to say “You got to risk it, if you want the biscuit”