“That’s Not My Job. . . Is It?”

Additional Blog Post #2

I found this week’s reading extremely interesting as I had never before heard to term academic freedom. I initially thought it means the ability to study whatever we wanted, but the reading from the AAUP website defined academic freedom as “the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.” (Protecting Academic Freedom, retrieved Feb 26, 2017 from https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom). I appreciated how they emphasized the quality of work and the ability to have equal access. I have seen before how certain professors put their interests above individuals, or put the university’s reputation over giving their students high quality classes. I think that the ferocious need for tenure can really hold instructors back by making that the priority, and actually teaching students a secondary goal. After all, why call yourself a teacher if you don’t even care about teaching?

One of the readings that I found most interesting was that of trigger warnings. I agree with the assessment that they can sometimes be counterproductive to the classroom. While I understand the need in certain situations, if we consider everything to be a trigger, how can we be challenged by differing viewpoints and grow as individuals and academics? I think that faculty need to take their own personal opinions into consideration and try to create a space that is free of blatant bias one way or another, and help foster creativity, academic expression, and still keep necessary safe spaces for at-risk students without “babying” them. As faculty, I think our job is to help students learn, and if we are cutting off information because it could be considered inflammatory, we are hindering that process.

Take into consideration past implications of the word “queer”. Twenty years ago, that would be considered a derogatory term and would likely be something “triggering”. However, it is integral to the LGBTQ+ community to understand the history of the word, as well as how the community effectively took the word back, and took ownership of something perviously considered offensive. Rather than being triggered, we as a community challenged the current state of the word, learned about the circumstances, and used our abilities to change the societal meanings. I think that this can be applied in future circumstances to address certain triggers- this is not to say that an individual with PTSD doesn’t deserve a heads up before we show a screening of Saving Private Ryan, however I think that open discussions about tough topics will help students enter an uncomfortable space where they are challenged.

I have only been a GTA for a semester and a half, yet I have already had about five students that consistently came to my office hours to discuss academic concerns as well as personal ones. While I tried my best to always direct them to the proper resource (Cook Counseling, for example), I think that there is a certain duty to GTA’s to recognize our own limits. So how can we, as professionals in higher education, truly build a strong community, mentor students, and still maintain a sense of individual growth? I’m glad you asked! In addition to traditional safe spaces, I think we as faculty we should be encouraging safe “challenge zones” where students can consider new perspectives, learn about studies in other fields, and expand their current worldview.

Week 7: Citation Methods

I found the reading about the primate photograph extremely interesting. Copyright issues are not something I consider myself very familiar with, so I have to admit I was a bit shocked to learn that PETA had filed a motion to consider the photograph property of a monkey. As somebody who studies communication, I am interested in the implications of this case as the photo would not have happened without the photographer setting up the camera in the first place! In my own field of work, I doubt this is something I would have to deal with as much as citation issues.

For example, as a GTA I oversee about 150 speeches a semester. In most of these, students are responsible for creating citations in either APA or MLA format. As a communication scholar, APA is the format that I am most comfortable with, so I had to teach myself a bit about MLA in order to be able to grade my own students! In that way, I found citation software and manuals very helpful as I learned about proper formatting.

However, the flip side of the coin is that my students heavily rely on citation software (often Citation Machine or Purdue OWL), without taking into consideration that sometimes it comes out incorrect! I have recommended the VT writing center to students in the past, but I don’t know how many have actually visited. I think it is important to talk with students about the implications of relying on software to do citations without double checking the work- after all, is the convenience really worth potential plagiarism? I’d think not!

The Graduate Honor System, Part II

This week’s focus on academic integrity in research really opened my eyes. I would say that I agree with the informative video on cheating and plagiarism motivations- as I talked about in my last blog post, I think students are overwhelmed. I honestly think that the explanation for the continuing increase in academic violations is stress- students put so much pressure on themselves to complete work that they cut corners when they think they can, or they don’t take the time to research proper citation format and then they plagiarize unintentionally. I currently serve Virginia Tech as a graduate teaching assistant as the sole instructor for two public speaking classes, and I consistently see students that are extremely stressed. I have to clearly explain the expectations for citations, and be willing to take the time to meet with them individually. Some advice I would recommend is to make your expectations extremely clear, even if it feels repetitive. I promise, taking the time to explain why each citation is necessary really does make a difference, and I see it in my students’ work!

image credit: https://ori.hhs.gov/thelab

In doing the interactive movie “The Lab”, I actually found it both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable because I felt like I could analyze different situations without have to actually deal with the unimaginable stress of the situation actually happening to me, but frustrating because it was so realistic and I was angry that the situation did not get resolved quicker! I chose the RIO role, and found it to be really, really difficult because I had never considered before the different personalities involved in an inquiry situation, and it really opened my eyes to the difficulties of academic integrity work. It was a difficult experience, but I really enjoyed it and found it helpful. One suggestion I would make, is to let us know how it ends! Did Greg falsify research? Did Kim find a new job? I am so invested in the aftermath. I think this could be an awesome resource for undergraduates to help them understand the process of inquiries!

The Graduate Honor System, Part I

In reading about the Honor Code at Virginia Tech, I was struck by the assessment that “of the 400-600 cases referred to the court each year, most are related to plagiarism with cheating”. In a way, I feel like this is a bit of an exposé on the current academic culture. There is such an overwhelming, all consuming pressure for students to perform well and perform on par with the “best of the best”. When a student feels like they are losing control, I think thats when cheating comes into play. Rather than admit that they don’t know certain information (even though failure is a valid and integral part of learning!), they decide to cheat in order to keep up the appearance of a model student. I think that this could be a cultural issue, reflecting the pressure students are under.  According to an article on plagerism.org titled “Facts and Stats”, 36% of undergraduates admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from Internet source without  footnoting it” (Published June 7, 2017). This is undoubtedly lower than the actual number (after all, who wants to admit to a researcher that they cheat?), but it is an eye-opening statistic.

Therefore, then thinking about the specific responsibilities of the university to maintain academic integrity, I feel like faculty should take into account both mental health and the social / academic pressure.The Honor Code exists to remind students about expectations and clearly outlines ways to avoid cheating and plagiarism. I feel like students could use this as a resource, but there is a certain responsibility on the university’s part to crate a learning atmosphere where being “the best” is not the end-all, be-all of academia. This is not to say that we need to “baby” students, but with so many U.S. college students considering suicide due to academic stress, something needs to change where the academic pressure is not suffocating, but also not an excuse to cheat on assignments.

Universities can use the Honor Code to reinforce expectations on campuses in order to keep the integrity of higher education paramount, but I think it should also make it clear to students that cheating will not relieve academic pressure- it can actually make it worse. Instead, they should reach out to academic advisors and campus resources. By addressing the underlying problem (severe stress), I believe that the Honor Code can help student while still discouraging cheating and plagiarism.



Teaching and Ethics- Walking the Tightrope

I have been very lucky to have professors that truly cared about their students and the subject manner, and it showed in the classroom. As an undergraduate student at Christopher Newport University, the professor that ultimately became my advisor would show up to class each day with an excitement and passion for the subject that was palpable. I never felt uncomfortable sharing my own ideas, even if they were not consistent with what my professor believed. Yet while the prompt focuses on a specific professor who has been ethical in the classroom, I also have experience on the other end of the spectrum. I have been in a class where the professor put on such an air of superiority and criticism that every student seemed to feel uncomfortable going to their class. Every week we would get together to talk about the subject, yet the professor always steered it back to their own research, requiring us to buy their own books and respond to their ideas. I would dread going to class some days- that is the kind of class I hope to never lead!

As a public speaking GTA, I am in charge of leading two classes on my own as the sole instructor in the room. Leading eighty students each semester though subject matter that often is considered anxiety-inducing (people just hate public speaking!), I feel pressure to conduct that class with Cahn’s element of motivation. I find myself to be an individual that Cahn describes as “pulling the subject matter behind them”, specifically I try to make my class fel engaged and comfortable first, then introduce connections to the subject matter through those feelings of interest. So far, this has been extremely successful and I have loved seeing my students go from dreading a subject so much that they push it to the last semester of undergrad(which happens more than you would think!), to feeling confident in their skills and be able to apply the public speaking methods to real life applications.

Understanding the Complex: Communicating Science

Additional Blog Post #1

When I was first looking into getting the Preparing Future Professoriate certificate at Virginia Tech, I remember pulling up all the class options and stopping at “Communicating Science”. What could that possibly mean, i thought to myself, is it not straightforward? Turns out I had a lot to learn!

Through the readings, I felt like I developed a deeper understanding about the difficulties surrounding sharing scholarly research with a wide variety of audiences. Not only is there the issue of complicated, field-specific jargon attached to research, but often times there is the public speaking aspect that trips researchers up. As a Public Speaking GTA, I feel that it is important for the “hard sciences” to have exposure to public speaking practices, in order to better prepare for sharing their research in the future.

Communicating your research is important because it gives individuals the opportunity to spread knowledge, further interest, and develop confidence in one’s own work. I have found that one of the best ways to learn, is to teach. That is to say, the more experience somebody has with explaining a difficult concept or complicated research study, the easier it is to understand and process.

The university must engage with society- not only because it is the mission of higher education to produce better citizens and scholars, but also because innovating research is much less useful if it is not shared with the community. By collaborating and growing together in academia, we can develop better ways to “make science easier to understand” as well as foster a deeper appreciation for knowledge from society at large.

Week 3: Defining Ethics and Integrity

I read the section for social sciences, as I am in the Communication department. The “Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Law, and the Humanities” outlines a few specific norms for humanist research: respect for individuals, regard for groups and institutions, and integrity. They were organized by the NESH (the National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and Humanities). The guidelines have been revised a few times, and the copy that I read was the most up-to-date version.

This vision that the NESH has for humanistic research is one that I enjoyed- they emphasized “personal and institutional morality”, which I really appreciated. It is not only organizational ethics that are important, but those of the individuals that make up an organization or department. The value of research and research ethics- “honesty, impartiality, and willingness to accept their own fallibility”. (p. 8). I found this interesting because, as a qualitative researcher, it is important for me to clarify my own biases at the beginning on my research before I can jump in. In that way, I feel that these norms and values line up pretty clearly with my own experiences in the communication field.

Specifically, the statement on page 8 that “research is distinguished by researchers’ views on society and humanity, a factor that is usually enriching” is EXACTLY what I have found myself saying when trying to defend the necessity of qualitative research to my more numbers-focused colleagues. Overall, I found myself nodding along as I read the guidelines, as I feel like ethics are something that the field should be focusing more on.

Blog Post 1- Mission Statements

In choosing my mission statements, I decided on my alma mater, Christopher Newport University, and one of my potential PhD program schools, George Mason University.

CNU’s mission statement is quite long, as follows:
“The mission of Christopher Newport University is to provide educational and cultural opportunities that benefit CNU students, the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation. Christopher Newport provides outstanding academic programs, encourages service and leadership within the community, and provides opportunities for student involvement in nationally and regionally recognized research and arts programs. Our primary focus is excellence in teaching, inspired by sound scholarship. At CNU, personal attention in small classes creates a student-centered environment where creativity and excellence can flourish. Our primary emphasis is to provide outstanding undergraduate education. We also serve the Commonwealth with master’s degree programs that provide intellectual and professional development for graduate-level students. We are committed to providing a liberal arts education that stimulates intellectual inquiry and fosters social and civic values. Christopher Newport students acquire the qualities of mind and spirit that prepare them to lead lives with meaning and purpose. As a state university, we are committed to service that shapes the economic, civic, and cultural life of our community and Commonwealth.”

This school is in Newport News, VA in the United States. It is a liberal arts state university, and on the smaller side with around 5,000 students. Some things that I noticed in reading the mission statement are the emphasis on teaching, commitment to students, and commitment to the Commonwealth as a whole. I particularly appreciated the line “education that intellectual inquiry and fosters social and civic value”, as that is something that I definitely experienced in my time at CNU. Everybody on campus is so ready to help students engage in their passions, and there is a drive to help the community as well as develop individual scholarship. 

George Mason University’s mission statement is as follows:
“A public, comprehensive, research university established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the National Capital Region, we are an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world”

Likewise, they then break down into individual characteristics of the university: innovative, diverse, entrepreneurial, and accessible. They list their values as: our students come first, diversity is our strength, innovation is our tradition, we honor freedom of thought and expression, we are careful stewards, we act with integrity, and we thrive together.

GMU is located in Fairfax, Virginia in the United States. It is the largest public research university in the state, and I was intrigued by their emphasis on diversity and innovation. Particularly, their mission statement focused on “innovative and inclusive” educational experience, which I feel aligns with my own personal beliefs well. I liked that they seemed to have a grip on the pulse of current events, particularly the debate over freedom of thought and how that intersects with social justice issues. I would be interested to see how the average student interacts with the various programs they have available, or if the focus is simply on marketing to a diverse student body rather that retaining it.

Week 2: The Purpose of the Research University

To me, the purpose of higher education is to provide a cultural, educational experience in which an individual can learn how to hone their skills and contribute to society as a prepared citizen. The video of the educational panel and the article both highlighted how universities must adapt and grow with the new age. One issue that I found particularly interesting was the emphasis on research, and how faculty seem to treat graduate students differently from undergraduate students. In the article, them mention how undergraduate institutions can cram as many students as possible into a single lecture rather than focus on individual learning. They mention that students are more likely to go on to higher education programs if they went to a “high quality” 4-year school rather than a research university (p. 46). This issue is important to me as somebody that is currently at a research university. Likewise, I am intending on going on to get my PhD, so I feel like the more I understand about academic issues, the better prepared I will be in a teaching position. As a global citizen, it is important to remember that education is different across different cultures, and just because this is the way we do things in the American educational system, does not mean it is necessarily the best. There is always room for growth.

Professionally, I hope that my education at Virginia Tech will adequately prepare me for a PhD program with a focus on research. Personally, I hope to develop a greater work-life balance as well as an understanding of others’ research and how it can be applied to my own life. The purpose of the university fits in here because I want to contribute further not only to communication studies research, but also to society as a whole by becoming a better academic and more engaged as a citizen.

Since I am American by birth, I am used to the American research university model as is. One issue that I struggle with is the idea that researchers will do lackluster research just to “increase the publication lists of their authors” (p. 45). I feel like this may be an issue in some circles, but in a way that highlights a bigger issue with publications. If they weren’t publishing these “mediocre” papers, then there would be less temptation to crank those out. Likewise, the system needs to focus more on proper teaching from research professionals rather than the obsessive need to publish in order to get tenure. In my short time in graduate school, I have noticed that there is such a pressure on professors to get tenure that I feel like it can be constricting to their ability to do abstract research, or research that isn’t “popular” at the time.