Week 13: My Ethics and Personal Ethos

When considering my own personal ethics, I think it’s really important to take the time to consider who I am as a person in addition to who I am as a scholar. Yes, one of my greatest passions is studying communication, but the core behind that is my passion for people. One thing that I kept coming back to was the Strengths Test I took prior to my first semester teaching at Virginia Tech. The test told me that my top strengths were 1) Empathy, 2) Developer, 3) Positivity, 4) Connectedness, and 5) Intellection. Looking at these, the test suggested jobs that work directly with others- one of the first suggestions was as a teacher! As a GTA, I am living that role currently, so I think it’s important for me to remember on hard days that I am acting as both authority and mentor, and I have to be aware of the ethics involved in that duel-role.

Within my experience in grad school, I have noticed a huge push for publishing work and attending conferences. However, I feel that the networking aspect has been more of an afterthought. Considering my own strengths (which are overwhelmingly relational in nature), I think that my beliefs and values lie in developing positive, intellectual connections with others. My focus has always been on finding ways to connect with people, so my own personal code of conduct is more focused on the people I work with rather than the physical work I am producing. I hope that, moving forward, I can utilize my relational strengths while still maintaining my own sense of professionalism. Likewise, I hope to see over time more acceptance of relational strengths as equally valid as technical strengths.

Week 12: Declining by Degrees

The first video, which was posted in 2007, I think gives a clear snapshot into what academic life was like at the time. However, I think some of the concerns raised are still applicable to life today- for example, I liked how one of the students pointed out the huge number of readings required in classes, as well as the fact that very few of them apply to students’ daily lives. Likewise, the debt that college students faces is staggering- a friend of mine is considering joining the armed forces after she finished nursing school just to get some of her loans paid off.

The film Declining by Degrees was a PBS documentary that I found both eye-opening  and frustrating. As somebody who now works as a GTA, I can definitely tell when my students aren’t doing work in my class, or are trying to just skate by. Ethically, this is an issue; if we are just trying to get through in order to get a degree without really trying, doesn’t that diminish the value of our degrees?

Considering my own experiences, I feel that the film leaves out the experiences of some non-traditional students. One of my roommates in undergrad was an out-of-state student who worked two jobs to pay for her own education and graduated early. Her experience, even though we were at the same school, in the same program (and living in the same room!), her experience was totally different from mine. If I were to remake the film, I would like to get the perspectives of students working, students who change majors, and students handling personal struggles in addition to academic ones.

Week 11: Codes of Conduct in Communication

I have noticed that a lot of subjects that we cover in my Preparing Future Professoriate class are covered here as well, so I was excited about the opportunity to again talk about the National Communication Association’s Code of Professional Ethics for the field.

By analyzing the fields of teaching, research, publication, and professional relationships, I feel that the 1999 statement clearly outlines ethical concerns specific to communication. As I spend more time in the program, I find myself more concerned with networking and developing those professional relationships within the field that can help guide me in my own future research. I appreciate the emphasis on power relationships between faculty and students, as well as understanding the role of a teacher.

Communication deeply values – you guessed it- good communication! It is extremely important to have open lines of communication between those in power and individuals breaking into the field for the first time, as well as those between teachers and their students. I think that the communication field values research than furthers theory, which I see time and time again in my own classes. There is a deep focus on the latest research within a particular subset of the field, so I appreciate how they emphasized that “there are ethical principles that apply to a communication researcher, no matter what form of research is utilized”(p.2).

One thing that surprised me about the statement is that there was no mention of graduate teaching assistants, or teaching assistants in general. I would add in a statement about the proper preparation of GTA’s within the field, as I feel that it is an important ethical concern to make sure that TA’s are well prepared. Since their academic integrity can directly impact undergraduate students, I think this addition would be beneficial to the field.

Week 10: Copyright Issues

As a public speaking GTA, I have students that create PowerPoint presentations to use as visual aids in their speeches. Often, they want to use photos, graphs, and charts that they find online. Therefore, I feel like the most common copyright issue I experience is properly explaining to students how they need to cite their sources properly in order to avoid plagiarism issues. Rather than simply grab a graphic from google images, they need to properly cite the image, its source material, and make sure it’s up to VT standards. The “Can I Use It?” test is something I had never seen before, and I am considering implementing it into my course next semester when I explain copyright!

Likewise, Creative Commons was a resource I had never used before, so I had a lot of fun exploring the site and the available works. The tutorial video was really helpful for someone like me who is a total newbie to the media site. The idea that individuals would spend so much time working on something and then give it to the public for free is really beautiful idea, and I appreciated the plethora of subjects and types of work available. I know where I will be going when I need an image in future presentations!

As far as open source work, it’s a topic that we have been discussing quite a lot in my Preparing Future Professoriate class. I think that open source is a really good concept, as it makes research available to everyone, rather than holding onto data in the hopes of publishing before others. I think there is such a competitive nature in academia, and I would hope that the normalization and celebration of open source research could make scholastic work more collaborative.

Week 9: Final Project Reflection

For my final project, I decided to focus on a presentation to help teach future GTA’s about teaching for the first time. I chose this project because, as a first-year GTA, my very first class was something that gave me a LOT of anxiety. I feel like the more information one has about a subject, the more confident I would feel in my skills and abilities. I want to clearly explain the resources on campus (such as Cook Counseling, the Writing Center, etc.) in the hopes of preparing GTA’s to be more knowledgable about the campus options.

I hope to learn more about teaching, higher education power structures, and the work-life balance of GTA’s within the communication department. I feel like there is a lot of pressure on GTA’s from all fields to represent their respective departments well, and that can lead to anxiety and stress. Likewise, it’s important that GTA’s feel well prepared and confident in front of their students in case they have to deal with any issues of academic misconduct. By knowing the resources and policies on campus, a GTA can be better equip to deal with problems, as well as referring students to the proper campus resources.

Week 8: Authorship

I feel like, within communication, it is a bit normal for faculty to collaborate with students on work in order to produce more publications. However, when looking at what it means to be an author, I looked toward the readings for some clarification. In reading about the different definitions of authorship, I was frustrated to find that the table on page 5 describing different definitions did not include any section for communication scholars. The closest to my field was through the “American Educational Research Association”, and was defined as “all those, regardless of status, who have made substantive creative contribution to the generation of an intellectual product are entitled to be listed as authors of that product”.

I would consider this to translate well into communication scholarship; there seems to be an emphasis on recognizing the work of others, especially for published articles that include graduate students working with faculty.  There are definitely come humanities-specific issues with authorship that I have you encountered in graduate school so far- I had a professor want to work on a research project with me, but insist on clarifying the age-old “first author” issue. I was so confused and anxious about who got first author that I ended up not even pursuing the project further.

After reading the articles, I feel like I have a better understanding: I think that anybody who is hands-on involved with the creation of the project, research, methodology, analysis, and discussion of the project deserve some sort of authorship. As a qualitative researcher, I don’t have to worry less about funding or lab spaces. However, I find that pressure to publish is a recurring theme in higher education, and I find that really problematic. As a GTA, I feel like most of my focus in my classroom is on teaching well, rather than latching on to students’ ideas in order to get a publication.

I feel as though authorship within the arts, as well as humanities, is possibly harder to define than in scientific fields. For example, if I come up with a really interesting research idea in class and my professor does a project on it, I would not get any sort of credit unless I was included on the project in writing, researching, or carrying out the study. It can be difficult as a graduate student to feel confident standing up for our ideas, asking for credit, and backing up these requests with knowledge about proper authorship.


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.