Final Project Progress Report

For my project, I am conducting research and collecting resources from the English department for the use of GTAs in teaching  and promoting plagiarism prevention in the first-year composition classroom. What I have done is conduct interviews with instructors (both faculty and experienced GTAs) to investigate their strategies in the classroom. Among these strategies are lessons, assignment design, and lectures, as well as online materials such as Purdue OWL. I am compiling these strategies to be a working curriculum that can be used as a resource for future GTAs. My hope is that this can be a document that can be added to and expanded as needed in the ENGL 5004 course (the GTA Orientation course–Teaching Strategies for Instructors of First-Year College Composition). I am putting these strategies into a PowerPoint as a more manageable means of processing the information and as an easily updated medium. Overall, I think this will be an adequate replacement for the Teaching Talks that we have in the department, in which all composition instructors and GTAs come together to exchange strategies for a vast array of topics in composition instruction, including syllabus development, expanded learning tools, and of course, plagiarism pedagogy. That’s the intended goal, at least. Hopefully, future classes of GTAs can utilize these strategies to their benefit and also contribute unique and effective strategies to add as well.

My Personal Ethic

Academia, like any field, is tied to a specific code of ethics that function as a means for fairness and progress within the discipline. These ethics have some overlap: one example is a clearly-defined stance against plagiarism or cheating. You’d be hard-pressed to find an instructor with a lackluster stance on something like plagiarism.

For my own teaching ethic, what I respect most in my classroom is communication. I stress from day one the importance for my students to communicate to me if they are struggling, if they have a question, if they are missing class, etc. The importance for me is to be able to build a relationship with my students that is based on mutual trust. This can be applied to specific assignments and/or to the general coursework. To take my personal experience as an example, I teach first-year composition, which is a course that is built around three tent-pole assignments, a comparative rhetorical analysis, a field research project and a standard research paper. While plagiarism is always a threat in composition, what I would do to prevent something like the “Koofers.com” incident here at Tech is to try encourage students to be explicit to me about their study habits. What are they using to study and why? Are these study materials something that will be beneficial to them on this assignment? Obviously, this level of attention is not possible with larger survey courses, however, instructors who are open and honest with students from the beginning can help alleviate doubt, or can help curb student malpractice come exam time. Additionally, if we apply the Koofer.com incident to the composition classroom, it is viewed upon differently when students look at essays similar to what they will be creating for their class–in fact some instructors use such examples as teaching tools. So just being able to access the materials for the sake of study is not an issue. However, if a student copied and pasted sections of one of the essays available on Koofer.com–then that would be a controversy. This is an instance where communication could serve as a means of alleviating some of the confusion that led to this act of plagiarism.

Post 11–The State of Higher Education

I am currently finishing up two courses in the GEDI curriculum here at Tech, each of which provides an insider’s perspective of what life is like in higher education from the point-of-view of instructors and administrators. The first course, Preparing the Future Professoriate (PFP) focuses largely on the events that happen behind the scenes, talking largely about education from a broad, even international perspective. How are departments set up? How does tenure work? What are the responsibilities of faculty and administrators? The second section is called Contemporary Pedagogy, and focuses on higher education from a teaching perspective. How do you write a learning-centered syllabus? What is a teaching philosophy? When is it best to use lecture over other more inclusive modes of communication, and vice versa?

Together, alongside my training and experience as a GTA, this has provided me with an unique perspective on the state of higher education today, which is the focus of this week’s post. Students today are growing up in a different context than even my generation did, particularly in the introduction of and eventual prevalence of technology in the classroom. If you will pardon my sweeping generalization, students may seem to be distracted in the classroom, but that’s not because they are bad students. Rather, it is because their mode of learning is based on multi-tasking and focusing on more than one thing at a time. Their learning environment is multi-modal and more complex than any generation before. This means students don’t just learn from lecture or repetition: they learn by doing, and by modelling, and by observing, and by analyzing, and by working with others, sometimes all at once. It’s because their technology, their world, allows them to be so involved in a project on multiple levels. Students today demand new strategies than generations before them, in the same way that generations after them will require the same. Education, particularly higher education, is a perfect place to allow students to learn in their own way, by providing a variety of educational modes and strategies. By doing so, educators are priming students to not only become proficient in their future given field, but to also be lifelong learners, which, in some respects, is more important.

MLA Code of Conduct

The Modern Language Association characterizes itself as follows: “In addition to hosting an annual convention and sustaining one of the finest publishing programs in the humanities, the MLA is a leading advocate for the study and teaching of languages and literatures and serves as a clearinghouse for professional resources for teachers and scholars.” As an aspiring English scholar with a focus in academia, it would follow that I would have a vested interest in the MLA and its endeavors. After searching for and reading over the organization’s code standard of professional ethics, I found a few interesting aspects which I will detail below:

  1. It seems obvious from the first paragraph that MLA values the “freedom of inquiry” most. However, there is much space and language devoted to qualifying this freedom–such as outlawing plagiarism, discrimination and harassment, etc.
  2. The organization seems to be primarily concerned with fostering this freedom of inquiry for both teacher and students. The goal here seems to be to allow the exploration of each individual’s freedom of inquiry in the discipline of language and literature.
  3.  Unsurprisingly, the standards focus largely on individual freedom of inquiry and expression. This is very much in line with the attitudes of the discipline at large as scholars, instructors, and students. In terms of service and scholarship the MLA includes the following restriction regarding individual ideas and views: ” Scholars should ensure that their personal activities in politics and in their local communities remain distinct from positions taken by their universities or colleges. They should avoid appearing to speak for their institutions when acting privately.” This, again, seems to be consistent with my understanding of disciplinary standards.
  4. The MLA organizes their restrictions based on what is not acceptable and moves from there. For example, it states that the main focus of the organization’s statement of professional ethics is centered around the freedom of inquiry and then provides restrictions on what is not included and protected under freedom of inquiry, such as discrimination, harassment, etc. as stated above.
  5. I feel that my experience at Virginia Tech is preparing me to meet not only the standards of organizations like the MLA, but also other organizations and endeavors within the discipline of language and literary studies.

Post 9–Copyright

Copyright is a complicated topic, yet in the realm of academia where the phrase “fair use” and “educational purposes” is constantly thrown around whenever an instructor is confronted with potential copyright issues. In fact, this is a pretty serious issue that continues to create more questions than answers, as the article we read from this week which stated that “copyright law is interpreted on a case-by-case basis.”

While universal copyright issues aren’t something that can be resolved in one blog post, one of the solutions that I have always appreciated was open access. Open access sources are scientific and technological information that are available to all. Essentially, if a work is published in an open access channel, then the public can access the work as they see fit. While not exempt from copyright law exactly (as evidenced in this handy guide from MIT), these sources are handy for instructors to use if they do not want to worry about using something in the class room without legal permission. Open access provides “unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse” of materials as illustrated in this piece by PLOS.

Open access is typically only relevant to academic journals and writing. It may be difficult to find many sources of media that are open access, yet they do exist. Sites like Youtube and Spotify allow free access to media and videos for anyone with an internet connection, although some of the content on these sites (namely Youtube) do impede copyright regulations. However, it does allow for more materials for discussion and research in an academic setting.

The best strategy is to just be vigilant. Be aware of the content you are using, and where it comes from. If you are unsure if you have permission to use or share something, then don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

Week 8–Final Project Proposal

For my final project, I want to explore the importance of pedagogy regarding plagiarism in the English composition classroom. Since I am striving toward education as my future career, pedagogy is becoming more and more relevant to my study here at Tech. Plagiarism continues to be an issue in the composition classroom. Students have more and more resources available to them thanks to the prevalence of the Internet in academic work. However, instructors also have these resources, too. One of the ways to combat plagiarism and promote academic integrity is to stay vigilant of trends and to learn how others have dealt with the same issue.

What I want to do is conduct interviews with composition instructors within the English department and ask about strategies that they employ to avoid plagiarism in their classroom. I am interested in learning more about:

What sort of activities or lessons do they employ to educate student about plagiarism and its consequences?

How many cases of plagiarism have they encountered in their classrooms throughout their career?

How has academic dishonesty evolved throughout their career?

My goal in conducting this research is to create a working document that allows all present and future instructors effective strategies to employ anti-plagiarism pedagogy into their curriculum. This document (in theory) would then be updated every semester or so as new developments are discovered and as instructors find new and effective strategies to contribute to the cause. My hope is that this can spark a departmental pool of resources so that we can work together to strive toward eliminating plagiarism (or at least be more effective at policing it) in our classrooms.

Post 7–Authorship

The field of literary studies has a direct one-to-one ratio in regards to authorship, at least the majority of the time. This means that there tends to be one author per article written for publication. This is largely due to the way research is conducted in the field, that is, largely individual research for a thesis or dissertation. If you peruse most literary journals the vast majority of them list only one author. For literary research, most of the work is done by an individual, particularly in the vein of literary criticism. So if I write and publish a dissertation about Moby-Dick, I would be the sole author, and I would not include my dissertation committee as co-authors, even if they helped me work through problems throughout the process, similar to how an author of a poem or a novel doesn’t include his/her editors as co-authors, despite their assistance throughout the process (though usually in the acknowledgements). It’s still my research, my work.

However, it is not uncommon to see articles written for rhetoric and composition studies, with large ties to the social sciences. As a communication major as an undergraduate, I became familiar with how the social sciences conduct research and because much of the research that is conducted requires many man hours to complete more than one author needs to help. In cases such as these, all parties who contribute to the creation of the research (meaning those who conduct the research, and write the resulting paper) should get credit for work they have done. It does get tricky though, when you start to include more and more individuals outside of the primary researchers. I think the best policy is to be open and honest with everyone who contributes to the process (with the obvious exception of research participants–i.e. those being studied–wherein knowledge of the research goals can contaminate results). Communicating to everyone what their roles are and providing credit where it is due is the standard that all of academia should live by.

The Invaluable Purdue OWL

The first thing I do before I begin drafting my paper, after I have pinned down my research, is create my Works Cited page. I do this for a couple of reasons: First, it makes me spend some time on it, to ensure that it is done correctly, rather than tacking it on at the end before its due; and second, it gives me a chance to glance at the sources again, to see if I am missing something before I begin to draft. This has been a ritual for me since high school, which was also the first time I used Purdue OWL as a citation reference. It has been the most reliable source I’ve used outside of the sanctioned style guides.

To me, the works cited page shouldn’t be a chore, though many may see it that way. Purdue OWL helps me not only learn the basic structure of both MLA and APA Styles, but it also serves as a reference today when I have a question about how to cite a source in-text or in the works cited page.  As an undergraduate, I worked with MLA as an English major (and still do, now in graduate school) and APA as a communication studies major, and Purdue OWL kept me from going insane as I jumped back and forth between them.

Looking at the cite now as an instructor of composition, I am finding so many other resources that I can use to help my students learn how to improve their writing, from presentations on “Organizing Your Argument,” “Peer Review,” Visual Rhetoric,” “Writing a Literary Analysis” and much more. Also, there are materials specifically to assist teachers as well, including a presentation on “teaching and Assessing Grammar” and “Talking about Writing.” For me, Purdue OWL is an invaluable resource for any student or teacher working in composition or taking a composition course.

The 3 Lies We Tell Ourselves When We Cheat

This week we are continuing our discussion of the Academic Honor System and specific instances of academic misconduct. It has gotten me thinking about the importance of stressing academic integrity in all disciplines and classrooms. Though this is my first semester teaching, I have been a student now for 20 years, and I know the temptations that come from the stresses of student life.

This semester I have had a few discussion with my class about aspects of their academic life that aren’t centered on content and research. As students, we all have to juggle quite a few different obstacles every day, whether it be our personal lives (health, family, friends), extracurricular activities, and of course, class work. I joke with my students with the following image:

And it is true that at times we are overwhelmed and struggle with the feeling that we need to cut corners, that if we make it easier on ourselves now, we can focus our time and energy on other things later. This is more than just a time management issue. It’s a life issue. And it is also relevant to the discussion of academic integrity. When we feel overwhelmed by work and life and 17 other things, pulling us in different directions with separate demands, the temptation to cheat can itself.

“I don’t have time to do what I need to do to accomplish this task.” This is the first thing we tell ourselves, as though we have no other option. But this is usually an issue that is resolved with time management and organization. Plus, if we spent less time worrying about not having enough time to finish the task, and just took a deep breath, maybe we could surprise ourselves with how much we can do in a limited amount of time.

“They’ll never notice.” Perhaps, the next thing we tell ourselves to justify cheating. Except, that universities and even individual departments have policies and personnel in place specifically for the purpose of catching academic dishonesty. Not to mention, with the advent of the Internet, it’s much easier than ever before to catch cheaters in the act.

“But it’s just one assignment.” This may be the case, but students should know that mistakes have a way of following you. One example is illustrated in the reading for this week regarding Angela Henderson, interim provost for the University of Illinois at Chicago. One blemish on your record affects your lifelong credibility.

The point for instructors is to have a conversation with students about the importance of academic integrity. This is more than just a lecture about right and wrong, it’s an on-going discussion that needs to be consistently added to with each student frequently. Keeping students motivated is an invaluable resource.

Honor Code

Unfortunately, cheating is an unfortunate consequence at a competitive institution. And with the internet and modern technology, it is becoming easier to cheat every day. Obviously, to avoid damaging their reputations ethically and academically, institutions must put programs into place in order to punish those who succumb to the temptation to cheat.

At Virginia Tech, we use the Honor System, made up of a board of students and faculty, who ensure that all potential violations are addressed according to a constitution of rules and regulations. This system is beneficial for a few reasons: the accused’s hearing id performed before a board of their peers. All factors in a potential incident are considered including, course syllabi, instructor communication to students, student misunderstanding or confusion, as well as what materials are made available for students to accomplish their assignments. This seems to be a fair system, designed to treat each case with the the appropriate weight and severity deserving of a reputable institution, in addition to treating each of the accused with respect until found guilty of any discretion.

As a GTA for a composition course, the most common form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism. Too often students, due to stress, poor planning and time management, or laziness, feel they can sneakily turn in someone else’s work as their own. While it may be increasingly easier to do this with unprecedented access to information, it is also easier than ever to catch plagiarism, as tracking and locating published work can be done by merely typing a few key phrases into any given search engine. The problem with plagiarism is that if someone isn’t going to go through the effort of doing the work, he/she most likely isn’t going to cover his/her tracks very well either. While cheating is obviously a lapse in the ethics of the student who perpetrates it, it is also equally important for it to be reported by an instructor or another student, to ensure the integrity of the course and the institution remains intact.