Plagiarism is not an Ethical Dilemma

There is nothing so defeating than discovering that a student has copied a paragraph, or an entire article, and is trying to pass this work off as his or her own. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions, and this never ends well for the student.

The first time this happened, it was quite a spectacular attempt. It took place in the late 1990s. I was teaching in an internet marketing program. Those were the heady days of the Dotcom Boom, with interesting articles appearing in Business 2.0 and Fast Company. I was quite taken by an article by Seth Godin about the future directions of internet marketing; so much so, that I had saved this article – and the entire magazine that it was published in – in my files.

And so it came to pass that a student presented this article, copied verbatim without a word missing, as her own work for a final assignment. I was surprised and shocked that she would even try to do this. When I took her aside to discuss her result, she explained that “it was such a good article, this is why I presented it”. I spent some time explaining to her that this was plagiarism, that copying is not accepted practice, and that I am in the unfortunate position to fail her in this assignment. She would not have any of it, and eventually the Dean needed to be involved. She failed the course, and would have to do it again another time.

A year or so later, she was back in my class. This time, her work was great – I did check every sentence in Google to make sure that there was no cheating, again – and she passed the course. She had learned her lesson, and she demonstrated that she had good ideas of her own about marketing. It was good to see that this was all behind her.

So it was not a similar story a few years ago, when a student in a distance learning course presented an article from Maclean’s as his own work. Good grief, not this situation again. He explained that he had submitted this assignment because he was overwhelmed at work and did not have time to properly summarize what he had read – or reference any of his material. I explained to him that this assignment was not acceptable, and that he had to resubmit. Regrettably, I found that he was plagiarizing, using different sources, in his second submission. He was given the choice to withdraw or fail the course outright. I also escalated to my program director for resolution with this student.

Rushworth Kidder, in his book How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, lists ethical dilemmas and moral temptations. Ethical dilemmas pit “right against right”. Whereas moral temptations, like plagiarism, cause harm and are wrong. Kidder lists moral temptations such as “cheating on taxes, running red lights, and lying on a resume”. These are not ethical dilemmas, they are simply wrong.

Kidder distinguishes between four types of ethical dilemmas: truth vs loyalty, where one’s honesty conflicts with commitment or keeping promises. An example could be a teacher asking a student whether their friend cheated on an assignment. The student has an ethical dilemma: it is right to tell the truth, but it is also right to be loyal to the friend.

The next type of ethical dilemma is the individual vs the community: what is good for one person may not be good for the community. Is it right to provide funding to a small subset of students, when the great majority of students is already underfunded?

The third form of ethical dilemma is short-term vs long-term, and pits immediate needs against long-term needs. If one resolves short-term needs, there may not be resources left for future needs. Should one save for college, or spend money now for piano lessons?

The final form of ethical dilemma matches justice against mercy. Justice is about following the rules, but mercy requires consideration for individual needs and be compassionate.

My plagiators appealed to my sense of mercy and asked me to give them ‘one more chance’ to do well, and not be punished for presenting work that was not theirs. But given the rules and regulations in the educational institutions where I worked, and given how much time we had spent with our students explaining these rules, the issue was never an ethical one for me. I was disappointed that they had done this, and that I caught them. A discussion and a second chance had been effective in one case, but not in the other. I had tools and a process, provided by each educational institution, to address these actions. Oh, these students were otherwise good kids, striving to do well – but in the case of plagiarism the rules are the rules and they are unbendable. No ethical dilemma there.

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Vida Morkunas, Vosk Centre for Dialogue, 2015, ARR

References

(n.a.). (n.d.). PIDP 3260: Ethical Dilemmas in Adult Education. Vancouver Community College.

Kidder, R. (2005). How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. Camden, ME: Institute for Global Ethics.

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Plagiarism is not an Ethical Dilemma

Farewell to a beloved teacher

This video moved me very much because I remember spending 13 years in a small private school, and I remember how small and tight our community used to be.

But nothing prepared me for the emotion that I would feel, when watching the emotion and love as an entire school of young men said goodbye to a beloved teacher.

May we all be so loved and respected and celebrated at least once in our lives.

At assembly this morning we bid farewell to Mr. John Adams, the school Guidance Counsellor, who is retiring from teaching. Mr. Adams is moving to Nelson to be closer to his family so that he can dedicate more of his time to them. Mr. Adams has provided thirty years of dedicated service to Palmerston North Boys’ High School in New Zealand. (April 2016)
Farewell to a beloved teacher

Resistance to Learning

In Chapters 16 and 17 of “The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield creates a taxonomy of reasons for students’ resistance to learning, and then presents some approaches that instructors may take, to overcome the resistance.

Some of the factors for resistance are innate to the learners, but others are caused by the instructors’ presentation and manner in the classroom – and can easily be remedied by adding more context, slowing down, or reviewing at the volume of material that is presented in a class and cutting away the excess. I’ll present the lists here and comment a bit more below.

What can cause fear of learning? Some possible reasons why students resist learning:

  1. Fear of change
  2. The teacher is unqualified
  3. The learning was prescribed without any attempt to justify how acquiring that knowledge would be in the student’s own best interests
  4. The learning is a waste of time
  5. The learning is taught by an incompetent fool
  6. There are unreasonable demands from the part of the instructor, with
    1. …pedagogic misjudgments
    2. …broken teacher promises
    3. …and clear incompetence

Brookfield then lists the possible reasons why students are resisting learning:

  1. Poor self-image as learners
  2. A fear of the unknown
  3. A normal rhythm of learning
  4. A dis-junction of learning and teaching styles
  5. Feeling that the learning activity is irrelevant
  6. The level of required learning is inappropriate
  7. Fear of looking foolish in public
  8. Cultural suicide
  9. Lack of clarity in the teacher’s instructions
  10. The students’ dislike of the teacher
  11. The material is going too far, too fast, too soon

How can an instructor respond to this? Here are some steps that the instructor can take, when students are not taking seriously the learning that the instructor is sharing:

  1. Sort out the roots of resistance
  2. Ask yourself if the resistance is justified
  3. Research the students’ backgrounds
  4. Involve students in educational planning, when appropriate
  5. Use a variety of teaching methods and approaches
  6. Assess learning incrementally
  7. Check that intentions are clearly understood
  8. Build a strong case for learning
  9. Create situations in which students succeed
  10. Don’t push too fast
  11. Admit the normality of resistance
  12. Try to limit the negative effects of resistance

Of all the approaches, I think (5) rings most true for me. I have found that, in my 13 years at BCIT and my new instructional engagements in other universities, that “class culture” always varies. I might be very lucky, and find myself in a classroom where all my students are actively engaged in the subject matter, and they ask good questions, and engage with one another during class with points and counterpoints. This was the class that I just finished this week!

But in other classes, my students are quiet …too quiet. And they are polite, and listen carefully – but when I ask if there are any questions, …more quiet.And so I put them into groups, and assign little problems for them to work on, and all of a sudden my class is abuzz with activity and focused chatter.

The recommendation that makes me least comfortable, in Brookfield’s list above, is researching the students’ backgrounds. I don’t want to ask, I don’t want to pry. I share, a little, about myself in my classroom – and am delighted when some of my students share, a little, about themselves as well: a new part-time job, or something funny that their parents said to them. I can gather so much from their little stories. But to research the backgrounds? This goes far beyond what I feel comfortable doing, or even asking “tell me about yourself, what brought you here”. I am here teaching adults. Pushing that boundary, wanting to learn more about their context or more about their life outside of school – for my younger students as well as my oldsters – just does not feel right to me.

The key to overcome resistance to learning is to be flexible, and do what works. And if that doesn’t work – then try something else. I want my students to succeed in what I teach, I would like them to come away having learned from the 40 hours that they have spent with me in my class; and I hope that enjoyed some if not most of the proceedings.

I know that I will never be able to reach ALL my students equally, but that does not fault me from trying. I believe that creating small successes, providing clear feedback – and encouraging feedback – helps build up my students’ desire to learn, and open them up to a lifetime of learning. After all, they are in my class, that’s a good first step. And when they return the following week – that’s a good second step. My ultimate goal, in the end, is to not only foster their enthusiasm for the management of technology and marketing courses that I teach, but to foster in them a desire, a lifetime desire, to keep learning and upgrading their skills – and sharpen their sense of curiosity.

book-apple-education-study
Sid – Apple and Education – No Copyright

Reference

Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Resistance to Learning

Attributes of Irritating Instructors

A recent article in University World News summarizes a recent study by Nita Temmerman. She conducted “an informal student survey conducted with university students who were asked to anonymously write down the three most irritating things about their lecturers’ conduct”. Oh my, the things instructors do in class!

And now I feel a little bit guilty for bringing YouTube clips to my class for my students to watch, maybe they don’t like this (despite laughing or gasping at the right times) – time for ME to do a two-minute survey at the end of my classes!

  • Lecturers who take delight in telling the class on the very first day that “about 25% of you will fail this course on your first try”, as if this is something to be proud of, when it might just signal that he or she is a lousy teacher!
  • Lecturers who complain all semester long about having to teach this course because: i) the person who usually does is on sabbatical leave; or ii) they were on sabbatical last year and when they got back someone else had taken over their favourite courses and they were left with this one.
  • Lecturers who are never organized and ask at the beginning of every week, “where are we up to?” How much preparation have they bothered to do really?
  • Lecturers who insist you buy the expensive set textbook then never refer to it in class or use it to support assignments.
  • Lecturers who behave as if their course is the most important course in the degree and talk down the other courses – and some of the other lecturers.
  • Lecturers who change the assignment details well into the semester when you have already done some pre-reading and preparation, based on the original assignment details.
  • Lecturers who will not accept an assignment with references more than five years old yet use references in their classes and materials for students that are up to 25 years old.
  • Lecturers who do not hand back assignments before the next assignment is due so you are devoid of any potentially useful feedback to help you improve next time round.
  • Lecturers who talk too much about their personal life during lectures, especially about what they did on the weekend, assuming we students are interested and will think them cool.
  • Lecturers who only teach to the front row or two, speaking quietly to them and ignoring the other 400 students.
  • Lecturers who are boring and do not actively involve the students in any way. The content may be interesting, but their delivery is so dreary with minimal acknowledgement that there even are any students in front of him or her.
  • Lecturers who never bother to learn student names even when there are only 10 or 12 people in the class.
  • Lecturers who don’t teach. Instead they just read the PPT slides or show multiple YouTube clips, which they didn’t even make, and which we could just as easily spend time reading and-or watching in our own time.
  • Lecturers who promise to post notes or materials up on the website by a particular date or time and never do, but blast students for not getting their work in on time.
  • Lecturers who go overtime, which means you are always late for your next class or miss your bus or arrive late for work.
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Illustration by Mark22, Classroom, GoodFon.su

Reference

Temmerman, N. (2016). What do students find irritating about their lecturers? Retrieved from http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20161025151153271

Attributes of Irritating Instructors

What are Ethics? [video]

Although we might not realize it, we all face ethical issues on a regular basis. But how do we know how to respond well to these issues, to make better (as opposed to worse) ethical decisions? In this TEDx talk Dr. Michael D. Burroughs discusses the numerous kinds of ethical issues we face, possibilities for increasing our ethical awareness as “everyday ethicists,” and the importance of introducing ethics and philosophical education in our schools. Dr. Burroughs also discusses the role of ethics in the lives of children and ways in which adults can attempt to understand and learn from children in ethical discussions.

Why are we avoiding issues of ethics, and why are we avoiding engaging in respectful and civil dialogue about ethics? Many people simply do not have the tools to address issues of ethics.

Dr. Burroughs works with small children (ages 3, 4 or 5 years old) and observes the sense of ethics that already exists in people of such a young age. The respect, humility and eagerness to recognize issues of fairness and ethics is already displayed in young children.

When children already have such an ingrained sense of ethics, at what point of our lives do we begin to doubt this sense, or even lose it? This video inspired me, and made me think about my own ethical journey. I hope that you will enjoy this video as well.

What are Ethics? [video]

A Remarkably Simple Algorithm for Learning (and it works!)

Feynman stumbled upon a formula for learning that ensured he understood something better than everyone else. It’s called the Feynman Technique and it will help you learn anything deeper, and faster. The topic, subject, or concept you want to learn doesn’t matter. Pick anything. The Feynman Technique works for everything. Best of all, it’s incredibly simple to implement.

The four steps are:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Teach it to a Toddler
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
  4. Review and Simplify

I agree that this method works – I spent so many years trying to complexify simple matters, and was feeling so frustrated as I muddled along. Now that I am older, and allegedly wiser, I see that the key to learning anything, I do mean anything, is to simply first, and only then add the more complex building blocks. This applies to learning a new language, learning about how to write a business plan or how to study and resolve a case.

Start with the simple. Always. More here

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Thinking. Image from ClipArts
A Remarkably Simple Algorithm for Learning (and it works!)

Faculty Focus on Critical Thinking

By coincidence, an excellent first-person article about critical thinking landed on my desk this morning. The author, Amy Mulnix, explains how she teaches creative thinking to her young students by being transparent about the process.

“What is it that my brain does when I’m integrating information? My first answer was that I just “see” the connections and parallels. How do I explain that to students? Fortunately, previous reflections served me well and a strategy came to me in the moment. I suggested we start by identifying the major ideas, topics, and characters from previous chapters. As we made the lists on the whiteboard, I felt a wave of relief as I personally started to see more connections among the material—connections I hadn’t identified before arriving in class. This gave me confidence that I had stumbled in the right direction.”

The article in full is found here on Faculty Focus

brain-mozg-plata-impulsy-minimalizm-linii-chernyi-fon
Max S, Brain, Goodfon.su

Reference

Mulnix, A. (2016). The Power of Transparency in Your Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/power-transparency-teaching/

Faculty Focus on Critical Thinking