Monday, October 25, 2010

Plagued by Plagiarism?

Plagiarism bugs all of us--faculty and administrators.  As a former writing instructor who was also a department chair, I dreaded the moment when I would look at a paper and swear that this kid had not written major portions of it.  The programs like SafeAssign (used at UT with Blackboard) are wonderful in terms of tracking down those "cut and paste" paragraphs that do not belong in college work.  As the OWL at Purdue states "There are few intellectual offenses more serious than plagiarism in academic and professional contexts."  Their article on plagiarism is a helpful overview that you can point out to students. 

A recent Chronicle article by Ryan Cordell on Susan Blum's book A Culture of Sharing provides a nice overview of the current conversation on plagiarism.  He covers her argument that many students are unprepared and unaware of finer points of research usage, yet Cordell says that given the rise in plagiarism incidents, this is a 'hard sell."  The comments at the end of the article point out the disagreement.  One respondent is tired of the excuses, while another commenter recounts the complex factors that result in plagiarism--and this person points out a related problem.  Students can learn to cite correctly while still not using enough of their own wording.  This is a writing problem.

I encourage everyone to use SafeAssign or a similar program and to make this program available to students.  The report is color-coded to show where material originates--and can be very helpful to students writing drafts.  Let them look at their reports and see what they are doing well and what they need to change.  With our current culture of "sharing," we need to give students multiple opportunities to learn another way.

When students view a report, they can be instructed to look for the color (blue, in this example) that corresponds to their own words.  Most students are horrified when they see how little is "theirs" when the assignment requires them to analyze and evaluate information and ideas--and when they realize that each paragraph has to have their analysis.

As I watch my son learn to write research papers in middle school, I wonder when this process will "click" for him.  I understand that the process must be broken into steps so that students learn each step.  Yet the hardest aspect to grasp seems to be citation.  Last year, he learned how to find sources (but he was still copying sources into a paper).  This year, he has research, a bibliography, and he is trying to write everything "in his own words."  He is still nowhere close to writing independently with integrated sources.  Will he learn enough in high school to handle college research?  Only if he writes more than one research paper a year will he feel at ease with the process. 

For a thorough statement on issues and best practices, read the page produced by the Council of Writing Administrators.  Best practices include:

  • Discuss plagiarism in class and providing examples of plagiarism as well as examples of successful papers
  • Design original tasks, that ask students their opinions and require new approaches to material
  • Sequence assignments so that they build into a final paper.  Make the research paper very visible by staging the assignment and guiding students through the process
  • Focus on having students read (and report on) their research
  • Ask students for documentation.  For instance, require a research log, with links to their online research and copies of any book pages cited.

For information specific to UT, visit the UT Writing Center.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fun with the Periodic Table

The periodic table is the theme of the week.  If you teach Chemistry, you might be interested in the new variation on an ancient game, Mahjong.  Students play online or on Facebook (look up Mahjong chemistry). According to the press release, "Games on the website include: matching elemental names to symbols, assigning oxidation numbers, learning acids and bases, learning electronic configurations, and learning metric prefixes critical in chemistry" (Stetson U).

This news led me to the internet to check out periodic tables, a rich theme.  I found a beautifully illustrated periodic table as well as a table of illustrations: the visual periodic table from  The VPT will be featured at our visual media workshop in a few weeks (November 2).

Of course, Chemistry Mahjong is not just a visually appealing activity but a learning exercise.  Game-based learning has a dedicated following (see the International conference at  Games are an excellent way to engage students.  There are downloadable templates for several types of games, which you can adapt to your curriculum.  Just search online!

UT's Professor Ernest Cadotte has created a marketing strategy game, Marketplace, which offers gaming scenarios in international business.

Have you created a game for your students?  What is your experience with game-based learning?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Team Teach

I told a colleague yesterday that I found team teaching to be an intriguing idea, one that fits with our center's emphasis on student responsibility for learning.  I just team taught for the first time and had a wonderful experience.  In the first year studies course, peer mentors (upper-class students) assist in the classroom; it was up to the two of us to figure out what that would look like.  My peer mentor participated in class, joining students as they worked, but we also added some activities that others might not consider typical.  His experiential expertise is in scheduling and planning, so I asked him to talk to students about how to plan for and schedule their courses.  We spent two days listening to and talking with him about how to manage different resources at UT.   He asked a few students to join him up front to try out the planning resources, particularly the online degree audit report system. His time on this topic was one of the highest rated experiences in the course.  Second, he met students after class in groups, where the conversation was much more informal.  This helped me too, since I did not have time to meet with all of the students.  Again, they rated this experience very highly.

In research and trials by Gray and Halbert (1998) and Gray and Harrison (2003), professors and students reported multiple benefits.  Student comments were positive, including appreciation for hearing a student's perspective.  Student comments (see Tomorrow's Professor) included:
 “The student teacher stops the professor and asks questions that are helpful to make the topic clearer. She’s good at telling [the teacher] when he has lost us.”

"It’s like a tag team where one is always there to back the other up. If one teacher does not understand a question [from a student] or how to relate it to the class, the other can easily step in.”  

“The team-teaching is a good approach, I think because this way we don’t feel intimidated by a big professor teaching the class and we get the insight of an undergrad.”

In general, research suggests that professor-student teaching teams offer several benefits to students, student teachers, and professors. Students reported enhanced learning because the method gave a student perspective and improved the availability of teachers; student teachers felt they learned a lot about teaching and the subject matter; and professors felt it gave them an ally in their teaching, excellent substitute teachers and a valuable source of feedback for teaching improvement (Gray & Harrison 2003). 

Have you tried team teaching?  Tell us about your experience!

Monday, October 4, 2010

What the Best Teachers Do

Do you ever wonder, as you leave class, what you could have done better?  If that question crosses your mind at any point, take steps to get an answer, for better teaching and for peace of mind.  First, read and talk about good teaching.  Most teachers talk about class sessions that worked best for them, so conversation with other teachers usually offers excellent ideas.

Second, ask your students by conducting a CAT (classroom assessment technique).
This basic task--asking someone if they understand--can reveal a lot of data for you about your teaching techniques and the learning situation you have created.  (Click here for our materials on CATs)

 Third, videotape yourself.  It makes me wince to see myself on tape, but what I find out is to my benefit.  I usually see that my weaknesses are ones I already know about but need to work on, and I learn more about my strengths and can better utilize. 

As far as reading about teaching, two current books provide an interesting contrast--and both employ data collection, years of observations, and interviews with great teachers.  You may have already heard of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do; you may not have heard of Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion (unless you are in the field of education, because his audience is K-12).  His book has reportedly hovered near best-selling (top 100) status on Amazon.

Ken Bains offers an ideal of college education where students and faculty are engaged in explorations of interesting problems in their  fields.  Although I have seen some light criticism of Bains for focusing on professors at privileged institutions, I am not sure this criticism is completely valid.  His advice in "How Do They Conduct Class" is drawn from faculty who lecture as well as faculty who conduct seminar-style classes, and he draws the same conclusions for each.  He explains how faculty can create a natural critical learning environment by:

1. asking an intriguing question or introducing a problem
2. helping students understand the significance of the question
3. engaging students in higher order thinking, asking them to explain their own thinking, and challenging them to defend their explanations (in a caring way, Bains points out, not in a cross-examination!)

Even in a lecture, he explains, faculty follow this process.  Instead of emphasizing the answer, they ask questions, build connections, make an argument, and end with more questions!   "In all...students encounter safe yet challenging conditions in which they can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again" before facing a test or other summative evaluation.  Students learn by doing.

Doug Lemov's book has inspired teachers in public schools but in a different manner.  Just like many of the "tips for college teaching" books, he identifies the 49 techniques that help students be successful and prepare for college.  His success, though, is based on a systematic study and implementation on the tips that are most crucial, most central to good teaching.  Many of these (with some adjustment) apply to higher education as well. 

I use the "cold call" as a staple (technique #22).  Ask a question, pause, and then call a student by name (randomly).  Progress from simple to more difficult questions.  If there are students in your room who are struggling, ask them questions that help build confidence.  Follow one answer with a question to another student, for further elaboration.  In a large room, keep names in front of you and call out for answers.  If a student isn't answering after some 'wait time', instruct that student to confer with peers and then answer.  By keeping track of who is called, even students in the back row will realize that they are expected to answer.