April 28, 2001

An Honorable Time

My students know better than to assume the existence of some mythical Golden Age of families, education, or anything else. And yet I'm allowed a certain nostalgia for my undergraduate days at Haverford College, in part because we had an incredible luxury (and students still do, I assume), taking exams any time during finals week, without faculty proctoring. I remember deciding which three-hour slot during finals week I would take which exam, showing up 20 minutes before the start of the exam period, asking a student sitting at the desk for my sealed exam, going to one of the approved rooms, and completing the exam, typically with 5-10 other students in the room taking their own tests, usually in other courses.

My colleague Barbara Shircliffe argues that nostalgia is what we're allowed when there's an irreparable break with the past, but in this case, it's a spacial and institutional break, not a temporal break. I have specific times I require students to sit for their exams, and I wish it were not so. But the University of South Florida does not have what Haverford does, an Honor Code. The Haverford College Honor Council page describes the skeleton of how the Honor Code works at Haverford, a student-run system of collective self-discipline involving both academics and social life. Faculty members at the college generally follow the recommendations of an academic honor code trial, and the code in general is administered by an elected council of students. I once sat as a non-council jury member in a trial where a student had turned himself in. He had edited a take-home quiz response at the computer after the one-hour deadline and explained that he had violated the professor's rules. The professor was not at the trial, because the facts were not in dispute.

Haverford students are not saints, certainly. What is necessary for the operation of an academic code is some way to socialize students into the expectations and maintain those expectations. Haverford explicitly puts the code front and center in all materials for prospective students. Admitted students have to sign a pledge to abide by the code. Part of my orientation involved explanations of the code and several abstracts of real trials from the past (with names excised, of course, and some details changed to protect confidentiality). And several times a year, we found in our boxes one more trial abstract. Discussions of the honor code, "confrontations" of fellow students, and what constituted plagiarism and fair play towards peers, were usually low-key but omnipresent.

The guts of the honor code has changed over time, both in administration and substance. In the 1960s, if I recall correctly, the social side of the Haverford honor code included premarital sex as a taboo. Since the 1970s, substance abuse has become a far more prominent concern of students than it was before.

Faculty in this system have to both plan and trust a bit more. They need to provide exam copies for every student in advance of finals week. They have to trust that students will, on the whole, obey expectations. And, when they find a student has violated that trust, they turn over the trial to the Honor Council. (The final grade of course is a faculty member's judgment, which the honor code recognizes, but any other resolution, such as separation from the college, is in the hands of students.) Most faculty, I found, respected the system and trusted the students to work things out fairly.

Without such a system, faculty members become academic cops. Without some socialization, students either do not understand common academic expectations or behave as if they are not obliged to follow them. Having to sit in the same room while students write on pieces of paper that you designed is the ultimate example of academic policing. It is an unfortunate necessity. It is not a horrible evil, but having set times for exams is one of the small tyrannies of having an institution that does not trust its students, students who do not discipline themselves, and faculty members who carry the greatest burden of maintaining academic expectations.

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Posted in Teaching at 3:27 PM (Permalink) |

April 27, 2001

Writing

The last class is done and now I grade. In the meantime, I've finally read the March 2001 issue of Educational Research, to find the following in one article:

Freire's theory appears to be insufficiently historicized, even though he places a historical and cultural praxis at its core. As we will see, this leads to a connected group of ontological and epistemological quandaries that require substantially different responses than Freire provides. In addition, because of the structure of his arguments, these problems impact Freire's ethical and political positions since he supports them by ontological appeals to human nature and by epistemic claims about situations (including self-understandings).
(Ronald David Glass, "On Paulo Freire's Philosophy of Praxis and the Foundations of Liberation Education," Educational Researcher 30 [March 2001]: 20)

In plain English, Paulo Freire naively assumed that human nature encourages peasants and poor people towards embracing radical democracy and redistribution of resources. I wish there had been a neon sign in front of the article: "We apologize for the incomprehensibility." Fortunately, immediately afterwards is an article cowritten by one of my favorite authors on writing, Mike Rose. "A Call for the Teaching of Writing in Graduate Education" (Mike Rose and Karen A. McClafferty, in Educational Researcher 30 [March 2001]: 27-33) describes a graduate seminar at the University of California at Los Angeles in writing. I have no idea if the editors of Educational Researcher intended that the issue itself help make the case for teaching academics how to write!

Mike Rose, author of Lives on the Boundary (1989, available from an alliance of local independent bookstores), has taught me a great deal about how adults become socialized into writing. I explain to my undergraduate students when returning the first batch of written work that I don't know if the mistakes I see are a result of sloppiness, lack of being taught, or because they are desperately trying to work with new ideas (which I realized, thanks to Rose, often happens with students). They are responsible for figuring out what happened and, if they need help, asking me or finding other resources. But I forget that my thick-skinned nature is the result of my own experiences, and too many students see comments on their writing as comments on their personal character.

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Posted in Research at 5:36 PM (Permalink) |

April 26, 2001

Plagiarism

was originally intending to write about something else, and then I saw my friend Debbie Ohi's Blatherings entry today on Internet stealing as well as Yen Shinkasen's journal entry describing someone else who "borrowed" her entire site's hand-coded design. Since I've had three cases of obvious plagiarism this semester (one stealing from an on-line source), it touched a nerve.

My interim chair, Jim Dickinson, has suggested that perhaps the Napster movement has made stealing a part of popular culture. I certainly intend to do more to educate my students, but I'm sure there has been plenty of cheating in the past. As I explain to my students, one needs to be wary about implicit myths of a golden age.

For the record, identifying student plagiarism is fairly easy: Usually the voice does not sound right. In about 80-90% of the cases, I can find the source within an hour or two. When I suspect plagiarism, I always get this awful pit-in-my-stomach feeling, and I hate the time my tracking sources down takes from the time I spend with other students, on my own research and writing, or my family.

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Posted in Teaching at 1:19 PM (Permalink) |

April 21, 2001

In the middle of the storm

The papers came last Tuesday, and I'm in the midst of reading them. Tomorrow will be a long day at the office. That plus other obligations means I'm doing plenty of juggling. Vincent has had a 104 F. fever the last few days, and I took him to the doctor's office. Some things just take precedence.

The incoming chair of my department, Harold Keller, last week e-mailed those of us going up for tenure for a curriculum vitae (resumé) each, as well as some of our scholarly writing, and he e-mailed me today saying he had received my packet and respected my not sending a copy of my book Creating the Dropout. He's moving from Nebraska, and I feared what would happen to the book if the box it was in got lost.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:27 PM (Permalink) |

April 16, 2001

Home stretch or the calm before the storm

This week is the penultimate one in the semester schedule, and so work is going to start piling up. Doing nothing work-wise over the weekend was crucial to my maintaining my balance as everything comes due for students and I need to read things quickly and fairly. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student, I would go on candy binges at the ends of semesters, but I can no longer do so with impunity at my age. Carrots, on the other hand, ...

Other issues are always surfacing and respect no schedule. We have a new chair in the deparment who will be coming in July, and with the loss of two faculty members over the past three years in my program (social foundations of education—I am an historian of education), we're going to be hard pressed to meet our obligations for both undergraduate and graduate teaching. We also have some long-term interests, both as faculty members and as members of our field:

  • To have a teaching load that is involved in both teacher education and advanced graduate studies;
  • To have time for research and writing;
  • To have departmental colleagues understand our program and field in concrete ways (e.g., reading and commenting on our work);
  • To be supported in our growth as a program, in terms of research and influence on the field.

We create a lot of "student credit hours", which is the lingo in our state system for what generates funds from the state, and yet I've also heard several colleagues from outside our program talk about our need to get involved more in graduate studies, as we're also supposed to be a top-notch research university. Hmmn. How can we simultaneously be intimately involved in teacher education and also expand our graduate teaching?

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Posted in Random comments at 12:33 PM (Permalink) |

April 14, 2001

Not working!

We're off to the Atlantic coast, and I'm not bringing anything to work on.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:45 AM (Permalink) |

April 12, 2001

Rolling on

Work definitely rolls on. I've sent off one MS and have another one on deck, finished the series of weekly quizzes today and will get in the term papers next week, finished an application packet for one competitive award and can "look forward" to the tenure packet, and so forth.

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Posted in Random comments at 4:15 PM (Permalink) |

April 10, 2001

Climbing back on top

Being a professor is like the job of Sisyphus—no sooner is the ball up the hill than it rolls down, or another one appears at the bottom again. Fortunately, some of the balls are considerably enjoyable to roll. (Did anyone, by the way, think that maybe Sisyphus liked his task? Maybe he painted the ball as he rolled it.) That book chapter described in prior journals is mostly put to bed, and now I have part of an introductory chapter to another book to write, as well as a batch of papers that'll land on my desk in a week, several projects in the wings, and ...

But getting some things done is extraordinarily satisfying. I provided my classes today with some organizing background information for the papers they need to turn in, beyond the materials I gave them earlier. Several students came up with wonderful ideas in class that I had not even considered. I get to go home happy, as a result.

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Posted in Random comments at 3:52 PM (Permalink) |

April 9, 2001

I thought I was going home early today!

Obviously, if you look at the time stamp below, I'm not getting there too much before when I'd normally. I met with two colleagues to discuss an introduction to an edited book (I'm looking forward to that when I get the chance), a student over work, and the department chair over two matters. I spent some time editing that overdue chapter (sorry, Doug!) and answering e-mail, but precious little else. Where did the time go?

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Posted in Random comments at 4:48 PM (Permalink) |

April 6, 2001

Whew!

I finished the items I had forgotten earlier this week (see the archives for April 3, if you're interested) and have today to do miscellaneous stuff:

  • Meet with a few students about paper drafts
  • Work on a packet for a campus award
  • Work on a draft paper
  • Read a journal I'm halfway through
  • Get an Institutional Review Board approval note (making sure I don't abuse the rights of human participants in research—never mind that, for this particular project, I'm not having individual contact, but I do need to promise confidentiality for the records I'll be using) to the right authorities for a research project
  • Probably many other things I won't get to

At home, we received a small (not great) digital camera, so I now have a photograph of my office on this webpage.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:09 PM (Permalink) |

April 3, 2001

Too busy forgetting

In the last two workdays alone, I have forgotten the following:

  • To send notes from a meeting last Friday to the researchers involved;
  • To do other misc. follow-up from the meeting I had intended to do yesterday;
  • To thank a staff member in the college for sending me some documents;
  • To look at a recommendation letter draft and finish it;
  • To bring home a CD-ROM with a program I need to try out;
  • To go to the library to find a few items;

I'm not as good at "multi-tasking" as I suppose I should be, yet.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:42 PM (Permalink) |

April 2, 2001

A former student e-mails

Last night, a student from the fall e-mailed me. Over the course of the last semester, she and I had a running correspondence about the teaching of the course as well as the substance of it as well. She's an older student who, for a variety of reasons, was justifiably irritated at some of the structures I impose for younger undergraduates. I learned a great deal from her comments, which pushed me to think about what I do and why. One exchange, first her:

Here's my take on your comments. First that you detected a lack of respect for the writers you are asking us to read, and observed little or weak paraphrasing. Cool, you're right. Both counts. Writers should be respected even if they're wrong and it's an attitude that is easily corrected. It seems to me that you are defining respect for a writer by direct references and this paraphrasing you've requested. To me that was all a waste of words because you read the stuff, I've read the stuff and the paper only serves to show how we relate and respond. Another student pointed out to me that your aim might just be to have our papers readable by some outside person who possibly hasn't read the article in question. Ok, I'll buy that; surely that will improve with awareness. . . .

Looks to me so far that my papers are associational with the readings, but you're probably hearing way more than you care to about what we already know, and not enough about what difference it makes 'by direct reference/paraphrase'. To be honest, reading these articles hasn't presented me with much new information, but then we're back to the 'respect the writer of the readings ;-) and the teacher, aren't we? :-) By the way, there were a couple of things I'd have included in those papers, but couldn't fit all that into 600 words and pull off paraphrasing too!

And my response:

I know that at times a focus on the "text" makes teachers seem like we most value the pinning of authors down for close study, maybe making me an academic-as-lepidopterist (or butterfly collector). Please have pity on this poor reader, though, as I try both to gauge each student's understanding of the material and also respecting the nuances of all your thoughts. Specific references help with both of these tasks, because I face many times each week a passage of student writing that is ambiguous. Is the ambiguity intended, a reflection of writing late at night, or a sign of some misunderstanding? Discussing details helps me understand writing.

Teachers with small numbers of students—and students who have time to reflect and respond—have a great advantage in this effort at communication, in that a conversation can often sort out what the student is understanding and thinking. With more than 100 students, I do not have that option (I refuse to call it a luxury). The result is a horrific Catch-22 in which students most lacking patient guidance and coaching, in medium to large classes, are those where they most desperately need the skills that only such close teaching can provide.

As I wrote to another teacher afterwards, "My wife, who is taking classes for a masters, often chides me about this 'textuality' of academics, and at least I have an answer now for her (and myself)."

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Posted in Teaching at 11:47 AM (Permalink) |