Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Academic Integrity?

I just finished watching a rebroadcast of an ABC Primetime Special entitled "Caught Cheating." As the title suggests, it was an in depth look at how students at the high school and college level are plagarizing in order to reach their goals. There's even a DVD and teachers guide for the show available. The thinking of the students was familiar enough since we've had similar problems at my school and are even instituting a new policy in which we will keep academic integrity violators in a "secret file" which will document their cheating. Still as I listened to the kids and the disgusted adults, a few points really struck me.

At one point Charlie Gibson asks an expert: "How do we keep these kids from going on to create a nation of adult cheaters?" What country does he live in? For a very long time now, America has been about celebrating the achievements of successful people. Sure we love a good story about someone who overcame unbelievable odds to achieve their goal, but what we're really interested in is the accomplishment itself. If it's proven that someone cheated than we will cry foul (see Bernard Ebbers, the steroids scandal in baseball, etc), but up until that point we like to look the other way. "Just do it," baby, we don't care about the how and why. So when it comes to insisting kids have integrity, it seems to me we are asking them to rearrange the priorities that our society teaches them.

Even more significant to me, was the number of kids who said that what was important to them, the school, and their parents was the grade and that they really didn't care about the course material anyway. One college student repeated a line a professor had told her: "Only about 3% of what you learn will ever be used in the professional world." This attitude that it's all about the grade and that much of what they are asked to learn is irrelevant to them is something I've been struggling with in my own classroom. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, how do we get beyond the culture of grading to instill a love of learning? And how do I present the curriculum in such a way that students find it relevant to their lives? These are the questions that I am seeking answers to. Does anyone have ideas or experiences that might help?


Riki said...

I think the question that you pose--"how do we get beyond the culture of grading to instill a love of learning?"--is an extremely important and difficult question. I'm a rising sophomore college student and since high school I have been struggling to both learn while maintaining a certain grade. I have uttered so many times in the last several years, "I wish I was given credit for just learning." For example, in college, the classes I'm taking are so interesting, yet the material is clouded by the nusance of a grade that effects my GPA, which is the only thing that matters in the long run. In high school, as your other posts suggest, the ultimate goal was getting a good GPA for college. The course material is often overshadowed, and unfortunately, I don't think this will change anytime soon, as higher education becomes more competitive.

Tom McHale said...

Unfortunately I agree. It doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. It's interesting that you feel the same atmosphere continues in college. Lost in all of this, of course, is the value of learning. Do you think designing assessments and assignments that allow students to better demonstrate what they've learned would help?