Q&A on Harnessing the Power of Choice and Teachable Moments

headshot-teddi-fishman-110x130In our recent Plagiarism Education Week webcast with ICAI's Teddi Fishman, "Harnessing the Power of Choice and Teachable Moments in the Development of Integrity," she identified and discusses strategies for helping students learn to make informed choices about academic integrity and suggest ways to make the best use of "teachable moments" when they choose incorrectly.

We received so many great questions from our audience that we couldn't answer them all on the air. Teddi was kind enough to respond to some of the additional questions here on our blog.

June: Since all instructors contribute to teaching students academic integrity, do you have any suggestions regarding techniques administration can use to encourage all educators to help reinforce the importance of academic integrity in the classroom?

Teddi Fishman (TF): That's a great question. I'm really lucky in that I get to see how people do this in different places, and the range is so wide. It has a lot to do with the particular environment, but I will say that one of the commonalities seems to be administrators who are less concerned with raw out-puts (test scores, graduation rates) than with the quality of both the instruction and the graduates. That's one of the reasons that efforts like NCLB are often counter-productive to integrity. If you base your rewards on things like test scores, you're running the risk of teachers getting the message that the scores are the only important thing, whereas what we *want* to convey is that we'd rather have students with an honestly earned C than a dishonestly earned A.

Jennifer: Is there any consideration that a student may have expressed the same idea with an author which he did not even encounter?

TF: Absolutely. People come up with similiar ideas all the time. That kind of thing can provide an excellent teachable moment about surveying the field to find the "thought leaders" in the area, but definitely you have to be careful about charging someone with plagiarism when he or she genuinely came up with the idea independently.  

Farah: Integrity and being responsible for the school's reputation is a very important matter. Do you think we can apply it with different age levels, middle school similarly to High School?

TF: Definitely. School spirit and school rivalries can work at many different levels. Also particular identities--anything that is a point of pride with a school can be harnessed to persuade the students to act in such a way as to bring positive rather than negative attention to their school. 

Jennifer: What is your view on the proper grade level or maturity of a student who can be introduced to writing with academic integrity?

TF: Ideally, students should learn to give credit when they learn to use sources--which is really early now that grade-schoolers use the internet. If that idea--that you show how your own ideas have evolved by identifying where they came from--is taught as part of the writing process from the start, it provides a firm foundation for learning about proper citation styles later. :-)

Kelly: What are your thoughts on students who plagiarize themselves?

TF: Here's how I think about it: When I've made an assignment, it's because I have particular learning objectives in mind. The work that's involved is intended to bring about some kind of development. If they skip that process, they've probably not gotten whatever improvement or increase in skill I was hoping to bring about. I put a statement on my syllabus that tells them that if they want to utilize previously done work they are to discuss it with me and we can try to find a way to make use of it as a starting place for further inquiry—because I don't just want evidence that they can do something—I want them to participate in an activity that helps them do something better.

If you missed this or any other Plagiarism Education Week webcast, you can view them all on-demand at your convenience.

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About the Presenter

Teresa (Teddi) Fishman is the Director of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). Previously, she taught at Clemson University. Teddi's interest in ethics and academic integrity dates back to her pre-academic career in law enforcement. Her work also includes analysis of online communication and the evolving rules and mores of virtual communities.