Teaching, Learning & Integrity (Information Hoarding Rescue Operation Part II)

Topics: Blog, Research

This post is part of  my virtual or information “hoarding” series. As I clear out the tabs in my web browser, I will share with you what I learned and how it can enhance our thinking and practice of academic integrity.

Today, my post is focused on some research about teaching and learning. I am heartened to see growing research avenues that focus on improving teaching and learning, particularly in this era of the 21st century in which technological advances, changes to the educational system, societal needs and employer demands beg for a new kind of knowledge and a particular set of skills that transcend disciplines (e.g., critical thinking; communication; interpersonal; ethical judgement and integrity).

Take, for example, the fascinating questions being asked about why we are still grading. In his piece, Dan Houck insightfully wonders that while he is designing a course and considering pedagogy and assessments, why he shouldn’t also consider his grading schema or, in fact, be deciding whether he should grade at all. To be sure, moving away from grading would be a challenge, whether for an individual professor or even an entire University. After all, our educational system is built on the shrine of performance as well as the extrinsic reinforcement of that performance. This shrine is manifested as grades, degrees and other credentials, are of which all seen as “rewards” for reaching performance goals or, in fact, seen as the goals themselves. In my first book, Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative, I argue that grading was initially instituted in the United States as an extrinsic motivation tool, designed to keep the young male students in line and under disciplinary control. Yet, ironically, grades are now the very reason why students cheat.

Given the cheating problem that grades have helped shape, as well as the growing employer belief that university graduates are not prepared for the world of work, it may now be time to reconsider our focus on performance and extrinsic motivators. After all, both are linked to cheating as well as to a failure of mastery. So, it seems that rethinking our focus on such things might be beneficial to our students and their futures. For example, I often ask faculty to reconsider their practice of giving points to students who simply “show up” (known, in other words, as attendance points) or for the submission of answers to textbook problem sets. After all, such grades are unlikely to represent learning and mastery  – students can cheat their attendance (by asking someone else to “sign in” for them or by attending physically but not intellectually) and students can cheat their assignments by copying and pasting from the textbook solution manual. In other words, such grades may not even measure performance, let alone learning or mastery.

Of course, when I suggest not giving grades away for attendance or for copied homework, faculty complain that students will not show up to class or that the instructors themselves will have to write new problems or create new ways for students to learn the material. To be sure, teaching for learning and integrity can take more effort and it certainly will require changes within the faculty as well as to the methods we use to signify good teaching (more on that last point in a future post). But, isn’t it our moral imperative to do so?

After all, when we continue to reinforce performance through extrinsic rewards, we are not building in students an intrinsic motivation for learning or personal growth. In fact, we may be reinforcing habits that have nothing to do with learning at all, even to the point where students have forgotten (or never developed) the skill of learning-how-to-learn. To this point, Ulrich Boser suggests the different pedagogical methods that can develop this skill of learning-how-to-learn, such as real-world projects, self-quizzing, “free-recall”, cumulative assessments, and revisiting material. Ulrich acknowledges that this shift will be painful because it will require that students break a lot of habits developed over their lifetime of schooling However, in doing so, we have the chance to enhance students’ meta-cognition (their awareness of their own thought processes), which has also been linked to improved learning and integrity.

If our goal is not to improve learning and enhance integrity, what is?

I cannot seem to think of any more ethical goal than focusing on student learning and building in them an intrinsic desire to learn. Not only will not only help our students in their academic careers, but it will prepare them for their professional careers in which they will be expected to have the “capacity for continued new learning” so that they can solve complex problems, make good ethical judgments, and apply their knowledge and skills to situations and issues they will encounter in life and work. And, it seems to me, that building in students such a capacity can only be advantageous to society as a whole.

So, the research seems clear – if higher education is to hold onto its integrity and its value to the 21st century society, we must revisit the ways in which we teach, assess and certify learning. To not do so would be a dereliction of our moral obligation to our students and society.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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