On Building Houses and Promoting Integrity: Taking Action Against Contract Cheating

(Adorable and creative, not at all like the picture I actually drew)

 

 

 

“Draw a picture of your house.” I remember hearing those words as a student. I paused before looking up and realizing that the instructor was indeed serious.

I giggled.

“Draw a picture of your house,” she said again. I cannot draw. I remember first mocking the instruction to myself, then looking at the blank paper. Feelings of shame, then fear emerged as I realized the time for the exercise slowly ticked away.

In a rush, I drew a shoddy representation of home. It was a quick blueprint with little personality and less heart.

The next instruction came. “Now, introduce your classmates to your home using your drawing.” Our blueprint was to represent our home so that others might interpret where and how we live. There was a shame. I had not taken the time I needed to focus. The poor drawing barely represented my home.

We continued. I quickly described some features, taking great care to make fun of my artistic limitations to add levity to what was an embarrassing moment. Eventually, we went around the room.

The writing lesson was simple. Our blueprint provided scaffolding for the details of our own story. Then the artifacts within help to shape meaning. What others take from that shaping is the direct result of a synthesis of our authentic selves.

I remember how personal writing is. We often experience shame, excitement, passion, and fear when writing authentically. The act of writing is vulnerable, often at first imprecise and messy. However, it is our own. The blueprints of theory and practical experiences shape our ways of knowing. The critiques and competition of academic work add a sense of urgency. Nevertheless, it is ours. It belongs to us, and in the best of cases, can be shared as a glimpse of synthesis and an invitation to think.

Academic integrity does not always begin with respect for the work of others. It starts with respect for and confidence in your work. Your thoughts can compare to your house. We design the framing, the items that make it our own, and the unique features that are unmistakable to our styles and ways of being.

I wonder how often students feel empowered to celebrate their unique voices. In an era of curated images from the Home and Garden Televisions (HGTV) Dream Home, to a curated set of selfies on Instagram, the unique is often diluted in favor of a brand. How can a student be authentic when there is immense pressure to be a highly marketed version of their developing selves?

Tomorrow, October 16th, is the 4th Annual International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. As someone who researches academic integrity, there is a never-ending question: Why are students are so easily susceptible to companies and individuals who offer contract cheating services? I encourage you to join ICAI for this annual event to increase awareness, offer solidarity, and promote integrity. While institutions and individuals who stand together to educate students and combat contract cheating motivate me, I find equal inspiration in the opportunity to enhance the conditions that generate authentic, independent writing.

Independent writing is brave. It requires the trust of the instructor or classroom environment, careful time management, vulnerability, and honesty. It requires an understanding that the best stories are authentic.
The learning that comes from this type of writing may not reveal itself immediately, but it is lasting. As with the writing process, creating a home takes time. We have stories of meaningful artifacts that represent the best and worst parts of ourselves. Much may be ordinary, but it is ours. We personalize it, we protect it, and when we feel comfortable, we share it with others.

It is essential to give space and time to students learning to find their authentic voices. In doing so, we should take care to offer comfort. Are we finding source material that speaks to a diverse set of students? Do translated texts keep the nuance of original meaning? Do students see themselves as capable in the classroom? How much time do students have to write authentically?

I have never learned to draw well, but these days I recognize it was never about that. What is important is to spend more time creating art that is my own.

How do you inspire students to authentically share themselves with others?

About the Author
Ceceilia Parnther, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Administrative and Instructional Leadership at St. John’s University. Her research interests include academic integrity education and college student success initiatives. Before joining the faculty, Ceceilia worked in student and academic affairs in various capacities including academic integrity, advisement, and student conduct. Among others, her most recent research is found in Innovative Higher Education, New Directions for Community Colleges, and The Journal of College Student Retention. Ceceilia’s blog posts are her own and do not necessarily represent the postings, strategies, or opinions of her employer.
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