Tuesday, October 9, 2007

First-Year Seminar: Plagiarism Discussion

Yesterday I taught the First-Year Seminar [FYS] students for the first time. One of my colleagues actually co-teaches this class with another faculty member on campus. Well, I felt pretty nervous, and it did not help that my throat kept going super dry. Basically, we have an outline that library instructors can choose to follow for each of the two sessions we have with a FYS class. In the first part we discuss academic honesty and academic dishonesty, focusing on avoiding plagiarism. Someone had already created a PowerPoint presentation to help lead a discussion on the topic. Most of the slides pop up with a question, and then the librarian lets the students answer that question. I had heard that many of the students do not participate, which should not be too surprising. With that in mind I wanted to find a method or technique that would elicit more responses. I remembered something from working in the Center for Teaching at the University of Iowa--the pair and share technique. This means students work in twos or threes to discuss the question, then they share with the rest of the class. I decided to have students write down their answers first, then pair, then share. I thought it worked rather well.

The class began at noon, yet students were mostly full of energy. This class talked a lot among themselves [not always about the topic at hand], but they did well in participating along the way. One student seemed rather confrontational in the sense that he challenged me on a couple of occasions. He accused me of plagiarizing the PowerPoint presentation, which did catch me off-guard. Fortunately, my colleague spoke up and said it was not plagiarizing and invited me to tell him why. I said that the presentation had been created by another library employee, and that I represented the library in using it. Another student also spoke up by saying that I never claimed I had created it. She mentioned that one of the slides had said someone else had created it, although when I looked at the PPt presentation again I did not see that anywhere. The confrontational student was not mean-spirited, just full of energy and wanting to impress (I assume) his classmates. It seems that some students feel they know it already and feel put-out to attend something so basic as a discussion on plagiarism. Truly, many students probably do know about plagiarism and academic honesty, but I believe they can still learn something if they listen and desire to learn something.

After bringing back the class from a group discussion, I let one of the students answer. She spoke softly, and the "confrontational" student kept on talking. I let the student finish her thought and waited for the "confrontational" student to stop talking. When I had his attention I politely [and shakily as I was nervous. I hope I was not rude or demeaning.] said "I believe your classmates would appreciate it if you would listen to them while they are talking." He piped down, and the rest of the class period he listened attentively to the comments of others. He was one of the brightest in the classroom if you ask me. He also offered an answer to the question: "What is academic dishonesty?" He chimed in that skipping class could be a form of academic dishonesty to which I added, "yes, if you want to gain an education and you skip class then you are being dishonest with yourself." My colleague later asked who had given this answer and told him that he would give him credit for that answer.

I don't think that the student held a grudge against me. If anything, I think he gained some respect from me. Perhaps that is wishful thinking, but his countenance/appearance did not suggest he had any negative feelings for me. It can me scary to play the part of the teacher in stepping up and asking for some order in a classroom, especially if you are a new instructor. True, I have had many teaching experiences in the past, but I do not know if I asserted myself in similar ways in the past. I hope this experience remains a positive one in my mind and that I assert myself in positive ways in the future classes I teach.

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