Tap into Students’ Desire for a Fair Incentive Program



In the December 5, 2012 issue of University Affairs, Roslyn Dakin offered a range of ideas about how grading impacts learning.

Reading Dakin’s article caused me to reflect on some of what I learned from the senior undergraduate Education students who participated in my doctoral study of students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty.  Contrary to much commentary about students’ “take” on academic dishonesty, I found that students did discuss these matters as though they had a basis in morality.  As future teachers, they saw academic honesty as a route to professional competence and wanted to know—deep down—that they were worthy role models for learning.  From what the students said, I extrapolated an underlying vision for a system of academic honesty with the same elements that Rest, Bebeau, and Volker (1986) said were present in a well-functioning moral system.  These researchers described such a moral system in this way:

All the participants in a society know the principles that govern their interactions, when they appreciate that their interests are taken into account, when they see that there are no arbitrary imbalances in the distributions of burdens and benefits, and when they want to support the system because the system is optimizing the mutual benefits of living together (p. 2)

In my dissertation, I extrapolated (see pages 158-159), and have since further refined (see below), a student vision for the learning environment that mimics that of Rest et al:

In a system for academic honesty, first and foremost, all students and faculty know and understand the rules of academic honesty.  Both students and faculty value students’ future competence in their disciplines, their honesty, and their integrity and take these into account in their actions in the learning environment.  Students see that the requirements for academic work are equitably determined and that grades are fairly earned.  Students and faculty want to participate in such a system because of the collective benefit where all students are deserving of their academic standing in relation to others and any privileges that may follow from that standing.

It is my hope and optimistic belief that most, if not all, of our students and faculty would generally agree with this vision.  The question is how can we all move in this direction in our institutions of higher learning so that we do “tap into students desire for a fair incentive system,” as noted by Dakin.

References:  Rest, J., Bebeau, M., & Volker, J. (1986).  An overview of the psychology of morality.  In J. R. Rest (Ed.)  Moral Development:  Advances in Research and Theory (pp. 1 – 27).  New York:  Praeger.

Bens, S. (2010).  Senior education students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty (Unpublished doctoral dissertation).  University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

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