How’s the View? Four Lenses for Looking at Your Curriculum

While paging through a recent addition to our in-house library at the GMCTE by Blackmore and Kandiko, I encountered a reference that I find quite helpful for understanding why it is important to view curricula from different perspectives.   The work referenced is by Basil Bernstein who was a sociology of education scholar in the UK, until his passing in 2000.  Bernstein suggested that the curriculum can be viewed through four lenses.  I frame these first in the form of questions curriculum review committees can ask themselves and then add Bernstein’s terminology below.

Magnifying glasses

With respect to our curriculum….

  1. ….what do we say we will do?
    This is the “planned or intended curriculum” often most directly documented through course syllabi when taken together.
  2. …what do we do in practice?This is the “created or delivered curriculum” which is how intentions are translated into practice in the actual teaching of courses.
  3. …what do students get out of it?This is the “received or understood curriculum” and refers to the way the intended and delivered curriculum is understood, in the end, by the students.
  4. …what else are we doing?This is the “hidden or tacit curriculum” where additional knowledge, skills or values are conveyed, even though they are not formally or explicitly part of the curriculum.

Blackmore and Kandiko point out, and my experience would agree, that it is usually the first two questions that occupy curriculum committees with little to no attention to the last two.    To understand the full richness, rigour, and complexity of curricula we surely should try the view from each of these lenses.

Picture courtesy of MatthewH via Flickr with a Creative Commons license (AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved)

Bernstein, B. (1975).  Class, codes and control (Vol. 3):  Towards a theory of educational transmission.  London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bernstein, B. (2000).  Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity; Theory, research and critique.  New York:  Rowman and Littlefield.

Blackmore, P. & Kandiko, C. B. (Eds.) (2012).  Strategic Curriculum Change:  Global Trends in Universities.  Society for Research into Higher Education Series.  New York:  Routledge.

The Academic Honesty Bonus: Another Advantage of an Aligned Curriculum

In my role as a Curriculum Development Specialist, I get to talk with faculty about their programs and the many reasons to examine and renew curricula in higher education.  In recent months, another advantage to an aligned curriculum has come to mind for me:  academic honesty.

I posit that the three following relationships hold generally true, and promote academic honesty among students.

  1. When faculty alert students to the progressive nature of the curriculum and convey to students how what they are learning now prepares them for, not only life after graduation but for future courses, students can better recognize the benefit of deep learning.   For example, students can come to understand that the course on legal foundations of the profession in 2nd year prepares them for for the policy paper they will need to write as part of their capstone course in 4th year.  Or, students can learn that locating and reviewing journal articles for the intro course helps them learn how to write a research paper in the advanced course.   Naming such connections can provide just the “learning hook” needed to focus students’ attention and make them less likely to cheat themselves via academic dishonesty.
  2. When faculty relieve unnecessary time pressures on students, students become less likely to use cheating as a coping mechanism.  I acknowledge here that working well under time pressure can be a skill we wish students to learn, but in the case it is not a priority learning outcome it can be easily avoided.  For example, if faculty of the three required courses can time their class projects to be due in three different weeks rather than all in the same week, students will be in a better position to devote the time required for higher quality work.   With less unnecessary time pressure students also become less likely to resort to cut-and-paste “shortcuts” or full-blown plagiarism.
  3. When faculty know what assessments their colleagues use, they can be sure to build on past assessment practices and ensure they are not asking students to do the very same thing they have done for other courses.  Repetitive assessments can tempt students to submit work done previously for another class.  For example, the student who has returned from practicum experience and is asked to write reflection after reflection for each post-practicum course the following term, can come to the conclusion that the faculty don’t talk to each other about their teaching and therefore would never discover the “re-submission” or, perhaps worse, believe that the faculty actually doesn’t care.

And, here’s where curriculum conversations win the day! Fortunately, it is typical in curriculum renewal conversations that faculty have the opportunity to learn about what their colleagues teach, the learning outcomes they aim for, the assessments they use, and when they assess.   Given such conversations, most groups will then proceed to align their teaching for optimal learning conditions, and get the added bonus of having created the conditions that support academic honesty.

Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Moral Agent

This is the final post in a series of four about metaphors revealed in students’ discussions of academic honesty and dishonesty.  The four metaphors presented in this series do not represent mutually exclusive understandings and can overlap in their meanings.  Not all students in my study expressed the same meanings or, if they did, did not express them in the same way.  As McMillan and Cheney (1996) acknowledged, it can seem drastic to ascribe such power to metaphors but we rely so heavily on them that we often overlook their “powerful and practical role in our discourse” and that there is a “tendency to become what we say we are” (p.2).

The Student as Moral Agent

“I’m here to develop academically so I need to be true to myself and if I’m just going to throw in a bunch of assignments that I didn’t really do, did I really get anything out of this class?  Did I do myself right by doing that?”


“Honesty is honesty.  You live by it through your values and morals and of course you would follow it throughout anything, even academic, everything you do.”

All the students in this study indicated, albeit to varying extents, that they could conceive of academic integrity as a moral responsibility that they individually held.  Students were aware that to be academically dishonest was to do wrong whether they thought of it as a grave moral problem or as a fleeting moment of deviant behavior.   While their understandings of academic integrity were not sophisticated in moral terms, students appeared to see quite clearly that one of the potential costs of academic dishonesty was the compromise of personal integrity.

What might this mean for teaching and learning?

The student as moral agent wants to be truthful and wants to be deserving—applying that motivation to the academic setting is not a giant leap. The student as moral agent wants to learn his or her role in scholarly endeavors more broadly, wants to be part of a system of academic integrity, wants to demonstrate his or her learning authentically, and wants to be graded fairly in relation to others.   Such a student will not see the rules as arbitrary commands, but will still need to be taught the protocols and conventions to use and the role these play in overall integrity of the learning environment.   Explanations from teachers that situate these new practices in a larger scholarly system will be expected and welcomed by these students and possibly foster moral will among the other students, too.  What a great opportunity to assist our students in becoming who they say they are!

McMillan, J. J. & Cheney, G. (1996).  The student as consumer:  The implications and limitations of a metaphor.  Communication Education, 45, 1-5.

Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Trainee

This is the third in a series of four posts about the ways students positioned themselves when discussing matters of academic honesty and dishonesty in my doctoral study.   The metaphor of trainee described below, could also be conceived as the student as investor in or consumer of higher education.  The overarching idea I gleaned is the student viewpoint that the desired outcome of a university education is gainful employment, where coursework is merely a means to that end, education an investment in the future, and enrolment in university a contractual relationship with an educational service provider. 

The Student as Trainee

“This class that I’m taking is not relevant to my end goal.  My effort in this class is lower if I can find ways, or rationalize ways, to get around things.  I think that is much more common [reasoning for cheating]”


“Let’s say I have this math test; I copy the answer.  If I never have to take a math class again, how did I hurt myself?  I got a better mark.  That was it.”

A dual focus on the immediate concerns of being a student and a future vocational identity is not new, nor is seeing aspects of one’s education as “hoops to jump through.” For some, focusing effort on the content they see as most relevant is most important.  And for others, getting that credential can become more important than how they get it. 

What might this mean for teaching and learning?

Students focused on applied, employment-related learning who believe that what they are being asked to do in courses has no relation to the “real-world” may regard the learning required for success on assignments and exams as unworthy of their time and effort.   For the student as trainee, circumventing requirements they deem wasteful would therefore seem practical and wise.  For teachers, communicating the value, direct and indirect, of what is being learned and how it is being assessed and the reasons for that assessment method may reveal to students a benefit that would not have been otherwise apparent.   And, after all, why would we keep such information a secret from our students anyway?

Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Competitor

This is the second in a series of four posts where I present the metaphors I recognized as being in use in students’ discussions in my doctoral study of students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty.  These metaphors can be treated as lenses students appeared to use to see themselves in the university, to navigate their relation to others, and to interpret events.   

The Student as Competitor 

“It’s [good grades] like a carrot dangling in front of you.  And everybody’s at a race and whether or not your carrot is big enough will tell you how far you’ll go.”


“But you try to find every possible way, just to get that one extra mark on your assignment.  Whatever advantages you can get over others.“

Grades appear to trump honesty in the statements made by these two students.  These students as well as others who volunteered for this study said they competed against one another for grades, positioning themselves as competitors, and sometimes positioning their fellow students as rivals for educational opportunity and access.  Students described striving to get a relative advantage for access to scarce resources like scholarships, scarce positions in selective educational programs, or to be hired by desirable employers.  There were numerous comments from students about the competitive climate they perceived in university learning environments (especially, they had heard, in Medicine and Law), and with special mention going to the detrimental impact in terms of climate of grading on the “curve.” 

What might this mean for teaching and learning?

The competitor-student may rationalize academic dishonesty as a worthwhile risk since, for this student, grades and relative ranking against peers are more highly valued than the learning itself.  From such a position, the student may claim that “everyone does it” and that cheating serves to “level the playing field, anyway.”   With such a belief, a student accused of cheating or plagiarism may feel terribly unlucky or even unfairly singled out.  While the stakes may be high for some students in a higher education system that undeniably values grades, a preoccupation with grades may be coming at the expense of authentic learning in ways specific to and beyond academic integrity.  The dilemma for teachers is how to downplay this destructive student emphasis on grades and relative rank and yet still use grades as ultimate feedback to students about their learning in our classes?

Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Subject

This post is the first in a series of four.

My posts largely draw from the insights I gained by conducting a doctoral study of students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty.   In my analysis, I noted that students used, indirectly and directly, four metaphors to describe their sense of their role, place or position in the university.  This is the first of four posts presenting these four metaphors and their potential explanatory power related to students’ understandings of academic integrity.  I begin each with two student quotes that reflect the metaphor used by several students, a short explanation, and ideas about what the metaphor might suggest for teaching and learning.

The Student as Subject 

“In my first degree they were like, ‘we’re going to check everything that you do and it has to be researched, it has to be cited, it has to be everything’… where I stand is, it depends on which program you’re in, [whether] you’re being considered academically dishonest or being honest.”

“We’ve been brought up to be socialized that this is cheating and this isn’t.  That’s always the way it’s been since kindergarten.  So, I think this is perfectly fine because I haven’t been told since I was 5 years old that this was cheating”

When discussing with other students their experiences and understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty, students commonly positioned their professors as the authorities, and ultimately, the policers of academic dishonesty. Consistent with that, students described themselves as subject to that authority and indeed, relying upon it to define the particular (and sometimes peculiar) rules.  While students indicated an awareness that institutional level policies existed and were meant to define and govern matters of academic dishonesty, for students, professors ultimately set the rules either explicitly or implicitly; professors decided whether to pursue their suspicions of academic dishonesty; and professors decided whether to take punitive or educative approaches to their encounters with students’ academic dishonesty.

What might this mean for teaching and learning? 

The student as subject sees him or herself as having little power; as deferent to professors. The subjugated student is less likely to take personal responsibility and more likely to instead deny responsibility and blame professors or the university or some other external pressure for his or her own ignorance of or inability to follow the rules.  The disadvantage of students as passive recipients (empty vessels) for teaching and learning are well known beyond the realm of academic dishonesty.   The metaphor does, however, make the role of the teacher with respect to academic honesty and dishonesty clear:  be explicit and watch closely—that’s what students expect.

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.

“Hey Students! I Care; Be Aware”: An Academic Integrity Researcher’s Approach to Teaching

Having read and thought about students’ understandings of academic dishonesty, students’ responsibilities, and our own as teachers, I am very intentional about how I present my expectations and commitment to academic integrity in my teaching practice.

Here are some principles I strive to follow:

  • Create and foster student-teacher familiarity—I tell students about myself and express my interest in learning about them, especially through their writing and contribution to class discussion.
  • Establish the value and relevance of the course content and learning outcomes—I explain why this course exists in the curriculum, why it may be useful to them now and in the future, and why students have a unique and valuable opportunity to develop by becoming engaged learners.
  • Be explicit about referencing—I explain why referencing is important in academic work, why the particular protocol I require is appropriate to the course content and discipline, where they can find assistance in employing the protocol, and that I am available to answer questions.
  • Be explicit about expectations–I explain what I expect of students in their submission of individual work and their submission of group work. I also explain why I am interested in their original analysis, self-reflective ideas, and what research or literature provides a foundation for their point of view.
  • Be transparent about my approach to special requests like extensions on deadlines– I outline the specific time on the specific day that assignments are due, the penalty for each day late, and the approach students can take for requesting extensions, including that they should be prepared to explain why their peers would find the accommodation they are requesting a fair one.
  • Communicate commitment and diligence to fair and authentic assessment—I refer to our Learning Charter and our Academic Misconduct Policy and to my own personal interest in promoting academic integrity. I publicly commit to asking questions of students if I suspect unintentional or intentional misconduct and to following the policies of my department, college, and the university.

There are some interesting books in the University of Saskatchewan library that can be resources for teachers. A recent one available at the Education Library is:  Pedagogy, Not Policing: Positive approaches to academic integrity at the university. Edited by Tyra Twomey, Holly White, and Ken Sagendorf and published in 2009 by the Graduate School Press at Syracuse University.

To Extend or Not to Extend: Is it an Academic Integrity Question?

It was interesting to me in my discussions with students for my doctoral study that the matter of unwarranted or easily begotten extensions came up as a concern for academic integrity. Of course, I realize the students who volunteered to participate in my study on students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty could have been unique in some way or had their own “bones to pick” with teaching practices. This was, however, still a striking concern voiced by students and one worth passing along.

Students in my study said the meeting of deadlines, especially those established well in advance, was a skill to cultivate and one that was worth being held to account for as undergraduates. Several said they resented hearing from others, especially if after having worked hard to meet the deadline knowing that what they submitted would have been improved upon with more time, that an extension had been “easily” granted. Some students complained that others were getting extensions related to personal circumstances that they believed shouldn’t “cut the muster” with their professors. The complaint appeared to be the about the lack of transparency about what the real “rules of the game” were and whether a “level playing field” could be maintained. Students wanted to know what the real deadlines were and for what reasons extensions could be granted.

For the students in my study, granting of extensions based on both inadequate and fraudulent grounds was a particularly frustrating form of academic dishonesty. Hearing students talk in such animated and impassioned ways about these concerns has led me to be fairly explicit about my expectations for meeting deadlines and when and how to ask for extensions.

For more on academic integrity related issues, see the resources on the Website for the 2012 Academic Integrity Week.

Perplexed by Plagiarism – What Students May Not Know About Referencing Conventions

Students, when asked what the purpose of referencing is in papers, are likely to respond “to avoid plagiarism.”  Slightly less rule-bound and more educationally enlightened, some might say “to show where the ideas in my paper came from.”  Now, while these interpretations may be accurate, they are incomplete and indicate a rather narrow view that may explain why students often report being perplexed by the notions plagiarism, originality, and authorship.

Looking back, it wasn’t until I was a grad student that I started to recognize and value the information that referencing conventions provide.  As an undergraduate student, I recall believing there was a “quota” of references to be filled in the few papers that I did write and that I needed to be sure I quoted those references according to some format that I was to mimic.  By the time I was writing my graduate level papers and my master’s thesis, I had started to think of the referencing system I was now learning (APA in my case) as a short hand for conveniently identifying the research and points of view that had informed my own written work.   During my doctoral studies, I began to see referencing as a way of mapping knowledge and building arguments that even symbolized the pervasive epistemologies and ontologies of my field.  Now, I often quickly flip to the last page of an interesting article or book, looking for those new or old gems in the field that I have yet to encounter.

I recognize that our present day undergrads likely need and deserve some specific instruction about how and why to reference.   In my teaching practice, I offer explanation about the referencing system and why it suits our subject, how it supports the development of arguments in our field, how it differentiates the writer’s original ideas from the ideas of others, and how it directly benefits the reader as a type of map to the ideas contained in the paper.  To make it relevant to students’ needs, I emphasize that being able to identify and track meaningful resources in their writing is a key skill for professional writing and may distinguish them to future supervisors and employers aswell as protect them from claims of plagiarism and intellectual property breaches that do occur in workplaces.

The U of S library provides a comprehensive listing of citation guides, a web page worth sharing with students to demonstrate the varying protocols by discipline and the resources available to assist them in learning the protocols.

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