3 Ideas for Promoting Academic Honesty

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With Elana Geller (Student Learning Services at the University Library) & Heather M. Ross (GMCTE)

A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Wednesday August 24, 2016. Register here.

Beauty of Reading
#1 Student skill development (Libraries)

Most students will make the right choices given enough knowledge. In order to support students attaining this knowledge the University Library maintains a number of resources including a citation guide, which can be accessed at http://libguides.usask.ca/citation. Students can also ask questions about citations at the Research Help Desk and Writing Centre, either in person or online. The Library is also looking into the creation of a tool that would have more breadth and would organize academic integrity information in an easy to use format. This tool would go beyond citation styles, to include information on collaboration, possibly specific field or discipline content, and policies. This endeavour will be one of collaboration. If you have any advice about what you would like to see in such a tool please contact Elana Geller at elana.geller@usask.ca.

#2 Technologies to detect potential plagiarism (GMCTE)

Both students and instructors have an interest in preventing and detecting potential plagiarism. For instructors, cutting and pasting questionable passages can assist in detecting materials that may have been taken from websites, journals, and other resources found online. In addition, SafeAssign is a copied text detection tool available within Blackboard. While this can be used for comparing student work to other works found online for the purpose of identifying potential plagiarism, it has great power as a teaching tool. If faculty set SafeAssign so that student can submit and then make changes based on the report, students can learn from their errors.  For more information about these issues, how to use SafeAssign following U of S guidelines, and how to use SafeAssign and Google for plagiarism detection and as learning tools, please contact Heather Ross at heather.ross@usask.ca.

#3 Assessment design (GMCTE)

When students regard what they are being asked to produce to represent relevant, valuable learning and when they believe they know what is expected and that they reasonably have the ability to do what is expected, they are more likely to invest the effort and submit authentic work for grading. With variation in disciplines for what makes an assessment appropriate and valid, not one piece of advice fits all. If you’d like to talk through some ideas for “cheat-proofing” assessments, please contact Susan Bens at susan.bens@usask.ca.

Picture courtesy of Luke Hayter and carries a CC-BY-NC license.

 

Gearing Up With Fall Fortnight 2016

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Fall Fortnight Postcard - Front“Happy New Year!!” That is how I think of September and the new school year. This often coincides with a strong pull to stationary stores, tidying my office, organizing my supplies, reading new books, and pulling out sweaters and warm socks.

Gearing up for the Fall Term is exciting. There’s often anticipation, hope, renewed energy for trying new things and looking forward to tweaking things I tried last year. I think about taking a class. There are new “school” clothes, crisp mornings, and longer shadows when I head for home. All of that is bundled together as the new term starts. I think about the new faculty, staff, and students joining the community of University of Saskatchewan in the most beautiful city in Saskatoon. And meeting new people and renewing connections with colleagues after the summer is fun.

The Fall Fortnight 2016 tugs on all these feelings of fresh starts, new ideas, learning that leads to change, connecting and reconnecting into the campus community, and gearing up for the 2016-2017 teaching and learning adventure. With over twenty sessions on a wide variety of topics in a variety of formats you will no doubt find something that intrigues you or answers a question you might have. There are Just-for-YOU sessions for new faculty, grad students, and post-docs in addition to all the other sessions on offer. New this year are sessions on the ADKAR change model and strengths-based approaches to setting up groups for success. For more highlights and a description of the sessions types take a look at this short video:

And it’s easy to register too. Check out http://www.usask.ca/gmcfortnight/

If you don’t see what you are looking for, drop us a line and let us know what you would like to see on the schedule next time around. And you can also request a tailored session—we work with you to design a session on the topic of your choice specific to your unit’s needs.

Looking forward to seeing at you at the Fall Fortnight (or in the Bowl or at a stationary store).

Fortnight Postcard - Back

Reflecting on Assessment and Feedback

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At this time of year, faculty can see the learning that has occurred for students reflected back through the culminating assessments. Whether it’s the term project, the research paper, the reflective portfolio, the group presentation, or the final exam – this is a means to discover what has been learned by students and to what standard.

Bicyclist Looking in MirrorHere are 10 questions gleaned from a 2004 article by Gibbs and Simpson on assessment that support students’ learning. Looking back at the term, an instructor may ask:

  1. Did the assessment require sufficient time and effort on the kind of learning intended?
  2. Did the assessment indicate the appropriate proportion of effort to be allocated compared to other course elements?
  3. How did the assessment encourage students toward productive practice or learning?
  4. Was feedback provided often enough and in enough detail?
  5. Was feedback focused on learning processes and actions under students’ control rather than grades, competitive rank, or the student as a person?
  6. Did the feedback arrive in a timely way?
  7. Did the feedback align with the purpose of the assessment and to the criteria for success?
  8. Was the feedback at the right level of sophistication for students to benefit from it?
  9. Were students motivated to attend to the feedback?
  10. To what extent was the feedback acted upon?

After a sufficient look back, these questions also help instructors to look ahead and contemplate the adjustments they can make next time around to provide students well designed assessment of learning and effective feedback for more learning.

Several of us in the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness have an interest in assessment design. Feel free to contact us to discuss ideas.


Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C., (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Issue 1, pp. 3-31.

Picture courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation via Wikimedia and carries a CC-BY license.

Reading Students Work With Them Present – A Different Take on Marking

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Many years ago, while I was a student at a community college in California, I took two courses that fell under the very general subject banner “Humanities”. One was The Individual and Society and the other The Individual and The Arts. These classes met for three hours twice a week and were team taught by three instructors that almost always were on the stage together at the front of the lecture hall that held about 100 students.

I took these courses early in my post-secondary education, but the teaching style has stayed with me as much as the content.

One aspect, in particular, comes up frequently when instructors ask me about issues related to academic integrity. I recall that we submitted papers twice in each of those classes. Each time, students would individually meet with one of the instructors and he (they were all men) would read the paper sitting next to us in the lecture theatre. He would read, mark some notes on the paper and ask us questions while he read.

keith goyne_snr_eniv. sciences_0021The instructors accomplished this by holding these individual meetings during class time. The instructors held these meetings with roughly 30 students each. Yes, it took away from class time (two 3 hour class sessions per paper assigned), but as I’ll explain below, the benefits were worth it.

First, if I hadn’t written the paper or if I had inserted chunks of work from others, it would have been difficult for me to engage in conversation about the paper. The instructor got a clear idea if the work was my own and if I understood the content.

Which leads to the second benefit. If I had been knowledgeable enough about the topic to engage in conversation with the instructor, but been a poor writer, this would have allowed me to demonstrate my understanding. This may have improved the mark that I received compared to if the instructor had read the paper without me present.

Finally, in a class of 90, having these individual meetings with an instructor to discuss my work, and often other aspects of the course, I felt like at least one of the three instructors really new me as a student. It was a wonderful way for these instructors to build rapport with the learners.

Again, yes, these individual sessions took away from class time, but not from “learning time”. Engaging students about their work is part of the learning for them, plus instructors can address some issues around academic integrity while building rapport.

Is this appropriate for every course? Probably not if you are the sole instructor teaching a large course, but for smaller courses or those team taught, consider this alternative to marking papers isolated from the authors.

If you would like to discuss the concept further, feel free to contact me at the GMCTE at heather.ross@usask.ca

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

Picture courtesy of the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and carries a Creative Commons Attribute Non-Commercial license.

Single-Point Rubrics: Exceeding Expectations

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As an Instructional Designer, I often speak on the value of assessment rubrics. There are many reasons why creating a rubric for each assignment, providing students with the rubric, and using the rubric while grading can be advantageous. Many of these reasons are highlighted in the video below, including:

  • You write the same comments on several assignments
  • You decide how to assess after the assignments are handed in
  • You realize after grading a few papers that your students didn’t understand the assignment expectations (Stevens & Levi, 2005)

Knowing about these reasons for rubrics, I sat down last fall to create few rubrics for the assignments in an undergraduate class I was about to teach. I started with the “Good” or “Excellent” column, as this is where I recommend starting. That was pretty easy as it simply explains the criteria for the assignment.

The next thing I needed to do was to fill in the lower columns (e.g., minimal pass, satisfactory) and ran into difficulties. I found myself guessing at what it is that students may or may not do to deviate from the criteria. This was especially difficult since I like to be as descriptive and objective as possible with the criteria I put in the cells, trying to avoid vague terms, such as “acceptable” and “good”. Filling in these cells was really challenging and would have potentially put me in a bind when grading if my guesses turned out to be wrong. I have been in that situation before and it is not a good feeling to look at your rubric descriptors and to look at a student’s assignment and realize that you have trapped yourself into either giving too high or too low of a grade based on those start-of-term guesses. These guesses are even more difficult if it is a new-to-you course or a new assignment. Due to these challenges, I ended up with more of a checklist and comment box than a fully filled-in rubric.

This past summer, a blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez came across my email that explained the concept of a “Single-Point Rubric”. I think the Single-Point Rubric is the answer to my struggles. It is essentially the “Good” or “Excellent” column that explains the criteria for the assignment and a column on each side surrounds it. These columns are labelled “Concerns: Areas that Need Work” and “Advanced: Evidence of Exceeding Standards”. This serves many of the same purposes as a rubric full of filled-in cells plus it provides a great and clear means of providing positive and negative feedback on each of the criterion.

Single Point RubricI still see advantages to having a fully filled-in rubric, but for new-to-you assignments and courses, where you really are guessing at student performance, I think the “Single-Point Rubric” is a great first step in providing clear criteria. I would highly recommend reading Jennifer’s post and seeing if it will meet your needs, as well.

Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions

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As assignments start to come in, this can be the time in the term when faculty notice what may be inadvertent or intentional plagiarism by students.  Hopefully, you rarely encounter this yourself. But, if you do suspect plagiarism, how can you best proceed? Here’s what I would do…

First, become familiar with the institutional policy and any particular procedures with respect to this policy in your department or college.

Next, I suggest that you discuss the matter with the student(s) you suspect.  Here are ten guiding questions offered to help you to prepare for and to anticipate the potential directions of a discussion:

  1. Why am I asking to discuss the matter with the student?
  2. How can I best convey my commitment to students’ learning and to fair assessment generally?
  3. What are the facts of the situation from my perspective?
  4. What are the facts of the situation from the student’s perspective?
  5. How will I respond to the student if she or he denies wrongdoing, claims ignorance, admits to the plagiarism, or implicates others?
  6. How interested am I in knowing what contributed to this situation for the student?
  7. How will I handle my feelings about the student’s explanation or comments during our discussion?
  8. How will I handle the student’s reactions during the discussion?
  9. Am I prepared to bring the discussion to an early close if emotions (including mine) are running too high and/or am I prepared to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling)?
  10. How can I be sure I don’t commit to any course of action before I am ready to do so?

With respect to #10, what the student has to say may or may not affect your ultimate decision, but I do recommend taking some time to reflect on what you heard from the student before you proceed.

  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty and/or a resubmission for the assessment in question, then look to the informal procedure in the U of S policy.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty beyond the assessment in question and/or you think there should be a record of the plagiarism, then look to the formal procedures in the U of S policy and expect to participate in a hearing process.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in an educational response or a warning, then look to the student’s role as a learner and your role as a teacher. This may involve providing some direct instruction yourself or referring the student to resources in the Library about writing and referencing.

While these concerning situations can be quite straight forward, they can also become quite complicated. Feel free to contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre if you’d like to think through a situation you face.

What is the science behind your course design madness?

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By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

Feedback in Marking – Some Tips for Efficiency

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Feedback is one of the most important factors when it comes to improving student performance in a course. Yet many instructors would use words like tediousgrueling, or headache-inducing to describe the process of providing feedback to student work. If you are one of those instructors, consider integrating one (or more!) of the following strategies into your grading practice.

  • Separate Grading and Feedback: If the student cannot use your feedback to improve the quality of their work, writing comments on student work is probably just a waste of your time and energy.
  • Frontload Feedback: Provide specific and more detailed feedback early and frequent in the term, so it can be integrated into student work throughout the term. Early and frequent, but brief, feedback has a more powerful effect on student performance than long and detailed feedback later in the term does.
  • Comment Code: Create a list of frequent comments / feedback about student work (errors, corrections, suggestions, etc.), and give each a code. (For example, “AV” could be the code for “Use active voice, not passive voice”.) Distribute your Comments Code list to students, and use these codes when marking student work to cut down on your time spent writing comments.
  • Less is Sometimes More: Too much feedback can overwhelm and discourage students who are struggling. On each assignmentfocus primarily on giving feedback in the one or two areas that these students can improve on, which will lead to the greatest improvement in their performance in your class.
  • Delegate: Provide students with a self-evaluation checklist or rubric that they must fill in and submit as part of their assignment. Include reflection questions such as “What do you think the most interesting part of your paper is?” or “For me, the hardest part of completing this assignment was…”

The suggestions in this post are derived from Walvoord & Johnson Anderson’s book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, which is available for faculty and instructors to borrow from GMCTE’s Resource Lending Library. For more information on making your marking and grading practices more efficient or to borrow this book, please feel free to contact GMCTE.

Too explicit? No such thing.

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Following on Heather’s post last week about the key (and required) elements of the syllabus at the University of Sasaktchewan, I wanted to add a point of emphasis that I think saves time, saves confusion, and may even save you some heartache.

That point is: be explicit with your students about your expectations.

Sometimes, as instructors, we may forget that we too  had to learn about academic expectations and norms.   If we were lucky, we caught on quickly, probably in our first or second years of undergraduate study.   Our new students (new to our disciplines, our institution, our jargon, our everyday language, our Saskatchewan and/or Canadian ways) will benefit from clear instructions and rules about how to complete the work required, and especially the work we will assess for grades.  When we want individual work, we should explain what that looks like and what it does not in the context of our course.  Examples help a lot.  When collaboration is permitted, we should explain what we mean by that and what we would regard as collusion in the context of our course.  Again, examples are very useful.  When we expect students to use outside resources, we should explain what we mean by originality and what we mean by proper referencing, by proper paraphrasing.  Referring students to library and other resources so that they may quickly  learn about these important practices is vital.

It’s also important to note that what we expect may differ from what students have experienced in other programs, in other courses, and with other professors, even those in our same hallways.  The expectations we have can, to some extent, reflect our own beliefs about students and the role of assignments in their learning.

While this GMCTE video sets this same message about being explicit within the concern for academic integrity, you may find a view of this short piece gives you the reminder you need about stating, what may be to you but not to your students, the obvious.

Evaluating Presentations With a Little Help From My (Citable) Friends …

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Individual and group presentations provide great opportunity for students to share what they have learned with peers and an efficient and feasible way of marking for instructors.

That being said, how do you grade them?

I, and I’m pretty sure you too, have experienced the full range of presentations from the stunningly excellent to the staggeringly confusing, from the inspirational to the sleep-inducing. The challenge is describing these qualities so they can be identified and assessed.

One option would be to create my own rubric based on these experiences.

The easier option is to use or adapt existing materials from others I respect.

The first source I turn to is the well-respected Association of American Colleges & Universities’ VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) assessment initiative, which has created 16 rubrics including one for oral communication.

They define oral communication as “a prepared, purposeful presentation designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors” and assess it according to five criteria: organization, language, delivery, supporting material and central message. The rubric describes requirements for each criterion across 4 levels. For example, Capstone (4) level delivery requires that presenters’ “Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye contact, and vocal expressiveness) make the presentation compelling, and speaker appears polished and confident.”

The second resource I consider is the more detailed (15 criteria across 3 categories) rubric of the American Evaluation Association’s Potent Presentation Initiative (p2i). Their website has every resource I ever wished to send to students (and perhaps others) about what “good” presentation or posters look like. They have posted rubrics, guidelines, templates and resources for regular slides presentations, ignite presentations (20 slides x 15 seconds = 5 minutes of auto-advancing slides), posters and handouts.

In addition I could ask a colleague or see what other courses in the program are using.

presentation outline

One of the best parts of adapting rubrics is the opportunity to decide which pieces I find most important for my course (e.g., organization), ones that are relevant if revised to be more specific (e.g., supporting material) and ones that are not (e.g., mastery – speaking without reading from notes). I also can decide which resources I recommend (e.g., p2i slide design guidelines), which I comment on (e.g., I suggest noting times if you use the p2i rundown template) and which I just mention (e.g., p2i presentation preparation checklist).

When uncertain I can always ask for a second opinion from a colleague, request a consultation, or trial it before posting the criteria.

Happy assessing!

Picture courtesy of Sean MacEntee and carries a Creative Commons Attribution license.