Academic Integrity

  • April 19, 2016

Academic Integrity

Have you ever sat staring at a blank computer screen with the little paperclip chirping at the bottom of the page: “It looks like you’re writing a research paper. Do you need help?” More and more often, students leave research and writing to the last minute and are at a loss when they sit down at the computer to pile their haphazard research into something resembling a coherent presentation of fact. The temptation to trot over to Wikipedia and for a light-hearted copy and paste intensifies with every failed keystroke. The backspace key is getting more exercise than Michael Phelps and the minutes tick by. The idea of academic ethics is not a new concept, but its importance to the academic world grows as students revert to subtle plagiarism and blatant “lifting” in an attempt to make the page count for their papers. Why has it come to this that the need for authorship ethics is so great that schools and colleges offer full seminars that teach students the importance of not cheating?

In the earliest stages of writing, elementary students are given a graphic organizer of a hamburger bun and are told the basic steps of pre-writing. First, think of an introduction, then get to the meat with a few tasty details for the style of the paper. Then, wrap it up with the other bun and you have a paper with a cohesive beginning, middle and end. But what happened to pre-writing? Since their kinder days, most students consider prewriting the furious scribble of urls that will eventually become the hodgepodge of a Works Cited page.

The incredibly daunting task of facing a computer screen with hands on keys, a stack of books beside and no notes or outline to guide students is leading increasingly to a breach of an academic code because students have lost that ability to pre-write. The more pre-writing that has been completed, the less likely the students will be tempted to copy paragraphs or entire pages from websites and attribute it as their own. The fundemental first step to a solid paper is not sitting at a computer and waiting for inspiration to hit, because that is precisely where the academic ethics code is breached. Students panic because the wave of inspiration has not hit them in the first 20 minutes and they resort to cheating since they do not know how to do otherwise.

The solution to stemming an outcropping of plagiarism and great breaches of academic ethics is teaching students to write well. The importance of prewriting to the writing process is critical. An older generation of writers remembers handwriting all of their papers beforehand and approaching the typed issue as the final draft. The idea of sitting down at a computer without notes or even an outline would be unthinkable. As old-fashioned as this notion may seem, the writing process for most students should happen off the computer. Pre-writing should be a process that students develop over time that gives them a chance to write a full outline and, for research papers, organize the quotes and citations that they will be using in each paragraph. The biggest chunk of writing happens before students even face the blank page. Scribbles and outlines leave the greatest amount of leeway for revisions and modifications, whereas the tendency for grand scale revisions gets smaller as the word document is typed. We strongly encourage all of our students to pre-write first using what ever method that best fits them (clustering, outlines, freewriting) and practice, practice, practice until the pre-writing process is second nature to them. This gives them the greatest freedom to organize their thoughts and form a more intelligent and articulate paper if they have the ability to throw out ideas from the outline and reorganize.

In this notion, the blank page is no longer a threat since students know immediately and exactly what to write when they sit down at their computers. The temptation to sally forth into the cyber world for some type of expression of their confusion will be eliminated. So, in essence, we must teach students to write in order to avoid the great breach of academic ethics. The path is a daunting one, but we up for the challenge.

Blog Home Page

Post Archives

Other Posts: