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Nowhere is it more important to define academic integrity than in your course syllabus, which functions not only as a student-teacher contract but a communication document for course planning and pedagogy. The syllabus is where promises are made, expectations are set, and the student-teacher relationship initialized.
Because the syllabus is introduced on the first day of class, it is also a critical place to set the tone for classroom integrity.
In a previous post, we discussed the nature of dishonesty, acknowledging that dishonesty largely comes from a place of fear. One way in which educators can combat fear is by creating safety and trust for our students in the form of clear guidelines, scaffolding, feedback, and educational resources.
When creating your syllabus, ask yourself: Does the voice on your syllabus establish trust? Is the language in your syllabus engaging and open?
Let’s start by going through major components of a course syllabus.
In the course description (which might be revised every semester, because there’s always room for improvement), instead of simply stating what is required, or copying the course description catalog, considering adding your encouragement and expectations as an instructor:
“It is my greatest hope that you emerge from this workshop energized and your world of writing, illuminated. I hope our work will expand your toolkit as a writer for this semester and beyond. It is my greatest hope that we build a strong, supportive, and helpful writing community within our cohort this semester—one that will stay with you beyond these next few months.”
We want to make known our empathy with students. That just because we are teaching the class, doesn’t mean we don’t understand the struggles involved with writing:
“The creative process is oftentimes a black box. It’s not exciting to describe—as it is purely about work. I think artists like to continue the myth of brilliance—that ideas comeout of thin air, that words come together in sequence out of sudden revelation. Nope. It is work. It is sweat. It is frustration. It is craving a donut instead of looking at the page. It is anxiety. It is fear. It is exhilaration. It is hope. So much of it is also about waiting.”
Anecdotes, teaching philosophy, and other information can make your syllabus more compassionate and establish rapport. When we interviewed Dave Tomar, a former essay mill writer, he said that a strong student-teacher rapport deters academic misconduct.
Make sure to sprinkle such empathetic diction throughout, and be conscious of your approachability as an educator. It’s hard for a student who respects and bonds with their instructor to look them in the eye and say they cheated.
This section can often end up pretty cut and dry, with a list of educator-controlled reading assignments. But there’s always room to add how and why these materials have been chosen and what you hope students attain from reading. Adding thematic links, or highlighting the historical trajectory of readings and how they reflect course objectives is also handy. For example:
"Reading is the way the light the solution to so many things when learning to write—and so it is with learning novel structure. To that end, we’re going to read a selection of novels and investigate the ways in which they are structured, whether through the lenses of multiple characters, through the epistolary format, or the epic hero structure. The reading list is varied—and includes fantasy, a genre for which plot is an excellent resource.”
“This class is in no way comprehensive. There is a wealth of written work displaying all the nuances of novel structure out there—we are getting a taste here in one semester’s work. I picked out books and writers to provide us with a starting point. I am hoping this will start you on your own journey of discovery.”
If possible, try to leave room for students to choose an optional book or supplement their own readings, as student book choice is strongly linked to originality.
Yes, students should attend class. Yes, you can copy university policy into this portion of your syllabus. And yet--you have an opportunity to write not only that they should attend, but why.
Consider the differences between how these two facts are presented in an attendance policy:
“It’s important that you attend and participate in class; our class meets only once a week, so missing one class represents a substantial portion of the semester. If there are special circumstances requiring you to be out of class, please email me before class.
You should come to class prepared and on time. You get ONE freebie absence. Your second absence is excusable in a dire emergency (e.g., illness, family emergency, tornado, flood, locusts, etc). A third absence can mean you fail the class.”
“Attendance is mandatory. You are allowed one absence. Further absences may result in failure of the class.”
With which instructor would you rather discuss challenges and open communication?
Many of these policy sections are necessary on a syllabus. And so it’s easy (and expected) to copy and paste institutional directives into one’s syllabus. But another way to think about these policies is the scaffolding they provide for students, especially first-year students.
Students deal with a ton of ambiguity and providing clarity (along with compassion) as an educator is critical to students’ academic success and critical to an honest student-teacher dialogue.
When students know exactly the way in which they will be assessed, it is helpful in facilitating academic integrity.
Additionally, consider accepting late papers, as flexible deadlines can deter cheating for vulnerable students under deadline.
Office hours are a venue for rapport and supplemental learning. It is a critical way in which to support student learning and consequently, academic integrity.
In addition to listing your office hours, make sure to welcome students to discuss the matters you’re open to addressing during office visits. It could be something as simple as, “I am here for you! I am available during class and office hours / Skype / Zoom to discuss anything to do with reading, writing, or in-class happenings.”
It is important to address academic integrity in a section all its own, with a statement defining plagiarism and academic misconduct and its consequences, but we should also take into consideration the timbre of our delivery, which can both soften and uphold this section.
Here’s a sample of an academic integrity statement, which includes both definition and consequence:
“Plagiarism is a serious breach of academic trust. In academic work, our words and ideas are the value of our work, so turning in someone else’s work as if it were your own is a form of theft. When you use someone else’s words and ideas--whether it’s the work of a famous writer or a fellow student--without crediting the source or authorship of those words and ideas, you are plagiarizing. So here’s the bottom line: original work only, credit to ideas, writing, or words from someone other than you. Plagiarized work will automatically receive a “0” or “F” for the assignment.”
Make sure you’re clear about academic integrity. And supplement its message throughout your syllabus.
It’s important to invite students to specify the ways in which they want to be addressed, whether by a different name or pronoun.
The following is an example of inclusion:
“Who you are isn’t defined by records or names or bureaucracies, so if you prefer a name or a pronoun other than the one listed/suggested, please let me know.”
Inclusion also supports academic integrity, because when you see the entirety of the student, you empower their being. And empowered students are less likely to cheat.
Student resources should be made known to students. Disabled students should know your institution’s disabled students program services and know that you cannot issue accommodation without DSPS approval.
Additionally, make known tutoring centers and other student resources throughout campus in your syllabus. Students are supported institutionally, and one of the most tangible ways of understanding support outside of the classroom is engaging these resources.
The syllabus is many things. Why not also make it a foundation for academic integrity?
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