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Why is Student Authorial Voice Important to Academic Integrity?

Mastering voice is an important goal of learning, one that demonstrates a student’s understanding of originality.

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager

“Every person has a unique voice.”

One instructor, when met with dubious looks from her students after sharing the above statement, pointed out that if they generated a transcript of their class discussion, you could remove the speech tags and know absolutely who was saying what. Every student could be identifiable based solely on what they said and how they said it.

Student voices, likewise, can be translated from speech to formal and informal writing–every student has an authorial voice that distinguishes their written work from their peers. Encouraging students to embrace how it is they say what they want to say is critical to self-directed learning, confidence, and ultimately originality; furthermore, a unique authorial voice is a measure of that success.

Student authorial voice is defined in the following ways:

Mastering voice is an essential goal of learning, one that demonstrates a student’s understanding of originality. Once a student masters their authorial voice, they will have an increased capacity to learn and understand any subject which they are discussing in their writing, encouraging further self-directed learning, because forming unique ideas and thoughts is a core component of voice--and thus, further scaffolding to learn.

So, how is such an authorial voice nurtured?

Sometimes, the first step in developing voice is helping students to identify and recognize how voices differ among their peers, like in the example above. I and n a group chat, they can often recognize who has said what, without looking at the names, but how can that be extrapolated to formal writing? One idea might be to give students a section of text to paraphrase and then compare their work with their classmates to see how each individual voice comes through.

According to Education World, student voice “must be nourished, encouraged, and explored.” Nourishment begins with setting expectations for learning–and helping students to understand that these expectations can be achieved. Educators must provide scaffolding through learning milestones and consistent encouragement, as well as offer support via technology that embraces this pedagogical journey.

Helping students to realize that their own voices matter is also a core component of plagiarism prevention. In their research, UK educators Elander, Pittam, Lusher, Fox, and Payne examined the impact of educator interventions on academic integrity. “Intervention,” they said, “led to significantly increased confidence in writing, understanding of authorship, and knowledge to avoid plagiarism.”

Here’s an example of what happens when students don’t think their ideas matter and when they feel unheard. John Royce shares an anecdote from John Schrock:

To avoid plagiarism, some believe that all you have to do is change enough words so there are never seven or more in a row that match other work.

“Why not put quotes around all the sentences that are from other people, and then put their names in parentheses at the end of the sentence?” I asked.

“Oh, I know all about that,” she said. “My whole thesis will be in quotes.”

“Didn’t you add some ideas yourself?” (I really wanted to help.) [sic]

“No. We are just students. How can we come up with new ideas? Those people get Nobel Prizes. Everything in here I got from the books and articles I read.”

Focusing on ideas and questions can nurture a student’s unique perspective. It’s important for students to question what they’ve learned and for educators to help them explore original thinking, in order to understand that their own ideas matter.

In remote learning, feedback may be where student-teaching interaction most consistently occurs and thus is critical to student learning success. Feedback from their instructor helps students to feel seen and supported, bolstering student confidence and academic integrity. All this helps with student motivation, which helps make a student’s relationship to learning and academic integrity a positive one.

Additionally, many instructors choose technology to support the student journey towards developing voice--and it’ s important to choose technology that offers immediate similarity feedback and multiple points of review. Turnitin’s suite of products helps students throughout their writing process, from inception and drafting to the final submission, all while ensuring their work is original and true to their perspective and voice, whether implemented in-person or in a remote learning setting. When coupled with a powerful curriculum, purposeful learning tools push students towards a deeper awareness of originality and integrity.

It’s important to prevent plagiarism for myriad reasons, but most of all, to ensure students know that what they have to say as individuals, matters. When students discover their authorial voice, they reach a new level of skill and understanding in their writing, which in turn helps them to develop greater comprehension of the topics about which they are writing. This confidence and cognizance further strengthen their authorial voices, thus creating a self-sustaining cycle of learning and true academic growth.