Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 2021)
Stephanie Bell, Associate Professor, York University Writing Centre; co-founder, CWCR/RCCR
A clear-cut strategy for undermining the writing centre’s relationship with student writers is to become reporters, adjudicators, or punishers of plagiarism and cheating (Bell, 2018).
In its heavy-handed discourse around academic dishonesty, the institution draws a divide between itself and students. Students arrive on campuses to find themselves positioned as likely criminals, and their work is policed by AI that scans it for infractions. Ironically, the institution’s academic dishonesty rhetoric can so undermine the institution-student relationship that it fosters academically dishonest student behaviour (see Strayhorn, 2012). To fulfill their missions, writing centres must carefully navigate the issue of academic dishonesty and the institution-student divide it constructs.
However, it’s not always easy to do this dance. Writing centres are often called upon to supply resources — tutoring, workshops, online modules, courses — in the form of educational sanctions for students who’ve been found “guilty” of the “crime” of plagiarism. Refraining from participating in sanctions can be difficult when the pressure to do so comes from those who approve one’s budget and manage one’s existence.
Recent pressure from a YorkU senate committee has lead to discussions among writing centre faculty about the potential ramifications of supplying educational sanctions; whether we’d have control over their form and content; why the writing centre’s role is being dictated by senate rather than being self-constructed; and whether there are greater opportunities for us to reshape our institution’s approaches to academic dishonesty as it pertains to student writing.
The answer to the last question had us thinking about the fact that we want to be supporters rather than punishers of students. We want to be connecting with them while they’re not in trouble with policy, and the best way to reach them at that stage might be in our work with faculty. What do we want all faculty to know about academic integrity as it pertains to student writing. It turns out, I knew exactly what I want to say. It came into words quite easily. The question is why I’m not out there saying it more loudly.
Prompted by this exercise, I wrote and produced a series of videos with my writing partner in crime, Brian Hotson, and supplied a worksheet that includes the statement I drafted for faculty. I am gearing up to write a proposal for an internal teaching-release grant to produce more resources for student writers along these lines. Fingers crossed.
I’m interested in how you’ve been navigating the tension between maintaining a strong relationship with student writers while responding to the demands for educational sanctions from the administration. What would you want all faculty to know about academic integrity as it pertains to student writing? I’ve created a document here for your answers. You can read the comments from your colleagues, as well.
Bell, S. (2018). Addressing student plagiarism from the library learning commons. Information and Learning Science, 119(3-4), pp. 203-214. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-10-2017-0105
Strayhorn, T.L. (2012), College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students, Routledge, New York, NY.