Open Access

I’m a big proponent of open access. For me, it’s the best way for scholarship to become most widely available, since those who are active in the field yet are unaffiliated with an academic institution, such as independent scholars, can maintain a current appraisal of the field.

But it’s also a bit problematic. A lot problematic. The economics of higher ed are often the reason for journals to avoid switching over to an open access platform. Somebody has to pay for the online hosting, or for the printing. And somebody has to pay the editor, maybe. And somebody has to arrange for reviewers. All of this takes time, money, and academic capital.

In the long run, though, it would be beneficial for all journals to have some form of open access. Whether that’s delayed e-publication, or special members-only content is up to publishers to decide. Nevertheless, open access is a way for more content to be published, as well as higher-quality reviewed content, and a stronger field.

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Final Project

For this integrity class, I’ve decided to develop a class on citation. This is a one-off class, one that would take up only one class of the course.

I envision the class, right now, as a combination of asking How, Why, and When to cite in academic and professional writing. These are all questions that I address in other classes that I’ve taught, but I’ve spread them over the semester. Here, I tackle them all in one day.

The rationale behind this project is twofold. First, it will be useful to focus my thoughts on citations (the Hows, Whys, and Whens) in a singular location. This way, I can look at them in one place, and avoid repetition throughout the semester of a class. Also, it can become a resource in itself for students who need reminders, and for colleagues who need somewhere to point students.

The second reason is slightly more complicated. I’m interested in pursuing jobs outside the traditional academic model of a tenure-track professorship. In fact, I have some experience in librarianship, both formal education and experience, and I’d enjoy very much working in some sort of instructor/librarian hybrid. Often, these librarians go into classrooms and instruct specific classes about citations and using the library. Such classes can be focused into a single discipline, or open to a wide array of students. Developing a class like this one would not only help in gathering my thoughts, but it would be an opportunity to practice the work of an instructor/librarian.

I want this class to be student-centered, so I don’t want to lecture or spend the whole class telling students what they have to do in order to cite sources. I welcome feedback as to how I can go about developing this one-off class, making it focused on students who may have a wide range of needs insofar as citation style and practice are concerned.

How can I make a citation class user-centered, and interesting?

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Authorship as Academic Responsibility

Authorship isn’t something that I usually encounter as an issue in academic integrity. My field is generally in the humanities and social sciences, where solo authorship is more or less the norm.

But this doesn’t mean that I can discount the importance of the issue within the larger academy. After all, the academy is like the body–when one part suffers, the whole suffers with it. Understanding concerns about multiple authors on papers becomes clearest for me when it’s put in terms that align more with academic integrity–giving credit where credit is due. Of course the person who shows up in the lab shouldn’t be first author; of course the technicians should appear in the author list, along with the grant recipients; of course the person who did the most writing should be listed first.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always this clear. Internal (and external) politics get in the way, and people who feel that they deserve the most recognition eclipse those who have the forward-thinking ideas and those who do the writing. Less experience earns less credit, due to the shyness in asserting first-author rights, as well as less clout within the department and the field more broadly.

How can we resolve this? Can it be resolved broadly, or will it have to be reconciled on an institution-by-institution, department-by-department basis?

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Teaching citations

This is among the least pleasant parts of my memories from teaching in a high school. Citation methods are an important part of research, but the learning curve makes their instruction difficult. From when I taught high schoolers, there were two crucial aspects to citing that I emphasized: Why and How

The How part is easy to teach. Citations are a fill-in-the-blank exercise, wherein students have to find the author, title, and publishing information, putting it in the right order, with the correct punctuation. The Why is more difficult. Teaching high schoolers about the community of scholarship, and the ways citations demonstrate the effectiveness of your own work while applauding (and critiquing) the work of others is complex. Add into this mix the importance of ethics, and it’s a pedagogical mire.

Why, then, did my students always–and I mean without fail, every year–completely understand the theoretical rationale behind citations, while failing to grasp how to do it? They could explain clearly what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, but they could not write a bibliographic entry, even with the template in front of them. 

How do you go about teaching students the proper citation methods in your field? Is it the responsibility of every class to address this? Or just in introductory research methods classes?

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Plagiarism and faculty responsibility

The concern that faculty have regarding plagiarism is of utmost concern in the academy. Maintaining academic integrity promotes good scholarship and maintains the reputation of the university. But helping students learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it can be difficult. Services like TurnItIn.com can work fine, but it can also seem, to some students, as a lack of trust between the two sides of the classroom. I offer three ways in which instructors can maintain a trust with students, while also helping them avoid plagiarism.

Inform students. Among the most important aspects of good pedagogy is letting students know about the expectations in the assignment. Alerting students to a specific citation style and kinds of sources can help students understand how to do the assignment, and it can help students avoid plagiarism.

Engage with students. Not all students know the entire process of writing a research paper, in any discipline. It is a faculty responsibility to instruct students how to do disciplinary research. One way to teach this is to separate the larger project into several smaller assignments, that all contribute to a better-formed research project. One benefit of this practice is that it alleviates some of the pressure that students might experience, and the instructor becomes aware of the project in ways that can stanch plagiarism before it starts.

Be interested. A specifically-worded question can decrease the likelihood of plagiarism. Such an assignment maintains the instructor’s interest in the responses, and it forces students to use their own resources and not use work that’s already been done.

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Honor Codes

While I’m a firm believer in the notion that people who are willing to engage in unethical behavior regardless of their codification, I also see that honor codes are absolutely necessary in most universities.

First, universities, especially R1 institutions, are multicultural communities. That is, they are assemblies of a multitude of perspectives and ethical outlooks. Individuals with different outlooks on research and success see value in doing good work to ensure success, or doing whatever work creates that success. I highlight this because it can exist as both a cultural difference and a personal perspective. In the midst of a university, the complex nuances of ethical research need to become clear, through a unified code of ethical conduct.

Second, honor codes deter those who may be tempted by the easy road to success that dishonorable conduct offers. Cheating, plagiarism, and falsification are relatively easy to do, and they seem just as easy to implement without consequence.  Those who find themselves on the verge of dishonest work may find clarity in an honor code, and in that clarity, a deterrent to those actions.

For these reasons, an honor code is a necessary component in a university’s efforts to prevent unethical actions in its community. Universities realize that unethical behavior damage their reputations, and by proxy that of its many alumni. Any action that the university can take to discourage breaches in ethics will benefit the whole.

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Everyday Values and Expectations of Science

The National Academies’ On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research delineates several “everyday values” that guide a sensible scientist’s work: honesty, openness, collegiality, and fairness. These are laudable values for scientific research, as well as for a person engaging with the world as a responsible citizen. However, they are not things that we can expect from scientific practice.

Science is an imperfect source of knowledge. Just as studies in the humanities are guided by special interests, political leanings, personal rivalries, and professional aspirations, science is an enterprise guided by external factors. The difference, though, is that science has become established as an unquestionable authority of knowledge. It is the explainer of all; it holds the solution to all rational problems.

This positivism is not without its problems. It denies the human elements that guide the scientists. While it expects everyday values as guiding principles for scientists, it does not acknowledge the everyday realities that scientists face.

When we can acknowledge the complex nature of scientists and of scientific work, we can alleviate some of the pressure that challenges scientists in the research. And when the work is done more carefully, without social and professional pressures to publish groundbreaking work frequently, we will find something more ethical, and more honest.

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Purpose of a University

A research university has a responsibility to all those who participate in it–the research professionals (including, but not limited to professors, librarians, and laboratory technicians), students, instructors, and supporting communities. What, though, is this responsibility?

I argue that the primary responsibility is to foster an atmosphere that encourages learning, both immediately and extending through life. Creating lifelong learners is important, as it makes university education and research relevant beyond the years of education and beyond the campus.

The purpose of a liberal education is to expand student knowledge beyond their specialized majors. By learning about other fields, we find fields of information that interest us, which become nodes that connect to each other, making a web of knowledge. When we make these webs, we become more able to connect with other people, engaging in a broader human community.

Research professionals help to create knowledge, a privilege afforded by the position of the university, and the processes of disseminating it, connecting and adapting it with other pieces of knowledge prolong the life of that knowledge in the academy.

The broader community of the university is not limited to networks of researchers, academics, and alumni. The geographical community that surrounds the university also enjoys the benefits of the university. In this regard, the university has a responsibility to allow community members into events that showcase the university’s work.

In promoting lifelong learning, the university extends its life and its meaning. It is not only a responsibility to the people, but to the course of knowledge itself.

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Integrity and Community

Inherent to the idea of community is the principle of integrity. Without honesty–about work, about self, about each other–there can be no community.
Integrity is central to Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community. Being honest about who we are opens us up to criticism from others. But it also allows us to be more sympathetic to others when they have difficulties. When we are honest in our work, we acknowledge flaws that it may have, and we can then make our work better. Mutual respect is being open to each other, in who we are, in who we want to be, and what our work reveals about us.

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I am a Ph.D. student in Science and Technology Studies, writing a dissertation on “scientific taxidermy” in 19th and 20th-century U.S. natural history museums.

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Dissertation in a new(ish) medium

I first encountered Nick Sousanis’ dissertation project as a poster at the Fourth International Illustration Symposium in Oxford (UK) in 2013. It stood it to me because (a) it was one of the only posters that relied on illustration to convey meaning, instead of talking about illustrations, and (b) it was thrilling to explore. (Here’s a link to Sousanis’ blog, which features excerpts from his dissertation and forthcoming book. You may have to scroll through to get a good idea of his work.)
Though I have not read the entire dissertation, I can see the problem that its existence addresses. Academics are hung up on text as the primary medium for arguing ideas, promoting new methodologies, and disseminating knowledge. Dissertations are the gateway for access into an academic community, and they must adhere to many of the same standards that have come to exist in academia. This all makes sense within the walls of the ivory tower. But what of public engagement? How can academics get into the cities, onto best-seller lists, onto billboards, into Comic-Con? By doing things differently. This is more than teaching differently; it’s about promoting differently.
Scott McCloud is one of the very few readings in the New Media Seminar that’s actually in a new medium. He tells us of the things that comics do that the conventions of the written word just don’t allow us to do. Time changes; synchronicity fluctuate in each panel. Nick Sousanis follows the conventions of comics into something that stimulates us to think differently–both stimulating differently and thinking differently.
Might this be the distressing of the future? Probably not. But it is an avenue to changing the structure of the academy into a place that would allow for dissertations in new media, as documentaries, long-form podcasts, and comics. Sousanis is just the start.

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