When I last taught my college’s First-Year Preceptorial class (a class focused on intensive reading and writing, and lots of class discussion), I wanted to find a new way to teach about academic integrity. Teaching a citation method and drilling down to the placement of periods and commas didn’t feel productive—more, it felt like it focused on all the ways in which students might screw up. I had heard students confess to being scared of citation, of mucking things up and losing credit for the work they’d done on a paper or worse, being referred to the college Honor Board. Why were we teaching students to fear citation, I wondered. Why not teach them to value it instead?
So here’s how I changed things:
1) For homework, I asked students to write a short, one-page essay on a time they’d been lied to. How did it make them feel? What were the consequences of that lie?
2) In discussion, we shared our stories of being lied to and, where people felt comfortable, stories of when we’d lied. The stakes were low, especially for the stories about when we’d lied, often involving stories of being young children still figuring out the balance between getting what we wanted and getting there ethically.
3) We discussed the value of honesty—what it offered us as people in community with one another. (This was one of the most interesting steps. Students identified many more benefits than I had!)
4) I asked them how everything we’d discussed connected to the citation styles they were learning in their classes. I didn’t have to lead them to do this—they saw the connections immediately.
5) Finally, I asked in what ways we could see citation practices are a conversation—a door that was open instead of a door that was closed. This led us to talk about the ways in which learning a citation style was akin to getting a key to a door, and could help them decipher the ways in which scholars of all kinds were asking their opinion about their reasoning.
What this class session aimed to do was to shift the conversation about citation from one about procedure to one about values rooted in community. Our discussion provided lots of reasons a person would want to cite accurately, and then—in later sessions—when we talked about how to paraphrase and quote, it was not about something done as a chore, but about something done as an invitation to step into another person’s intellectual world. We still had hiccups. There were still bumps in the road as people figured out the ins and outs of why references looked the way they did. But what changed was my students’ motivation for getting it right, and displacing the fabric of their fears.