The challenges of teaching college in an online world


Austin's Riverland Community College has, little by little, moved to more class work online.  Class work, assignments, and expectations often come mainly from one’s private cubicle or maybe from a laptop computer set up at a local restaurant!


My experience, as an adjunct professor at our college that enrolls students from the wider Austin area, reveals my need to monitor, check and verify, more than ever, the written work of students I teach.



For a community in general, we may profit from being attentive to what we share in transmitting information and what we digest as "true" or "factual" in the communications we receive.


A case in point:  Someone placed a quotation in front of me attributed to the ever-loved Scottish poet, Robert Burns. It reads, "Winter is nature’s way of saying:  Up yours!"  Now, does that sound like Robert Burns?  I’m going to check out that quote!


Consider these several ways among an array of distinctions made in communicating, and think of the ethical ramifications.


• Attribution.This term I apply to a student in one of my classes, who received a grade marked "I" for Incomplete. Why?  In several assignments on certain topics, I found the identical information – not one change of a sentence or even a word – on a Web site. The paper (word for word) was "lifted" and the student just scrawled his name at the top of the printed paper. It needs to be said, "The path to graduation does not lead through the village of Google." From me, with other poor or incomplete work, this misrepresentation gains an INCOMPLETE.



• Plagiarism: A kind of sister to the taking of someone else’s thoughts and claiming it as your own without giving proper credit or a footnote. Peppered throughout many term papers, an alert teacher will note (if the teacher knows his or her stuff), statements that require quotation marks with the sources given.  Part of the education process?


Our music industry, especially in the Twin Cities, has lawsuits going on regarding the copyright abuse of musical selections being utilized avoiding the proper royalties. Our creative composers say: "Stop it!"


• Forgery:  Living in a so-called packing-plant city, we have, I assume, the average number of falsified identity cards, work records, and use of the name of another person. Have you ever heard of "identity theft"? I continue to get phone calls wishing to "protect" my identity. Hey, I know who I am!  Common sense rules in our household. Stupid? No! We don’t give out personal information. You, who are on the phone, please don’t ask for cell phone numbers, credit card information, or social security numbers. The many creative ways of utilizing plagiarism of persons, property, possessions, ideas, and one’s past life, or one’s career is a reality. A wise person becomes aware.


• Gossip:The transmission of knowledge, by way of what grandma once called "the grapevine," often is heavy with its rancid fruit.



At present, we acknowledge the conversations about police departments, county government, the debates among national political parties, and the coffee-time verbal give and take at the "fire house."  Debates about "windmills" (they are turbines that may enhance the availability of energy), the possible cuts in public services – health related – that are part of the payment of taxes, and even commentary on the Viking’s "Brett," ride the waves of seeming, necessary chatter. How much is energized by this mysterious human need to engage in gossip?


There are other forms of the honesty involved in proper attribution that one can envision. My desire and practice for a community is to be sufficiently disciplined and secure, and to be a seeker of appropriate evidence and information, so that trust, unscarred, unbiased information, can be shared.


For we human beings, a miracle? Yes, but each person can set some goals. One might be: I need to live with myself!


A final thought: The difficulty of attribution is reflected in the following, my reading of today:  In the literature related to the novelist Ernest Hemingway, we see an interesting disclosure. In Hemingway’s book, "A Moveable Feast" he states that the epigraph, over time, contributed to Gertrude Stein, may not have originated with her. The famous remark, "You are all a lost generation," was appropriated by Stein from the manager of a Parisian gas station.

So, the search for who said what goes on into Eternity!

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