The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Posted by Seeking Solace |


I am a logical person. The thing is, I think this way in all aspects of my life, even as an academic. There are just some things that I don't thing need to be explained. They are just a "given" (ITPF would so appreciate this!). I am dealing with a situation in which things that are obvious suddenly need clarification. Do you tell students that it is OK to work together, but it is understood that this is not a group assignment...everyone does and submits their own work? Sometimes students will work together, finding research, peer editing, whatever. Is it understood that you still have to do your own work? If it's a group assignment, I will state so.

I had a situation where I was told that I have to actually tell the student that although they worked together, they must submit their own work. Otherwise, it is a group project.

I suggested that if the assignment was believed to be a group project, then why was more than one paper submitted? Why did I receive multiple papers containing the same word-for-word information?

I was told it was because I told them to each turn in the assignment. What made the entire situation worse is that the group of students involved suggested that it was my fault that they did not understand. I should have been more clear.


OK, see why I am losing it here? This makes no sense to me at all. None.

But, the bigger issue for me is, how far am I supposed to go as an instructor? How much explanation is really required? Since when do I have to be that explicit? Since more than one of them came up with this rationale, or lack thereof, how many more are there out there?

And, do I now say "OK, no one is allow to work with anyone at any level under any circumstance?" Part of learning is that students learn from each other. So, does that mean I have to stifle the learning process.

Folks, I am confused. I don't know what I am doing. I don't believe I did anything wrong, per se, but I feel like I now have to make everything I do or say completely bullet-proof.

I think I am losing it here.


RageyOne said...

These are adults you're working with right? I meant the students? I know you've talked about the type of students you're working with, but this is really extreme!

Um, no, you shouldn't have to be that explicit. Based on my read of what you've described (and in previous posts), only 1 group of the students seemed to misinterpret your directions. That tells me you were quite clear of your expectations. If the rest of your students worked together and none of the other groups turned in papers that were exact (word-for-word), I feel your directions were clear.

I think the powers-that-be are setting those students up for failure by instructing you to be so specific. They don't feel those students can do anything without explicit directions. At what point do they feel the student has to show some responsibility?

There comes a time when a person has to be responsible. If not now, when? How are those students going to be successful in the legal profession if they can't follow directions?

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I agree with Ragey -- If one group talked themselves into an insane interpretation of your instructions that favors the lazy way out, that isn't your fault.

If you want them to work together, one way you could be more clear might be to offer two options, one individual paper and one group paper. If the individual paper is 3-5 pages, a group paper from 3 people would be 15-20.... with correspondingly higher standards for depth of interpretation, research and proofreading perfection. If all of this is spelled out in the syllabus, there is no excuse for a 5 page group paper.... and you can feel free to fail them.

A friend does group papers in some of his classes. The thing is, they have to exchange drafts and pick out aspects of each paper that are the strongest and then write a coherent paper. Usually the drafts are 3-5 and the final papers are 8-10. There are usually 4 people in the group. He also has a pretty rigorous grading rubric, as 4 people are contributing to it.

Seeking Solace said...

I have used group papers in the past with peer evaluations and other things and it has worked really well.

But, this seems so different. It was the same assignment that I have given for years. I just don't get how someone could misconstrue what I asked. Who's to say that someone wouldn't do the same thing for homework?

rented life said...

I don't think they misconstrued it. I think they realized "here's an out that covers both of us and throws the instructor under the bus." Only the two who are in trouble seem to be having problems, and did they honestly mention this when you first approached them or are they suddenly making this the story now?

Seeking Solace said...

They came up with this story after the fact.

RageyOne said...

Good point RL, and the sad thing is the powers-that-be seem to not see that? Do they not realize that you only seem to have this problem with one group? Since that is the case, it would seem to me that group made their own interpretation of the directions.

Rebecca said...

I'm going to have to be the contrarian here. I seriously believe it could be just "one of those things". A one time misunderstanding that just seems totally weird when you look at it...but those things do happen from time to time.

And the reason I say this is that, when you first tweeted about it, I immediately tweeted back that I thought this had happened. That they took your saying they could work together to mean that they would do one paper between the two of them.

Although everyone here seems to think that their being adults should mean there's no way they could have thought such a thing, my first reaction was that there is no way in hell those two students could have possibly have been so stupid as to turn in the exact same paper to the same teacher for the same class and not expect her to notice that the papers were identical. And I tweeted basically the same thing at the time.

And how old exactly are we talking about here? Because no one can deny that college age students, right up until graduation, are capable of doing some truly insane shit.

I know that I the first time I dropped a class, I didn't realize there was a process for it. I just assumed the teacher would know I wasn't taking the class when I never showed up for it. And, in fact, it was actually 2 classes that constituted an entire summer session. So basically, I blew off an entire semester - though a short one - and assumed the administration would figure it out without my telling them anything.

I had to explain this to the Registrar himself in order to get my Fs erased and the tuition refunded, and I can tell you he was full of disbelief during the whole conversation. But I was sincere. A little stupid at the time, maybe, but sincere.

I think you have to at least consider the possibility that they are telling the truth. If even one person, from a distance, jumped to the conclusion of what happened before hearing their story (me), then it can't be considered completely implausible. Some of us just go brain dead now and then, regardless of our ages.

But, listen, this is no reflection on you in the least. This is just possibly 2 students not thinking things through, as students often do.

Think about, innocent until proven guilty. Would it be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt? It would be a shame if they got expelled or something because of stupidity, rather than guilt...or, wait, would it? Maybe the world is better off without them pursuing this profession in either case. :)

In any case, I hope this all blows over for you soon, whichever way it ends up, and you don't let it make you crazy. Good luck!

Breena Ronan said...

I recently discovered that Crunchy U. has terrible policies related to this type of thing. They tend to side with students and not support their faculty when there is a conflict. :( Giving people the benefit of the doubt is good, but only if there is a way to monitor students behavior in more than one class. The only way to do that is to have a system university wide that monitors these cases. Students don't have to be severely punished or punished at all during the first incident, but there can be a record of the incident and the student can be given some clarification on what is appropriate and what isn't. Then if there are repeated incidents it will be fairly clear that the cause isn't simply a misunderstanding on the student's part. Without such a system I think there is a limited amount that an individual instructor can do to monitor and police cheating and plagiarism. If the administration won't support your position then you are likely to get yourself into trouble by pursuing it. I know some administrations seem to think that international students just don't understand the idea of plagiarism and so you are expected to give them lots of chances. :(

rented life said...

While Rebecca raises a good point, the only way I could see that making sense is if both students had both names on their papers, not just their own name on the paper they turned in. Yes, students do some strange things, leaving us all wonder what's in the water, but I'm highly suspicious that IF what Rebecca says happened happened here, then WHY didn't they say that immediately? Because when this happened in my class--where students thought working together meant they all turn in the same thing, they said it immediately when I asked them why they didn't turn in different work. I can't get over that part, that a few weeks after this paper was due is when they are deciding to say all this.

I'm all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but, well it just seems a little too off. And knowing how accomadating SS usually is, these 2 students should have been more than comfortable stating "hey we thought this is what you meant" from the get go.

Seeking Solace said...

You all raise good points.

One of the students involved actually should know better. This student has been in three classes with me and knows how I give assignments. This assignment was not different than anything other assignment.

I also can't understand that if this was the case, why no one else had this same problem. If they all did the same thing, I could understand.

The other issue that I have is that when the first student was confronted, the excuse I wrote about was given after the student had given two other reasons which were lies. So, it's hard for me to give someone the benefit of the doubt when they lied twice about what really happened.

As for the administration, I guess maybe my post wasn't clear. I actually have the full backing of the powers that be. My concern was that because of this I would have to be more blunt in what I say and do. It's one of those "well jeez, to I have to put a warning label on the obvious.

Anonymous said...


RageyOne said...

I can see Rebecca's point, but in the description by Seeking that doesn't seem the case. I go back to this being the only 2 students to misinterpret the directions. With further knowledge that 1 of the 2 students has been through similar assignments in the past, without problems, I stand that they knew what they were doing was incorrect.

Glad to know you had the full backing of the administration. Still frustrating that you have to be so explicit though.