Tag Archives: collaboration

Global Connections 2.0 (or are we up to 3.0?)

Steve Volk, April 3, 2017

"Sam_6010," photo by Johanna L., Flickr - Creative Commons

“Sam_6010,” photo by Johanna L., Flickr – Creative Commons

The higher ed press has run a number of articles recently on the ways that institutional collaborations can save money by multiplying scarce resources while providing opportunities for students and faculty not normally available on any single campus.  Susan Palmer, the executive director of the Five Colleges of Ohio (Denison, Kenyon, Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin, and Wooster), for example, wrote about a number of our collaborations including projects on digital scholarship, faculty planning, curricular coherence,  integrated learning, language enrichment, and others.

Individual faculty have been collaborating with colleagues at other institutions for years, often using readily available and free software (usually Skype) to “bring in” the author of a book the students are currently reading, listening to “on the scene” observations from colleagues living in areas of the world where important events are occurring, or connecting language learners with peers in target language countries.

Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. student at Keep Co-op, Oberlin College, 2010 (Photo Amanda Nagy)

Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. student at Keep Co-op, Oberlin College, 2010 (Photo Amanda Nagy)

Beyond this, some faculty have put the time and effort (and often blood, sweat and tears) into developing more intensive collaborations across institutions and national borders because the results, in terms of student learning and personal impact as well as the faculty members’ own professional development, can be so significant. At Oberlin, the “American Democracy” project run by emeriti history professors Carol Lasser and Gary Kornblith, comes to mind.  Beginning in 2010. The project consisted of two parallel partnerships, one between Al Quds University (Palestine) and Oberlin College, and the other between Tel Aviv University (Israel) and Oberlin College. Using a common sourcebook of readings, courses on the American democratic experience were taught in tandem at the three institutions. Besides posting reflections on a joint course management site, students from all three institutions “met” via video conferencing and, for a number of summers, in person in Oberlin.

Certainly, technology plays a large role in bringing widespread communities together. Blogs, Skype, Zoom, or other video conferencing tools make connections possible. But when considering a new generation of collaborations, the main factor should not necessarily (or not only) be the availability of the technology that underlies them, as important as this is, but – as with the American Democracy project – the pedagogic outcomes that make the investment of time and effort worthwhile. Simply put, before launching into collaborations which will demand a lot of your time and – often – resources, you need to be clear that what is to be gained in terms of student learning and one’s own professional engagement.

Global Liberal Arts Alliance

As a way of highlighting the work involved, and the impressive results that can be obtained, I’m going to highlight two projects that arose from collaborations between the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) and the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA). You know of the former, so let me explain the GLAA. Founded in 2009, the GLAA is a partnership of American style liberal arts institutions made up of 29 institutions representing 17 countries including Japan, Nigeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Morocco, Ghana, India, and Pakistan, among others.

One of the GLAA’s projects is “Global Course Connections,” which links courses taught in two (or more) GLAA campuses in different countries. For example, Zeinab Abul-Magd (History, Oberlin) linked her course on Borders, Wars, and Displacement in MENA with that of a colleague (Amy Austin Holmes) who was teaching at the American University in Cairo. Julie Brodie at Kenyon connected her Modern Dance and Choreography course with Ana Sanchez’s similarly themed course taught at the American College of Greece. (If you’re interested in applying to the program, you can get more information here.)

Here, I’d like to feature two “Global Course Connections” that were recently reported on by the GLCA/GLAA Consortium on Teaching and Learning. (Full disclosure: I co-direct the Consortium.) Each project underscores the ways that the pedagogies leveraged by these connections made not only resulted in significant student learning and personal growth, but also produced important professional development opportunities and ongoing professional relationships for the faculty involved.

Language Learning: Connecting the U.S. and Bulgaria

When I was learning Spanish, back when the Habsburgs were still running the show in Spain, I was given a pen pal with whom I corresponded. We exchanged maybe two letters each semester which featured scintillating exchanges: Hola, Gustavo. ¿Cómo estás? ¿Vayas a una escuela?  Snore.

With Skype and other free or cheap conferencing software, the world really opened up for language instructors. Here was the opportunity to connect students to their same-age peers in target language countries. A Spanish learner in a U.S. classroom could connect to a student in Buenos Aires and discuss futbol, trends in pop music, or politics while actually seeing each other on a screen.

Diana Stantcheva (left) and Gabriele Dillmann

Diana Stantcheva (left) and Gabriele Dillmann

But those connections still had limitations, as Gabriele Dillmann, Professor of German at Denison University, came to realize.  Dillmann had been connecting her introductory German class with students in Germany, but the linking was not as productive as it could have been. As the students’ conversations were, naturally enough, in German, the German students were often less engaged in a conversation that was only going to have an impact for one set of learners. It was, as Dillmann put it, “simply boring” for them. The students, both native German speakers and native English speakers, kept switching to English when they grew frustrated because the German students were all fluent in English. What was needed, she realized, was a connection between two groups of students in different countries who were both learning German.

Enter Diana Stantcheva, Professor of German at the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG) in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Using the course connections made possible through the GLAA, they began to think about bringing German learners in an Ohio classroom together with German learners in Bulgaria, learners who were on the same level of language learning, had the same set of interests, the same inhibitions, and, as Dillmann put it, were “on the same power level.” When one person knows a language fluently and the other doesn’t, Dillmann and Stantcheva argued, “there’s a shift that’s not very conducive” to real communication. The connection with AUBG, where a little more than half the students are Bulgarian and the remainder from a variety of countries, was a perfect opportunity to test these understandings.

Two pairs of Denison-AUBG students involved in a German-language learning class

Two pairs of Denison-AUBG students involved in a German-language learning class

If the outcome of the collabortion can be measured by a desire to repeat the project, there’s no question that this has been successful. Since the fall 2013 semester, Dillmann and Stantcheva have taught together nine times. As Dillmann said, “I can’t even imagine teaching a course without Diana anymore.” Using a variety of video conferencing technology (Zoom, Skype) and blogging tools, students are connected asynchronously at the level of the class and synchronously on their own. They are formed into groups of four (2 from each university), and they join up a variety of times over the semester to talk as well as to collaborate in carrying out joint projects.

Both instructors have documented the significant impact of this program particularly in terms of the students’ growing capacity to speak German – but they have also observed a clear improvement in all four language proficiencies (speaking, reading, writing, understanding). And more is learned than the target language. Students come away with enhanced technological and digital skills, including important lessons in digital etiquette across cultural barriers; inter-cultural learning; and collaboration skills as practiced in global environment. In the end, what made a difference in terms of student language learning was, as the instructors put it, that this was “not language production for the sake of language production; it’s language production for the sake of communication.”

As important, particularly when thinking about the sustainability of such projects, both faculty members have used their collaboration to advance their professional careers. Together, they have attended four international conferences and meetings and published three papers with two more forthcoming.  As Dillmann observed, “For me, I must honestly say, it’s probably been my most productive time.”

You can learn more about this collaboration through a short video of a conversation between Dillmann and Stantcheva, as well as the longer (42:00) version. Finally, Dillmann has posted “tons of examples” of their collaboration on her website and invites those who are interested to use everything that is there.

Narratives of Peace, Conflict, and Justice

Dagmar Kusá (left) and Deirdre Johnston

Dagmar Kusá (left) and Deirdre Johnston

The second collaboration engaged three faculty members: Deirdre Johnston, Professor of Communications at Hope College (Holland, Michigan, USA), Dagmar Kusá, Professor of Political Science at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts (BISLA) (Bratislava, Slovakia), and Rima Rantisi at the American University in Beirut (Lebanon). The three faculty members developed a collaborative course which they titled, “Narratives of Peace, Conflict and Justice: Transitions in Post-Apartheid South Africa.”  Their collaboration was designed to allow students at the three sites to study processes of peace, conflict and justice in their own countries before bringing them to a new setting, South Africa. In particular, students at Hope College examined the history of race and race relations in the U.S., students at BISLA explored the treatment accorded to the Roma population in Europe, and those in Beirut investigated issues of religion and tribe in Lebanon. Visiting South Africa, a country that was largely unknown to the participants, and witnessing the same kinds of conflicts as in the settings they knew and had studied in their own countries, was quite powerful for the students, particularly as they came to realize how pervasive themes of conflict and the desire for justice were in all human societies.

The “Peace, Conflict and Justice” collaborative is a fine example of lesson that you need to put in the time in order to get at the desired results, and that successful collaborations, understood as those that produce significant learning opportunities for the students and important professional development for faculty, take considerable effort — and produce important rewards.  It took the faculty involved more than two years of work and numerous meetings to elaborate a course structure and theme, develop a common syllabus, and decide on joint readings, film work, and assignments. In the end, they agreed to organize the course around three main goals: (1) Student self-awareness, i.e., opening a process which would allow students to reflect on, and be responsible for, one’s own identity; (2) Awareness of the other, including understanding and coping with one’s stereotypes of those defined as other; and (3) Using narrative approaches to understand the process of identity formation and identity conflicts.

The course was structured on the basis of what they called a laddered, “three-dimensional perspective taking” approach. The first stage involved learning about a source of systematic oppression within one’s own national/historical context (as mentioned above:  race in the United States; the Roma community in Slovakia; and religious oppression in Lebanon). Students gathered background on their domestic systems of oppression, which they then had to teach to students from the other two countries. Through this process of teaching to the other students, they learned that those students also had a perspective on their own domestic context which was not necessarily shared by the foreign students.

Students visiting the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa

Students visiting the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa

The second stage involved a circular process of seeing oneself as other, in other words, as being complicit within one’s own domestic context of oppression and see others as also complicit in their own domestic contexts. Finally, the travel to South Africa involved students in the process of learning in a “neutral” area, where they were coming “fresh,” i.e., without a history, into the setting.  This led to the sharing of research ideas and carrying out research on the themes developed in the course.

But perhaps the most important impact of the course came after the students returned home as they reflected not just on what they learned by being in South Africa, but what they could do at home to address systems of oppression in their own domestic settings.

The Impact

As with the language-learning collaboration, this one also had a strong impact on the faculty participants’ professional development. By developing a joint syllabus and course framework, they exposed each other to new literatures, new sources, and new approaches to teaching themes that each had been engaged in for years.

Even more, the impact on the students made all the hard work worth it, according to Johnston and Kusá.  On an intellectual level, the students came to understand the complex ways that systems of oppression operated, how the church in South Africa, for example, could both lend institutional support to apartheid and also fight against it. The students also underwent considerable personal transformations. For many students, the topics covered in the course were very personal, having lived through periods of conflict and violence in their own countries. Their discomfort, in fact, was often quite evident to the instructors. But that discomfort also led to greater learning and a realization of the need to take responsibility for one’s own community. One student contemplating leaving Lebanon, for example, decided that she needed to stay to work for those things she understood were important. The faculty described the casual conversations that absorbed the students while traveling, standing at a bus stop or eating in a restaurant, as particularly powerful. Transitional justice, ethical approaches, communism vs. capitalism; models of urban development: all were themes that the students brought up on their own.

Harvin-JohnstonSarah Harvin, a student at Hope College who was a part of the project, spoke, along with Johnston and Kusá at a recent GLCA gathering in Ann Arbor. For her, the most meaningful (and difficult) aspect of the course was using this laddered approach to learning (studying your own identity, seeing yourself as other, and applying lessons learned in a new context). She talked about how difficult it was to reconcile perspectives within one’s own group in order to be able to explain those perspectives to the other two groups of students, particularly as their topic was the history of race and racism in America. But the process of being in South Africa where all three perspectives (U.S., Slovakian, Lebanese) were constantly engage in grappling with a new, and highly complex environment, was invaluable, giving everyone the experience of seeing that history through three lenses simultaneously.

Harvin reported that she had gone on a Hope College trip to Rwanda two years earlier, but, as it was only with other students from her own college, she was never able to get out of what she called the “Hope bubble.” On this trip, however, Hope students traveled with students from other countries with whom they had build up a level of trust, and who, therefore, had no trouble saying, “wait, stop, hold on. That’s your U.S. perspective talking.” Harvin continued, “That for me was good to hear; it was a check on my privilege as an American, as a person with a U.S. passport.” But at the same time she had to reconcile “that privilege with the experience of being underrepresented [African American] in the U.S.” The questions she was left with, “How do those two experiences co-exist? How do I deal with those two different aspects of identity,” questions which were really at the very foundation of the course, clearly continued to resonate among both students and faculty.

You can see a short video about this collaboration here, and an extended video (26:11) here. Finally, click here to see a slide show the participants put together from their South African trip.


The Global Liberal Arts Alliance course collaborations provide remarkable opportunities to significantly impact student learning as well as one’s own professional development. But I’ll leave you with a third example that has a bit of a “Black Mirror” aspect to it, although I mean that in the kindest of ways. (If you’re not familiar with that British series, follow the above link – and prepare to be disturbed!) I’m going to quote from some promotional materials on “Portals,” since I haven’t seen them in action, to explain what they are:

Portals are gold spaces equipped with immersive audiovisual technology. When you enter a Portal, you come face-to-face with someone in a distant Portal live and full-body, as if in the same room.


OK, so “portals” look like big, gold shipping containers — I told you they were a bit weird — although they are also can come as a set of life-sized screens, or as tents. Confused? The idea is that in these “portals,” of whatever design, you can interact with others who are inside portals around the world; interact in real time and life size. Think of a full body Skype…one that actually works (or so I imagine).

But they aren’t just boxes with technology. The portals come with, and are run by, “portal curators” who program dialogues, classes and events, lead local outreach and provide live language interpretation. Portals (and curators) are based in places like Afghanistan, Cuba, Jordan, Germany, Honduras, India, Iraq (Harsham Refugee IDP Camp in Erbil), Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine (Gaza Sky Geeks tech incubator in Gaza City), Rwanda, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Portal Curators

A few portal curators (Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Berlin, Mexico City, Herat)

The portals can be used to connect classes to study history, link individuals to study language, bring together entrepreneurs to explore start up ideas, join artists to perform together. They can be used to launch global conversations, connect citizens, etc. Now I’m sounding like their press agents, and I haven’t seen what they are capable of doing in person. But check them out yourself at Shared Studios and let me know what you think.

We are obviously in a new age of connection and collaboration which technology makes possible. But, as with all any educational endeavor, it needs to be driven by student learning and what can be gained through the effort, and by faculty engagement, and what is sustainable. The toys one can play with are fun, but not the most important thing.

What collaborations have you been engaged in? What has worked for you? What was important but unsustainable?

The Honor Code: Time for a Conversation?

Steven Volk, November 22, 2015

Where would we be without Wikipedia? The online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia which faculty have found to be at the root of many an honor code violation, can also inform us about the origins of the honor code. So here it is, duly cited, even though it is actually incorrect. (Memo to students: Just because the internet says it doesn’t mean it’s true!)

John Davis, University of Virginia

John Davis, University of Virginia

John Davis, the dean of the faculty and a law professor at the University of Virginia, was shot on campus on November 12, 1840, the culmination of some “contentious relations” between students and faculty. He would succumb to his wounds two days later, but before he shuffled off this mortal coil, authorities asked him to name his (presumably undergraduate) assailant. He refused, arguing that if the man in question were honorable, he would step forward of his own accord. (Cribbing from the student sitting next to you at an exam seems small beer in comparison! Davis’ murderer, in case you’re wondering, was later identified as eighteen-year-old Joseph Semmes, a member of a wealthy Georgia family. Semmes posted a huge bail, skipped town, and never stood trial.)

Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., Davis’ replacement, recommended the institutionalization of a code of “honorable” behavior in 1842, arguing that, in the future, students be required to sign the following statement on their exams: “I, [name], do hereby certify on my honour that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatsoever.” The students, for their part, seemed to like the idea. But the linking of Davis’ murder and the creation of the UVA honor code seems to have been a nice, if imaginative, 20th century addition. As Coy Barefoot, the author of “The Evolution of Honor” wrote in 2008, “It can be argued that the beginning of the Honor System at the University dates rather to March 1825, when the first student had his name entered in the matriculation book. By entering his name, the student pledged to support the University’s principles, ideals and regulations—rules that forbade lying to professors and cheating on tests.”

In any case, the Honor Code became a part of UVA’s undergraduate life, and was soon expanded to cover a myriad of issues both there and at different institutions: rules about smoking, cheating at card games, honor within relationships, etc.

historyofoberlin01flet_0009A quick look through Robert Samuel Fletcher’s A History of Oberlin College from its Foundation through the Civil War has not disclosed any evidence of an Oberlin honor code that predates UVA’s, so I’ll assume that Oberlin’s adoption of such a code came later. (Help me out, colleagues: any information on when it originated?) What we do know is that, according to the Honor Code Charter, “The student body of Oberlin College, with the approval of the General Faculty, originated and adopted the Honor System, which places full responsibility for academic integrity on students.”

In a discussion of the Honor Code at a 1997 faculty meeting, one student proudly noted that “The Oberlin honor code is a really special and rare thing. Only a few small liberal arts colleges have something like this.” Which is nice, even if it isn’t accurate. Quite a few liberal arts colleges have honor codes, and at some, like Haverford or Bryn Mawr, the honor system is an more integral part of campus identity. Haverford, for example, highlights its Honor Code, created in 1896, as “one of [its] oldest and greatest traditions.” Students at Haverford, gathered in a “Plenary” meeting, debate, revise, and vote on their honor code every year. Haverford credits it Honor Code with helping students “enjoy a bond of trust and mutual respect that shapes all aspects of their academic and community lives.”

Furthermore, the Haverford Honor Code

“encompasses both the academic and social spheres of life, influencing everything from the spirit of intellectual inquiry to personal interactions. The Honor Code is not a set of rules, but rather an articulation of ideals and expectations emphasizing genuine connection and engagement with one another, and the creation of an atmosphere of trust, concern, and respect. The Honor Code is also completely student-run — one of the clearest demonstrations of this trust.”

The Honor Code at Oberlin

Oberlin’s Honor Code, while an important part of our academic and student life culture, nevertheless does not reach such Haverfordian heights. The charter, last revised in 2008, calls for the creation of a Student Honor Committee (SHC) which, in turn, “allows for the student body to be accountable to each other based on the principles of academic integrity. The SHC ensures that trust and academic freedom are maintained for the scholarly pursuits of the Oberlin College community.” The purposes of the system, as stated in the Charter, are “to maintain a high standard of academic integrity in all curricular work, to respect students’ ability to adhere to this standard, and to encourage further development of this ability through the efforts of faculty, administration, and students.” Finally, the Honor Code

provides the foundation for the intellectual freedom that is encouraged and shared by all members of the academic community and embodies the belief that true academic freedom and discourse can only exist within a framework of honesty, integrity, and responsibility. With the privilege of pursuing an Oberlin education comes the responsibility of supporting both the expectations and the spirit of the Honor Code. This requires each individual to respect all fellow members of the Oberlin community and to vigorously support the protected nature of intellectual property.”

In sum, the Honor Code operates with the three following expectations, responsibilities and requirements:

  1. Students signal their adherence to this set of principles by signing “honor code” pledges on all their work: “I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.” Furthermore, students also
  2. Take responsibility for the “maintenance of academic freedom in the community” by pledging to “report possible infractions potentially harming the community.” Thus the responsibilities of the Honor Code, while shared by faculty and students, are by design mostly the responsibility of students, since
  3. Faculty, based on these presumptions, “do not proctor exams, but trust that students adhere to the Honor Code.”

Questions, anyone?

Final exams at Hamilton College, 1950

A few weeks ago, a number of faculty members, including many newer members of our community, met in a Brown Bag Pedagogy session to discuss the Honor Code, its operations, potential short comings, and steps that might be taken to strengthen it. What became clear is that, unlike their counterparts at Haverford, for example, new faculty are rarely socialized into the workings of the Honor Code at Oberlin, either in terms of how it operates or what its underlying assumptions are. Thus, to cite just one example, newer faculty might find out about the “no-proctoring” rule when they give their first exam and are told, in no uncertain terms, to leave the room. Not a good way to find out about it.

Still, in the course of the Brown Bag session, it became clear that there are a number of aspects of the Honor Code that need to be discussed among the faculty (and perhaps among students as well), if not updated.

Underlying assumptions. The primary reason that the Honor Code exists is to place students in the position of responsibility for upholding the integrity needed for an academic institution to thrive… and to recognize that, since this will not always happen, rules and regulations are necessary. (I often ask students in my colonial Latin American history class why they think laws were written in 17th century Lima that dealt with children of nuns.) As the Honor Code charter states, students are a part of the College’s “community of scholars” and, as such, they need to be “accountable to each other based on the principles of academic integrity.”

I have no doubt that the vast majority of our students adhere to this, that the responsibility we give them by leaving the room during exams is well placed. But, of course, rules are most often written for a tiny minority of individuals who do not adhere to our aspirational goals. Of the 10 pages of the Honor Code Charter, a little more than 9 pages are devoted what happens in the relatively few reported Honor Code violations that arise every year.

Four questions have come up in this regard: (1) Is it fair or reasonable to expect students to “police,” monitor or otherwise be responsible for each others’ behavior. Isn’t it enough for them just to take their own exams without looking around to see who is consulting his smart phone? (2) Are the actual procedures of the Honor Code working? What are faculty to make of the fact that many Honor Code violations are not resolved before they have to give assignment or final grades? (3) As pedagogy shifts increasingly toward student collaboration, peer study groups, peer work-shopping of papers, and other elements of constructivist pedagogy that encourage student-to-student learning, are the rules of what is allowable within the terms of the Honor Code clear? And, (4) as more international students join our community, can we expect that everyone has the same preparation and understanding of what integrity in academic work means?

Exams at Hamline University, 1930s. Wikimedia

Let’s take these one at a time. My purpose here is not to answer the questions that have arisen, but to suggest that if the basic rules of the Honor Code are unclear to faculty (and perhaps students), the time is ripe for a broader discussion. [Added Nov. 23: Faculty should also be aware that further information on many of these points is available here. Of particular interest are clarifications on grading of student work when an Honor Code violation is under review.]

  1. Student responsibility under the Honor Code. The basic principle of the Honor Code couldn’t be clearer: students have asked to be the most responsible agents of their own academic integrity. This is not a burden that the faculty have placed on the students, and my guess would be that if the students wanted to be relieved of this responsibility, we would accept it as a faculty. Therefore, if we think that there are problems with how the system is run, it is incumbent on us to raise these.

At the same time, to quote a former U.S. president (oh, how it pains me to say it!): as faculty, we both trust and verify. When papers come in that have all the hallmarks of plagiarism, we will follow up to the extent of our time and abilities. It is harder to do this on in-class exams, and even harder if a student has been given an accommodation to take an exam in another room.

Technology has changed some of our assumptions here. We can state clearly what the rules of a closed-book exam are, but short of frisking students to remove their smart phones, we will have to rely on, well, their honor. The new question is whether technology, specifically the ubiquitous presence of smart phones, requires us to reexamine any assumptions here, particular in terms of in-class exams and accommodations for students to take an exam in a room unmonitored by either students or faculty. Perhaps, at the end of the day, we will agree that technology has not changed anything and that we expect all our students to hold themselves to required standards of integrity; but we do need to have the conversation.

  1. Procedures. Faculty have complained that, as currently run, the Student Honor Code Committee is slow, does not report back on suspected infractions of the Honor Code that have been filed, and most often comes to a conclusion long after faculty have had to give a student a final grade in a course. Certainly steps should be taken to expedite and improve communications in the system.

But other issues have been raised with the operations of the Honor Code that suggest some limitations as it is currently written. Section F.1. of the Code states that “All members of the Oberlin College community are required to report potential violations of the Honor Code when they suspect one has occurred.” Perhaps I am putting myself in violation of the Honor Code by suggesting that this is a rule that is more honored in the breach. (Always the hamletpedant, I note that the phrase “honour’d in the breach,” which comes from Hamlet, meant just the opposite of what we now mean by it.) In point of fact and based on my own behavior, I suspect many faculty (and probably many students) have observed “potential” violations of the Code and did not report them. Faculty often use those opportunities to talk personally to students who we think either don’t understand that what they have done is a violation of the Honor Code or who we think would get more out of a one-to-one discussion with us than being entered into a formal proceeding. In either case, to have a requirement that is more often than not ignored does not make for a good legislation.

I’m not unaware of the other side of the argument, which is that if no report is filed, students who are repeat offenders cannot be identified. Still, and in particular reference to many international students who are still learning about the principles of academic integrity in a U.S. setting, the requirement that all members of the community report all potential violations seems in need of further clarification.

  1. Pedagogical shifts towards collaborative learning. Most of the aspects of the Honor Code are quite clear: plagiarism, falsification of sources, copying from your neighbor’s exam paper, using outside sources in a closed-book examination, etc. While some (plagiarism) might require further explanation, particularly for international students, most are fairly obvious. Still, others seem to be open to interpretation or, at the very least, could serve as the basis of an interesting discussion. I refer in particular to the following “example of cheating”: “Collaborating on a project that was to be completed individually.” Obviously this doesn’t apply to projects that are expected to be completed with other students. But, at the same time, many of us routinely encourage students to speak to each other about their projects, to share drafts of a paper, to work with writing tutors or get help from the OWLs. Where does “cheating” start?

The Honor Code has taken this into account:

“The default assumption covering all academic exercises is that students are required to do their own work only utilizing the help and resources considered appropriate for each academic exercise, including sources of assistance routinely offered by the college to students, such as reference librarians and writing tutors. Notwithstanding, in all cases, the professor in a specific course may further restrict or expand what resources are approved or not approved for use in a particular course or assignment.”

But confusions abound and one way to deal with this is to be explicit in your own instructions about what is allowed and what isn’t. For example: “I expect you to take your draft to the Writing Center, but you are not allowed to send it to your mother or elsewhere off campus.”

Will we know if said mother had a hand in the final draft? Probably not, but at least we can be clear in our expectations. On the other hand, many of us have gotten papers with WTMI (way too much information), footnoting every conversation with a classmate or pearl of wisdom that we have dropped in an off-handed manner in class.

What I would suggest is that these can all be teachable moments. Our ideas are always grounded in other ideas. As faculty, we have learned to collaborate widely; we wouldn’t think of sending an article to a journal or a manuscript to a press without having friends and colleagues read it first and give us their feedback (and which, if all goes well, we will acknowledge in the article or book). To talk about the value of collaboration in scholarly work is to engage our students in the heart of how knowledge is created and can move any discussion of the Honor Code away from its disciplinary moorings and towards a more engaging conversation about epistemology, creativity, and the values of collaboration.

  1. International students and the Honor Code. In “Teaching International Students: Opportunities and Challenges,” an “Article of the Week” from a few weeks ago, I raised some particular concerns about how the Honor Code works for our growing number of international students: “International students may come from academic cultures that have different standards for citation of sources, different expectations for when collaboration is permitted, and a different sense of the limits of what kind of collaboration is permissible.” I suggested, and will repeat here, that thinking about how we approach the Honor Code with international students can only help us to think about how we apply the Honor Code in general. “The more we can be clear and explicit about citation practices,” I argued, “how certain kinds of paraphrasing can be the equivalent of copying, what materials should carry citations, etc., the more we will help not only our international students, but all our students.”

Release_flier_for_THE_CODE_OF_HONOR,_1911But I also raised the issue of the very term we use to talk about expected academic conduct, “honor,” and how we need to be aware of different meanings the word holds in different cultures. If our intent is to build a culturally responsive environment at Oberlin, we need to think about these issues. Since the Honor Code is essentially about both “integrity” and “accountability,” perhaps we could devise a new name for it that is not as freighted as our current one.

In all, even if we see no reason to update our Honor Code system, with many new faculty coming on board every year (not to mention a quarter of our students), this would be a good time to engage a discussion of its meaning, principles, and functioning.