Dr. Ceceilia Parnther on What Drives Students’ Authentic Thinking 

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This time, we’ve been extremely lucky to connect with Dr. Ceceilia Parnther, Assistant Professor in the department of administrative and instructional leadership at St. John’s University. As a higher education researcher and mentor, Ceceilia has accumulated a valuable experience in growing academic integrity, advising on students’ success and retention, and effective student mentorship.

We’ve asked her a few burning questions: how course design may help minimize cheating attempts; what motivates students to show their authentic voices and independent writing; how one can keep the class motivation high enough to prevent contract cheating from taking place, and a lot more. Proceed to get the answers.

Unicheck: Improving academic integrity is the number one goal. But it is too vague to describe and understand. As a highly accomplished Higher Education Researcher and Educator, how would you promote the value of academic integrity among students? Are there any proven methods that inspire open and moral behaviors?

Ceceilia: The first method I would say is consistency. Academic integrity is promoted by setting institutional expectations of honesty, originality, attribution, and synthesis of information. The second, I would say is engagement. Consistency and engagement of faculty are necessary to promoting the importance of academic integrity personal. Common language, adherence to institutional policy, and affirming importance are especially necessary. The third is encouragement and incentive. Celebrating and incentivizing  academic integrity and honorable scholarship go a long way in developing moral behavior and creating an environment where students produce their best original work and expect others to do the same. The fourth would be continued education. As technologies and influences change, so do threats to academic integrity. It’s important that as educators we are all up-to-date. We can help students navigate terrain that threatens academic honesty such as contract cheating, coaching leading to ghost writing, and test question banks.

Unicheck: What things one should consider in the first place when designing a course to prevent cheating attempts?

Ceceilia: First outlining clear, direct expectations is necessary to designing courses. For example, defining appropriate expectations around collaboration, securing with citing, and expecting personalization is helpful to students. Secondly,  assessments that require original thought and synthesis of material in a personal way help to limit academic misconduct. Frequent changing and adapting course materials to the needs of the class and individuals show care for students, and limit replication. Developing relationships with students also goes a long way to preventing cheating and promoting academic integrity.

Unicheck: Can you say that today’s students feel encouraged enough to demonstrate their authentic voices while delivering speeches or writing essays? How to nurture their interest in discovering their own authentic selves?

Ceceilia: This is an excellent question. Often students come from environments where they are expected to regurgitate information that has been given to them. Often this stifles creativity. In every classroom, there is an opportunity to encourage authenticity. In order to do so, we must nurture relationships in an effort to better understand our students and their current needs. By aligning our curriculums with culturally relevant background information, student interests, needs, and aspirations, we can promote an environment that encourages authenticity.

Unicheck: How do you recognize the students who need your advice and avert the risk of letting them get into the contract cheating trap? What makes them easy victims?

Ceceilia: All of our students are at risk to fall victim to contract cheating. Advertisements begin with tutoring help and quickly devolve to ghost writing, test taking, all the way to full course taking. It’s important to recognize that for the majority of students the choice to participate in contract cheating begins with broader issues of low self confidence or perceived efficacy, disengagement, poor time management, academic under-preparedness, and a lack of support among others. I suggest affirming our students’ abilities early and often, checking in to ensure students understand and are engaged, and educating students on the pitfalls of predatory websites. Most importantly, we must educate students. Identifying signs that a website is not tutoring but is actually contract cheating, and referring them to campus resources shows care for student success. Campus resources are not only free, but can assist students where they need it most.

Unicheck: Is critical thinking a growing trend? How can instructors motivate students to develop it and stay original even if they have to collaborate on a bunch of assignments?

Critical thinking continues to be a need, but I’m not sure we spend time educating students on the importance of critical thinking. Again, instructors who spend time personalizing and validating students lived experiences can expect to benefit from the critical thinking that is important for academic work. Honest students become honest employees. We should all be focused on developing and educating students that align with our institutional missions, and live up to future expectations of integrity in the workforce. Instructors can motivate students to develop critical thinking and stay original by asking questions that rely on students’ experiences and their command of the subject matter. Some examples of these include assigning roles or viewpoints to students based on their interests, encouraging them to share their own personal experience, requiring synthesis rather than rote memorization, and celebrating and affirming work that is original and demonstrates critical thinking.

PS: In one of our recent interviews, Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli talked extensively to us about other ways of students’ motivation as well as personalized learning. As it turned out, students’ giftedness plays a central role there. Click this link to dive into the details.

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