Back to School with Integrity: Getting our Priorities Straight

This morning I did a keynote address for Humber College (Ontario, Canada) for their Faculty Ed-Venture Days offered through their teaching and learning centre. One of the slides that resonated most with participants was around getting our priorities straight as we head back to classes for a new school year in the ongoing global pandemic. Here’s what I shared:

3 prioritiesBack to school with integrity - 2020-08-28

#1: Prioritize compassion over content.

When possible let’s back off on overwhelming students with more content than they can handle. There have been repeated stories from academics, educators, and students that our ability to focus, process content and “produce” has diminished during the pandemic. Of course, there’s not much “hard data” that has been collected on this yet, but there are enough repeated stories to know that we (as in, humans) are coping with new stresses, and often multiple and competing stressors at once. So, students may simply not have the capacity to process the same volume of content as they did last year. That’s nobody’s fault; that’s just how is. So given the choice between cramming in more content, and being compassionate with the amount we expect them to reasonably learn, let’s err on the side of compassion.

#2: Prioritize decency and dignity over deadlines.

I have been teaching for more than 25 years; and I used to be the most militant person you’ve every met when it came to deadlines. Through my work in academic integrity I’ve learned that students can be at a higher risk for engaging in misconduct when they are under tight deadlines. So now, if students ask me for an extension, I give it to them (within reason, and within the boundaries of the administrative requirements of when I have to submit grades.)

I don’t make students beg for an extension. I don’t make them tell me their life story. I trust that if they are asking for an extension, then they need it. I aim to let them keep their dignity by not forcing or coercing them to tell me their life story.

#3: Prioritize pedagogy over punitive action.

There will be breaches of academic integrity, but before we get to that point, let’s do everything we can to educate students. That means teaching them everything from time management skills, to how to plan out their assignments, to learning skills like citing, referencing, paraphrasing, and whatever else they need.

We became educators because we believe in pedagogy, rather than policing, so let’s do whatever we can to ensure students are learning.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

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