Academic doping and “smart drugs”: What educators need to know

May 15, 2018

 

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When athletes use performance-enhancing drugs it is called “doping”, but the practice has moved from the locker room to the study halls, as students have taken up the practice to help them perform better on exams and in-class. The informal or slang term for these substances is “smart drugs” because students are promised that the substances will make them smarter, at least temporarily. When used for academic performance enhancement, it’s called “academic doping” or, if you prefer a more formal term, “pharmacologic cognitive enhancement” (Aikins, Zhang, & McCabe, 2017, p. 230).

What are “smart drugs”?

These substances are most often stimulants or cognitive-enhancing drugs (CEDS) (Aikins, Zhang, & McCabe, 2017). They generally fall into two categories. The first is actual prescription medications that are used for non-medical purposes, with the most popular being Adderall®, Ritalin®  and Modafinil®, which is also known as Provigil® (Aikins, 2011; Aikins, Zhang, & McCabe, 2017, Vaughan & Diver, 2018). The second category are poor quality versions of these drugs made illegally, often in Russia, India and China (Vaughan & Diver, 2018).

In terms of how students acquire them, some get a prescription. Others buy from prescription users. Still others buy their supply from the Internet, specifically, the dark web, and have the goods delivered straight to their home address (Vaughan & Diver, 2018).

Why do students engage in academic doping?

There are a few reasons why students might think that taking performance-enhancing drugs is a good idea. The first is the pressure on students to succeed (Aikins, 2011; Vaughan & Diver, 2018). Another is that some students may simply want to experiment (Aikins, 2011). Aikins (2011) offers an excellent overview of the reasons students might take illicit drugs in general, and it’s important to note that there is no single reason why students might take drugs to help them perform better in exams or other learning tasks.

How prevalent is academic doping?

Aikins, Zhang, & McCabe (2017) summarize the results of previous studies on the use of non-medical use of prescription stimulants (NMUPs) which showed that anywhere from 7% to 35.5% of students have used prescription drugs for academic performance enhancement. There seems to be very little data about how many students are using the illegally made versions of these drugs. But in any case, these rates would probably be higher than most parents, faculty members or policy makers might suspect.

Do “smart drugs” really work?

There are users who post information about how well they believe these substances work for them. Having said that, Aikins, Zhang, & McCabe (2017) found that “there is little real world data proving that” students who engage in academic doping “experience any actual academic gains” (p. 231). So basically, students who self-medicate seem to think that these drugs will give them an advantage, but there’s not much in the way of actual data to support that idea.

The bottom line is that it is important for parents, educators and higher education policy makers to understand that academic doping is real and students can sometimes make poor choices because they feel pressure to succeed. It is up to us as educators to show we care about students’ well-being and health and to send a clear message that long-term success does not come in a pill bottle.

References

Aikins, R. (2011). A qualitative study of the perceptions and habits of prescription stimulant–using college students. Journal of College Student Development, 52(5). doi:10.1353/csd.2011.0064

Aikins, R., Zhang, X., & McCabe, S. E. (2017). Academic doping: Institutional policies regarding nonmedical use of prescription stimulants in U.S. higher education. Journal of Academic Ethics, 15(3), 229-243. doi:10.1007/s10805-017-9291-0

Asprey, D. (n.d.). Modafinil: The rise of smart drugs.  Retrieved from https://blog.bulletproof.com/why-you-are-suffering-from-a-modafinil-deficiency/

Vaughan, R., & Diver, T. (2018). Exclusive: University students turn to dark web for performance enhancing ‘smart drugs’. iNews. Retrieved from https://inews.co.uk/news/education/university-students-turn-to-dark-web-smart-drugs/amp/

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

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Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23) – Spring 2018

May 8, 2018

Spring 2018 course (image)I am excited to be teaching one of my favourite courses coming up in the Spring 2018 semester. This is the final course for students in the Master of Education with a specialization in Teaching English as an Additional Language (TEAL).

Course description

This course will focus on examining and developing the skills associated with crafting an academic report and discussion on research data. Topics include genres and purposes of academic writing, as well as venues for presentation and publication. An academic paper is more than a compilation of relevant literature, attending information and a conclusion.

An acceptable paper, whether intended for an academic or a professional audience, and whether a report of findings or a theoretical-philosophical argument, takes a clearly defined idea, situates it in the current literature, and supports it with a well-structured discussion. The principal intentions of this course are to introduce students to the various structures of academic and professional papers and to provide support in their efforts to craft, present and potentially publish their written work.

A traditional approach to writing educational research involves first learning about writing, then learning to write. Learners first study sample texts, analyzing them and then dissecting them, examining their structure, argument and style. The next step often involves producing an original piece of writing that mimics the style, tone and structure of the sample text. The final step is to integrate elements of the student’s own voice and style with elements of the texts they have previously studied. The rationale behind this approach is that the student must first learn what counts as excellent writing by learning about writing. Only then are they prepared to write themselves.

This course takes a non-traditional approach to learning to write about research for scholarly or professional purposes. Students will focus on writing, offering feedback to peers, revising, and incorporating feedback.

Students take on three key roles during this course:

  1. Writer – Crafting an original work intended for sharing in a public forum.
  2. Reviewer – Developing your skills offering substantive and supportive feedback to peers to help them improve their writing so that they, too, are successful in sharing their work in a public forum.
  3. Reviser – Learning to consider and incorporate peer feedback thoughtfully. As scholars and professionals, we recognize that our work is stronger when we incorporate revisions from trusted colleagues whose intention is to help us succeed.

Check out this .pdf of the entire course outline.

Why I love teaching this course

I love working with students who are also professionals to show them how they can craft a research term paper into a manuscript for publication. I’ve taught this course about a dozen times before and I marvel at how students can develop competence and confidence as writers during this course.

Some students who have taken this course have gone on to publish their work and it inspires me to see them grow in this way. I am looking forward to creating opportunities for more students to become published writers!

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

 


How parents help their kids cheat in school

March 6, 2018

I recently heard an acquaintance complain about how tired they were at work one morning. The reason? “I was up all night working on my kid’s science project.”

The parent was adamant that their child had to “do well” on the science project. To that parent, “doing well” meant getting a good grade and receiving praise (and possibly a prize) from the judges. It wasn’t about if or how much their child learned during the process.

That got me thinking about the various ways I’ve observed parents helping their kids cheat in school. Here are a few:

Doing the work for them

When parents do their kids’ homework for them, students don’t learn.

Fixing all the mistakes

When parents fix all the mistakes so their child can hand in a perfect assignment, it doesn’t show the teacher how the student needs to improve.

Re-writing it

When parents re-write a student’s work to make it sound better, the end product does not reflect the student’s current writing ability.

Re-designing it

When parents re-work the slide deck or improve the design of a project, the end product shows what the parent can do, not the child.

Doing all the research

Parents are not helping their kids learn when they do all the background research for a project.

5 Ways parents help their kids cheat in school.jpg

Parents need to stop equating doing their children’s school work as an act of service that shows their children how much they love them. Doing a child’s school work does not send the message, “I love you!” Instead, it enables the child to avoid learning things for themselves.

When parents to school work on behalf of their children, it is a form of cheating. In fact, it is part of special kind of academic dishonesty called “contract cheating”. This is when a student has someone else do their work on their behalf. Contract cheating can happen when students buy their school work off the internet for money, or when they agree to have anyone else do their work for them, even if no money is exchanged. There is still an implicit contract in place: Someone else is doing the work on behalf of the student.

Parents can be active partners in their child’s success when they focus on learning as a process, not as an end product. That is why it is important for parents to help children learn skills like writing, designing and researching and to improve their skills over time. Learning isn’t about being perfect; it is a lifelong process that keeps going long after students leave school.

I am not saying this is easy. The temptation to “help” a child succeed can be strong. It is important for parents to understand that helping does not mean doing the student’s work for them.

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

 


What kind of sources to include in your literature review

February 27, 2018

Graduate students who are unfamiliar with what is expected of them in terms of higher-level research writing can easily get overwhelmed when it comes to their literature review. A literature review can form part of a larger project, such as a chapter in a thesis or dissertation, and it can also be a standalone project. Regardless of whether it is part of a project or a standalone work, we (your professors) expect certain kinds of sources.

We learned what kinds of sources to include in literature reviews when we were students, but we are not always so good at articulating what those expectations are. The result can be frustration for both students and professors. In this post, I have curated tips and information that I have been sharing with graduate students over the past several years.

These tips are intended to be a guideline, not a prescription. They are based on my experience and include a healthy dose of my own opinion. For example, I am adamant that students should avoid citing Wikipedia in their research writing. I am also unapologetically opposed to quotation websites where students have been known to cut and paste quotations from great thinkers such as Aristotle or Plato. In my view, quotations for research writing ought to come from original works (or in a pinch, a translation of an ancient text).

Your professors or research supervisors will have their own ideas about what kind of sources to include in your literature review, so be sure to consult with them. Here’s what I tell my students:

Most respected sources

Books, peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journals from reputable publishers. Avoid predatory journals. At least 80% of the total number of sources in your literature review should be sources from this category.

Sources that are OK to use in moderation

Credible edited journals that may not be peer-reviewed, but are highly respected in a professional field; edited conference proceedings; papers from well-respected research institutes or think tanks. Usually, not more than 20% of your sources should come from this category.

Sources that should be used sparingly

Materials from highly reputable news agencies such as the BBC or the Washington Post or highly respected websites, such as the Mayo Clinic. It is not that these sources are not credible, but that you want your research literature review to be strongly focused on research materials. For that reason, I recommend that not more than 5% of sources come from this category.

Sources to avoid

I mentioned two of the big ones above: Wikipedia and online quotation sites. Also avoid predatory journals and any sites (including popular media) that is less reputable.

Here’s an infographic to help you make wise choices about what kind of material to include in your literature review.

Hierarchy of Sources for Educational Research (1)

If your topic has limited sources available in the research, find and analyze what you can, but avoid “padding” your literature review with non-scholarly sources.

When you are learning how to write a literature review, it can be tricky to figure out what kinds of sources to include. Remember, you want to focus on producing a review that is evidence-informed and research-based. The quantity of sources you consult may be important, but quality is definitely important.

Talk with your supervisor about their expectations and get guidance as you go along. The more you work with scholarly or scientific sources, the better you will get at writing literature reviews.

Here’s a longer essay I wrote on this topic if you are interested in reading more:

Eaton, S. E. (2018). Educational Research Literature Reviews: Understanding the Hierarchy of Sources. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/106406

Related posts:

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

5 Websites to avoid referencing in your research papers  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1IA

What’s the difference between a manuscript and an article? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1SV

How to provide peer review feedback http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qH

Template for a 10-page graduate research paper in social sciences http://wp.me/pNAh3-1s2

How to narrow down your research topic http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Xf

Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof. http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qx

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


What is the difference between a dissertation, a thesis and a capstone project?

February 6, 2018

A former student and I were talking recently, and she mentioned the thesis she completed as part of her Master of Education degree at our university.

“I’m going to stop you right there,” I said. “You didn’t do a thesis. You did a capstone project.”

“What’s the difference?” she asked.

It is a common question among students. Students also ask what the difference is between a dissertation and a thesis. Three things they all have in common are:

  • Completed in partial fulfillment of an academic degree.
  • Intended to showcase the student’s knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Approved in some way by the institution that grants the degree.

But that’s about where the commonalities end. Here are some of the differences:

Dissertation

This is usually completed as part of a doctoral degree. The work is overseen by a professor, who is often call the advisor or the supervisor. Often, there is a committee that also supports the work. Students are often required to pass a rigorous exam upon completion of their dissertation. Then, the examiners can make suggestions for further revisions based on their review of the work and the outcome of the exam. A doctoral dissertation is often a few hundred pages long. When it is completed and approved in its final version by all the examiners, it may become publicly available through the university library digital repository or another public database. Sometimes people use the term “thesis” when they really mean “dissertation”. The reason for this may be that the word “thesis” is shorter to say.

Thesis

This is usually completed as part of a research-based master’s degree or an undergraduate honours degree. The length may vary, depending on whether it is completed for the undergraduate or master’s level, but often they are about a hundred pages. The work is overseen by a professor, who is often called the advisor or the supervisor. Upon completion of their thesis, students must often pass a rigorous exam. The examiners can make suggestions for further revisions based on their review of the work and the outcome of the exam. When it is completed and approved in its final version by all the examiners, it may become publicly available through the university library or another public database.

Dissertations and theses often have many elements in common such as being supervised by a professor and requiring an exam to pass. Capstone projects, on the other hand, are a bit different.

Capstone Project

This is a project completed as part of a course-based master’s degree. It is often overseen or guided by a course instructor. Sometimes students present their work in some way, but the capstone does not usually require an examination to pass. The length and format of a capstone project can vary and some are presented as multimedia projects instead of a written report. These kinds of projects can go by different names. At our university we call them a “Collaboratory of Practice” project, but the general idea is the same.

Here’s a handy infographic to highlight some of the key ideas.

Difference between dissertation, thesis & capstone project.

It is important to remember that these are simplified definitions to help you understand the basic differences only. When you talk about your own academic work, it is important to represent yourself accurately. You want to learn the correct term to talk about the work you have completed as part of your degree.

These explanations may not apply to every institution. If you are not sure, talk to a faculty member from your own university to get more details about how things work at your institution.

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


Why you shouldn’t post your teaching dossier online

January 30, 2018

Students and colleagues sometimes ask me if they should post their teaching dossier or portfolio online. My answer is immediate: No!

Those who know me know that I am a big fan of developing a strong online professional presence. I encourage students and colleagues to keep their LinkedIn, Twitter, and other online professional profiles current. But there’s something about a teaching dossier that’s different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read an article by White & Conrod (2016) where they tell the story of how their teaching philosophies were plagiarized.

Your teaching philosophy is a key element of your dossier. Developing it is hard work. It involves some deep reflection, brain work and soul-searching. You dig deep into yourself to figure out who you are as an educator, what matters to you and why it matters. Honestly, articulating your teaching philosophy may be the single most difficult element of putting together your teaching dossier. When it’s done, it should be a reflection of who you are and what matters to you as an educator.

Other people may have similar philosophies, but in the end, your statement is about you and your values. It is yours and yours alone.

If you post it online, it becomes easy for others to cut-and-paste what you have shared. These may not be bad people. They may be too afraid or too intimidated to engage in the deep reflection required to develop a philosophy of their own. Who knows? My point is, don’t make it easy for others to steal your teaching philosophy.

Share your dossier selectively, with those who need it, such as employers or those evaluating your teaching. You might also choose to share your dossier with those who would benefit from it, such as students or junior colleagues. That does not mean you have to post it publicly online. You have other options:

Alternatives to posting your teaching dossier publicly online

  1. Share print copies of your work. This may sound old fashioned, but if someone does not require digital access to your dossier and a paper copy works just as well, why not? You might choose to add “Confidential” to the header or footer to make it clear you do not want it to be shared widely.
  2. Save a copy of your work in a digital format that is hard to copy. An protected .pdf isn’t foolproof, but it is an option. Another option is to save your work as a .jpg., but if you choose this route, be sure that the .jpg is high quality and easy to read.
  3. Save your work as a password protected or “read only” online document. Share the password or link with caution.

Again, share selectively and make it clear that your work is not for distribution.

I suspect that some people who are vehement believers in open access or the sharing culture may disagree with my stance on this issue. There are plenty of websites that offer tips about how to post your entire dossier online. Don’t get me wrong. I share lots of my work online, free of charge in an open access format. It may be OK to share parts of your teaching dossier publicly online, such as your previous teaching experience, but not all of it. The key is to think critically about what you want to share and how you choose to do that.

It is important to understand that the more publicly you share, the easier you make it for others to copy-and-paste your deep thoughts, rather than engaging in their own soul-searching journey. If you want to offer others a short-cut and do the hard work for them, that is an option. But if you’d rather not, think twice before posting your entire teaching dossier publicly online.

The point is for you to think critically about who you want to have access to your inner most values about teaching. In my view, your teaching philosophy is a key element of your identity as an educator. Don’t make it easy for others to steal your professional identity.

Reference:

White, M. A., & Conrod, J. D. (2016). Is nothing sacred? Our personal teaching philosophies have been plagiarized. University Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/in-my-opinion/is-nothing-sacred-our-personal-teaching-philosophies-have-been-plagiarized/

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


21st century definition of plagiarism

January 23, 2018

Not long after I started getting interested in academic integrity, I began wondering how different universities defined plagiarism in their official policy documents. That led me to do an analysis of policy documents from 20 Canadian higher education institutions, and the results were published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Interchange. Basically, what I found was that there was no consistent definition of plagiarism across Canadian post-secondary institutions. In other words, we don’t agree about what actually constitutes plagiarism.

This makes it confusing for students and for professors, especially considering that students might attend one school to do their undergraduate degree and another for their graduate degree, or that professors sometimes change jobs, leaving one institution for another.

It used to be that the definition of plagiarism was simple: literary theft, but it is a lot more complicated than that in the 21st century, where digital outputs account for as much, if not more than, printed products. Students and professors have asked me, “So, how do you define plagiarism in plain and simple terms?” The answer is actually quite complex and a bit messy. But in the interest of demystifying the issue, here is a straight forward infographic that may help.

Let me say that this resource is simplified — perhaps overly so. My goal here isn’t to be reductionist and I fully acknowledge that not everyone may agree with these simplified explanations. But sometimes it can be easier to wrap your head around something simple to start and then tease out the complexities once you are more comfortable with the basic concepts.  I offer these not as the be-all-and-end-all definition, but rather as a starting point to help educators and students clarify and demystify basic concepts and also to engage in productive conversations about how to cultivate academic integrity and reduce plagiarism.

Definition of plagiarism (jpg)

Here is a free, downloadable .pdf of this infographic that you are welcome to use with your students for teaching purposes. Feel free to use it as a conversation starter to help students understand what plagiarism is and how to prevent it in their own work.

Related post:

Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study https://wp.me/pNAh3-1LD

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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