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Shining a Bright Light on “The Shadow Scholar”

Sent to me by a colleague, who knows how I feel about cheating, this article got my blood boiling – http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329 It is the tale of professional paper writer. I wonder if I’ve seen any of his work? If I have – shame on me.

Sure, we know that students cheat. Get any group of post-secondary instructors in a room and the mere mention of the word “cheating” will incite an avalanche of horror stories. In my experience, all end with some deprecating remark about the nerve, stupidity, and general lack of integrity of students.

I’ll admit, as I read this article I quickly fell into that trap. “How could they? And then, “How dare they?” And finally it hit me – “I hope I don’t make this happen?”

I work hard to get to know each student in my classes. Thankfully, I work for an institution that restricts class sizes and am therefore afforded this opportunity. In-class workshops and activities allow me to see work in process and become familiar enough with students, and their work, to recognize their writing. I can only imagine how difficult this would be in classes where TAs grade assignments, and hundreds of bodies fill the lecture hall.

Group work seems to help with this type of cheating. At least I think it does. I suppose, without regular discussions with the group members and progress meetings where they can share their work with me, a group project could mean that the students simply split the cost of their purchased project and hope that their group members are good at keeping secrets.

Some new media tools are helping me get to know my students’ writing as well. Since I encourage them to email me, tweet, use course discussion boards and wikis, I have more opportunities to familiarize myself with their written work. Again, I see the perils of these tools as well. The anonymity of the online world could present a whole host of new academic integrity issues.

In his work, the shadow scholar observes that post-secondary institutions “focus on evaluation rather than education”. This peaked my interest. What is the purpose of higher education? Is not some evaluation expected? Certainly the employers of our graduates want to have a measure of competence. Why couldn’t evaluation and education coexist in harmony?

For lecturers who stand at the front of the room as content deliverers, who profess to have mastered the entire body of work in their respective fields, I suppose evaluation is the most natural feedback they can provide. I can see how educational experiences in this environment are available only to those who are skilled learners upon arriving in the classroom.

This speaks to my perspective that teaching is more than simply being an expert in a given subject. As we encourage higher education teachers to invest time and effort on developing their teaching skills, we will improve the evaluation/education balance. However, if faculties only reward and recognize discipline specific research and professional development, we will continue the cycle – keeping the shadow scholars in business.


About amandabickell

Marketer - Teacher - Life Long Learner I love my job! I teach Marketing and Organizational Behaviour in undergraduate programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in BC. I consider myself a learning coach. My role in the classroom is to create an engaging learning environment where students are excited about their journey of discovery in the business world. Here I chronicle my coaching approach, share resources, and engage with students & colleagues. The views and perspectives I present here are purely personal, and don't necessarily reflect those of my university. If you are a "coach" too, feel free to borrow what you find here. Let me know how it works for you.


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