Yes. Personal attention is essential to what we do. This is not a machine-graded enterprise. We draw upon a common core of readings, but tutors frequently make additional suggestions tailored to individual students.
Our tutors (Ph.D.s or J.D.s with substantial professional experience) have taught thousands of Academic Integrity Seminar students. They understand typical student responses and can structure evaluations accordingly. It is not uncommon for tutors to ask follow-up questions designed to help individual students better understand and reflect upon the readings.
Much of the information we share with students about human development is grounded on research from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley and an ongoing (75 year) longitudinal study of human development at Harvard University called the “Grant Study”.
You can see Grant Study overviews and updates in this Harvard Magazine article (2001) and the Huffington Post (2013). In his 2012 article “The Heart Grows Stronger,” New York Times columnist David Brooks reviewed the Grant Study and wrote:
Perhaps we could invent something called the Grant Effect, on the improvement of mass emotional intelligence over the decades. This gradual change might be one of the greatest contributors to progress and well-being that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes.
Research on gratitude statements (much of it done at UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center) is summarized by UC-Davis psychologist Robert Emmons:
“Our . . . research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health.”
All of our seminars include selected stories. One short story we often use is Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The work of Professor Robert Coles at Harvard is formative in this regard. Here’s a summary of Coles’ perspective by Scott London (an Associate of the Kettering Foundation):
“Coles feels that we learn our most lasting moral lessons through stories . . . One of the courses Coles teaches at Harvard is called ‘The Literature of Social Reflection.’ Also known as General Education 105, it has been, for several years, the most popular undergraduate offering at the University, attracting more than 600 students. The course centers on the lives and literature of writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Orwell, and Agee. These writers all sought to connect moral ideas to the practice of everyday life, Coles explains — to link stories and experience in meaningful ways. He believes that this is the challenge we all face as we try to make sense of our lives and those of others.”
Harvard University Drew Faust posed a question to the Harvard College Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the aftermath of a cheating incident there:
“How do we—we who have devoted our lives to scholarship and teaching—how do we affirm and transmit the value—and the excitement—of learning for its own sake to our students in a world that increasingly urges them to think of their education in instrumental terms, urges them to focus on narrowly defined achievements and material outcomes?”
We think the answer includes helping students define a sense of purpose and become deeply engaged in learning related to that purpose. There’s no better way to encourage academic integrity.
We’re also influenced by the work of University of Virginia English Professor Mark Edmundson, author of Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference. Edmundson outlined his views in a 2003 New York Times article titled “How Teachers Can Stop Cheaters“:
“Speaking of his exchange with his pupils, Socrates, the founder of humanistic education, once observed: ‘What we’re engaged in here isn’t a chance conversation but a dialogue about the way we ought to live our lives.’ The closer we professors come to following Socrates, the less cheating we’re likely to see.”
Students are expected to provide fully developed responses to relevant readings and essay questions. Tutors are looking for thoughtful engagement with the assigned readings.
Creative and contrary opinions from students are welcome. Those opinions, however, must show critical thought and be supported by reasoned references to the sources. If we think student reasoning is unpersuasive we tell them why. See the sample tutor comment in our response to question 10, below.
We seek no access to student education records. Students communicate with us directly, and we don’t inquire about why they are enrolled. Students may, for example, be referred to us for purposes of honor committee or hearing-board training. We remind students in our initial response that their answers and our evaluations are shared with designated officials at their home institutions.
In any event, FERPA regulations allow colleges and universities to designate AIS as a “service provider.” We follow your directions pertaining to privacy policies and commit in writing to follow FERPA rules governing the use and redisclosure of any personally identifiable information obtained from students.
We team with referring institutions to practice a cardinal rule in classroom and online teaching: Know the student. Students are informed at the outset that their answers are shared with a designated official at the referring institution. We encourage those officials to meet with students and become familiar with each student’s interests, background, and overall academic performance. It’s helpful for referring officials to ask students to discuss some or all of their responses after the responses have been evaluated by us. Please consider this AIS-related program at the University of Central Florida. Students are also informed that AIS uses plagiarism detection algorithms.
In any event, we strive to reduce academic dishonesty by assigning engaging materials linked to student discussion of their personal experiences. We also try to establish rapport and trust with each student. These are long-established characteristics of learning environments with lower levels of cheating and plagiarism.
We are grateful for the opportunity to have an impact on students’ lives. Student evaluations show that over 84% of respondents would recommend the seminar to a friend. That’s an exceptional outcome for a required remediation assignment.