When teaching United States in the World 26: “Sex and the Citizen: Race, Gender, and Belonging in the United States” this past spring, women, gender, and sexuality lecturer Caroline Light left little room for interpretation on what constituted appropriate and inappropriate collaboration.
Light laid out her guidelines during lecture, included a statement “clearly” outlining her expectations on every assignment, and prominently featured her collaboration policies on her course iSite.
She said she thinks there is a ”rising awareness, not just among students, but among faculty, of the importance of clear communication around our expectations for our students.”
“Sometimes I just assume everybody knows what plagiarism is, and I can’t do that,” she added.
Light is one of many faculty members who have attempted to make their collaboration policies explicit in the wake of Harvard’s August announcement of a cheating scandal unprecedented in scope. Throughout the fall semester, the Administrative Board investigated roughly 125 undergraduates accused of inappropriately collaborating or plagiarizing on the spring 2012 final take-home exam in Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.”
In the days following the announcement of the investigation, faculty questioned what impact heightened scrutiny of student work prompted by the scandal would have on the classroom. There was value, they said, in certain types of collaboration.
“The reason that [study guides] existed in the first place was that they were actually helpful to students,” government professor Stephen D. Ansolabehere told The Crimson in August. “What’s going to happen in chemistry when you can’t take in some study guides that help you remember the periodic table?”
A year after students in Government 1310 turned in their final exams, students and professors say that collaboration in the classroom remains. But with the push for faculty to clearly define their policies governing academic integrity and the proposal of Harvard’s first honor code, many say it has taken on a highly regulated form.
‘OPEN NOTE, OPEN BOOK, OPEN INTERNET, ETC.’
When the cheating scandal was announced, administrators were quick to place it within the context of a broader conversation about academic integrity at Harvard.
“[T]his alarming set of allegations requires, in our view, a new campus-wide discussion among faculty, students, and administrators about academic honesty,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris wrote in an email to undergraduates on August 30. “We must all work together to build a community that fully embraces the ethos of integrity that is the foundation of all learning and discovery.”
Students had said discrepancies between the policies governing assignments in Government 1310 and the actions of the course’s teaching staff had contributed to widespread cheating. The collaboration policy at the top of the course’s final exam described it as “completely open book, open note, open internet, etc.” and also prohibited students from “discuss[ing] the exam with others—this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.”
One student who was implicated in the cheating case told The Crimson in an email that he thought the policy was clear on paper but not in practice. Teaching fellows held office hours and worked with students before the take-home exam was due, helping with answers while students collaborated in front of them despite the written policy. The student was granted anonymity by The Crimson because he did not want to be associated with accusations of cheating.
When undergraduates returned to campus in the fall, administrators made a push to make sure collaboration policies were clear. Harris asked in his August communication that all students review the guidelines in the Student Handbook outlining Harvard’s stance on academic dishonesty. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith urged faculty in an email at the start of the semester to include a description of their courses’ collaboration policies in their syllabi—something that faculty have been required to do since 2010—in addition to discussing those policies in class. In the email, Smith asked that faculty “share best practices on how we can each foster a culture of honesty and integrity in our classes and learning assessments.”
“Your efforts are essential to our success,” he wrote.