Monday, May 22, 2017

2 More Opportunities to Get Help at a Writing Boot Camp!

Do you have an incomplete grade? A final project that is dragging on? A current assignment that needs help?

Get help and finish your assignments or writing projects at one of this quarter's two remaining SNL Writing Boot Camps.

To register or for more information contact: with your desired session.  

Walk-ins are welcome! Walk-ins are encouraged!

To find out more about SNL Writing Boot Camps, watch LaTrice Jones, an SNL student, discuss her experience with SNL Writing Boot Camps:

*REMAINING* Boot Camp Dates and Locations
Wed., May 24, 2017: 5:30pm-9pm         Loop, 14 E. Jackson, Lab 1327
Sat. June 3, 2017: 9am-1pm                     Loop, ​14 E. Jackson, Lab 1325

Notes from the 2017 Teaching & Learning Conference

At this year’s Teaching and Learning Conference, SNL Writing presented in the Reflection and Metacognition session. Maria De Moya and Sydney Dillard from the College of Communication opened this session with an overview of reflective tools that instructors could bring into the classroom. Steffanie Triller, Kamilah Cummings and Nicholas Hayes closed the session with a conversation on how to use specifically design reflection questions to promote metacognition at various stages of an assignment.

SNL Writing shared typical reflective questions we have students answer at the end of each draft of a paper. These questions have students articulate what they are actually doing in their papers, what their strengths are, and what their weaknesses are. Fortified with this knowledge they will be able to lead their own improvements in their assignments rather than simply reacting to instructor comments. But the beautiful thing is that these types of questions are adaptable across disciplines.

Despite serving different populations and having different disciplines, both presentations recognized the deep benefit of fostering reflection especially as a way to engage in formative development before summative assessment. Participating in this session was a poignant reminder that although SNL has a particularly close relation to reflection it should be a skill that students learn to cultivate for themselves in any given situation. Crucially, these skill sets can help learners avoid the inefficiency of trial and error (“Practice-Based and Reflective Learning” and “Reflective Writing”).

Works Cited

“Practice-based and Reflective Learning.” University of Reading, 2016,

“Reflective Writing.” Writing Center: School of Graduate & Professional Programs. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2011,

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Winning Writing Showcase Entries Now Online

We're still celebrating all of this year's SNL Writing Showcase participants and our guests at Writing Showcase Live! It's not too early to start thinking about next year, eitherremind your students to download an application form for the 2018 Writing Showcase and submit their work to anytime before April 1.

Be sure to check out the winning entries from 2017, too, which are now posted (with permission) on SNL's Writing Guide. Scroll to the bottom of the linked page and click on "Writing Showcase Winners" to reveal outstanding work from 2016 and 2017.

More information about SNL's Writing Showcase and other SNL Writing events can be found on the SNL Writing Guide. Happy writing!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Spring Writing Boot Camps Start Saturday, May 13!

Writing Boot Camps start this Saturday. SNL Students are encouraged to attend a boot camp where they can get help from SNL faculty on writing assignments.

To register: Email

Walk-ins are welcome!

Date​:                                                             Location:
Sat., May 13, 2017: 9am-1pm                  O'Hare, Lab 204
Thurs., May 18, 2017: 11am-1pm            Online [Registration required]
​Sat., May 20, 2017: 9am-1pm                  Naperville, Lab 140​
Wed., May 24, 2017: 5:30pm-9pm         Loop, 14 E. Jackson, Lab 1327
Sat. June 3, 2017: 9am-1pm                     Loop, ​14 E. Jackson, Lab 1325

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Garden in a Battlefield: Teaching in Turmoil

by Nicholas Hayes

I am waiting to be bored, and it is hard given our current political and intellectual climate.

I’ve never been compelled to rush into exciting situations although I admire those who are. I think of an acquaintance who taught at the American University of Beirut and ran an organization to help children traumatized by conflict. He spent a life running towards the conflict. On rare occasion, I hear tumult I think about how I can avoid it. I will never be heroic, but I can console myself with the fact I am not complacent. Another former colleague would scold me because I am just talking about teaching and writing. Yet the mood of many people who work in education has become dire because of increasing uncertainties. I find myself wondering how I can address the needs of my students and myself in such times.

Betsy Devos is not lurking under my bed. (I am fairly certain of this point, but I will check tonight just to be sure.) Yet the concerns I have for the policies she might implement do keep me awake. The anxiety about potential changes that could be implemented by people in positions of authority drain energy that should be devoted to my students. Someone with a more heroic bent to their nature might be itching for combat, but I will grab my rhetorical arsenal only when called. Until then I will look for spaces where I can replenish my energies and practice self-care.

To that end, I have been reluctantly pulling myself to the gym twice a week. Less reluctantly, I’ve been giving myself time to work in the Lillstreet ceramic studio. The break from email and news is a welcome relief, and it makes me a lot easier for my family and friends to deal with. It also gives me the opportunity to relax, so I can better address the stressors in the rest of my life.

But the energy I need to guide my students comes from a different place, the classroom. For me the classroom has always been paradoxical. A few hours of orchestrating classroom discussions and facilitating small group activities means there is a good chance I will fall asleep on the train as I go home. Despite my physical exhaustion, a good class will leave me psychically energized. And when I am not nodding off or drooling on one of my fellow passenger’s shoulders, I will often take notes for next week’s class.

The classroom has this exhausting and energizing presence because it is a space set off from the rest of the world. It is in many ways sacred. This is why I try to perform little rituals every class. At the beginning of a session, we engage in a free writing exercise where students are allowed to purge themselves of the psychic noise and anxiety they carry with them from their day. I have to remind myself that I too should be engaging in this ritual instead of doing stage business at the front of the classroom. This moment where we purge our concerns helps us inscribe the next three hours with a focus on other things. Similarly asking a check-in question and having everyone (including me) answer it can help reassert the communal nature of and safety to speak in this space. For as Ilan Stavans reminds us that “Safety is a basic principle of education: Knowledge results from trust, and trust comes from care.”

There is never a way to fully sever the classroom from the rest of the world, and I wouldn’t want to. But in setting this space off from outside tumult and establishing its communal nature, I hope we are able to cultivate a vegetable urge to grow and change. In this time, we devote to tending our mental gardens I know that my heart will be nourished even if I must have patience. It is also a reminder of what could be lost if it’s not preserved. As the class draws to a close, I know I may need to turn my metaphorical plowshare into a sword to defend this space. But I will always know my plowshare is meant to help cultivate.

Heroes might spend the movie saving the world from apocalyptic threats (an alien overlord, an asteroid, or another political appointee) through non-stop action. Regardless of their success, real life will happen after the credits are over, and the rest of us get back to our slow work: cultivating thought, cultivating change. Andrea Lunsford says in her address “Composing Ourselves”, we need to say “I will teach writing, and I will teach a way to write a new story, a new political reality” (75). To do this, we must create a space in which we can care for ourselves and our students.

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea A. “Composing Ourselves: Politics, Commitment, and the Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 1, Feb. 1990, pp. 71-82, National Council of Teachers of English,

Stavans, Ilan. “The Safe Space.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 July 2016,

Confronting Writer's Block (Slides)

Even the most confident writers will have moments when they are unsure how to get started on a project. On April 27, SNL Writing hosted our Confronting Writer's Block webinar to give students strategies for dealing with writer's block.

For people who were unable to join us, we are providing a link to our Prezi slideshow:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing Showcase Winners and Writing Showcase Live!

One week ago, SNL's Writing Program was happy to host our third annual Writing Showcase Live! event. Seven Writing Showcase nominees read from their submissions while a supportive crowd of family, friends, and SNL community members cheered them on. Topics addressed and discussed included everything from payday loans to the Winchester Cathedral, from makeup artistry to the Thompson Center.

Our featured reader, Annette Davis, read the prologue from her recently published novel, The Lost Codicil. She also shared her journey to publication and how her time at SNL shaped her writing.

Before the event, our Writing Showcase readers scored all of the submissions and determined our winners. Congratulate the students below for their outstanding work!

Sandra Arrington: “Payday Loans: An Unethical Financial Solution”
Noreen Hart: “An Examination into Economic Segregation” and “How Business Process Improvement Methodologies Can Improve Small Business Performance”
Jason Meyer: “Deadicated,” “It’s a Small Afterworld, All,” and “Loud, Uncomfortable and Neglected: The Thompson Center”
Aldo Vasquez: “3D Printing: A Creative Process” and “Experiencing Science”
Kenneth Washington: “Effects of Masculine Stereotypes in the African American Community”

Those students who have given us permission will have their winning papers posted to the SNL Writing Guide, and all winners will be honored at the SNL Awards Luncheon. We're grateful to all of our nominees for sharing their excellent writing with the SNL community.

Would your students like to be part of next year's Writing Showcase? SNL graduate and undergraduate students can submit work completed anytime between April 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018. Encourage your students to check out SNL's Writing Guide for an application form and have them mail it, along with their submission, to

More images from Writing Showcase Live! 2017 below (click to enlarge):

SNL Writing at the Student Success in Writing Conference

The 2017 Student Success in Writing Conference in Savannah, GA offered local color like crossing the Savannah river by ferry and the ham salad at the lunch buffet. Southern Georgia University likewise provided a regional frame for the event, but the ideas shared were far from provincial. The pressures that are facing higher education in the US are not isolated and this conference gave presenters an opportunity to share strategies and discussions with colleagues from across the nation. The SNL Writing Program’s presentation “From Gap Year to Gap Decade(s): Supporting Returning Adult Student Writers” allowed us to share our expertise in developing courses and support services for mid-career Adult students.

Monday, April 24, 2017

SNL Writing Boot Camps - Spring Quarter

SNL Writing Boot Camps are a great opportunity for SNL students to get one-on-one assistance from an SNL faculty member to complete writing assignments. Boot Camps have been scheduled for all campuses.

For more information contact:

Date​:                                                         Location:
Sat., May 13, 2017: 9am-1pm                  O'Hare, Lab 204
Thurs., May 18, 2017: 11am-1pm            Online [Registration required]
​Sat., May 20, 2017: 9am-1pm                  Naperville, Lab 140​
Wed., May 24, 2017: 5:30pm-9pm           Loop, 14 E. Jackson, Lab 1327
​​​Sat. June 3, 2017: 9am-1pm                      Loop, ​TBA

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Annette Davis and The Lost Codicil

Annette Davis is an SNL student and one of last year's SNL Writing Showcase winners. This year, she's a featured reader at Writing Showcase Live, an annual event where our Writing Showcase nominees read and discuss their excellent work.

Annette recently published a book, The Lost Codicil, and also took some time to answer a few questions for our SNL community. Check out her interview below, and be sure to come see her (and get a signed copy of her book!) at Writing Showcase Live tonight.

SNL Writing: Have you always enjoyed writing? How long have you been writing?

Annette Davis: I have always enjoyed writing! I started writing in grade school and every single story had Michael Jackson somewhere in the story. In high school I stopped writing. My father always thought that writing was a nice hobby, but not a serious subject to pursue as a career. I grew up in the 70s and back then, in my neighborhood, writing was not deemed a career that would earn “a decent living,” in my father’s words. With family, work and the demands of life, I had actually forgotten my love of writing. One day after my daughter joined her high school newspaper, we differed over her research of a story she was writing and I said, “Fine, I’ll write my own story.” Just like that, I remembered how much I used to love writing. I would say I’ve been writing full time now for about seven years.

SW: When did you start this book process? What gave you the idea?

AD: The book process began with a dream! The Lost Codicil story was a dream that I had back in 2014, concurrent with my lupus diagnosis. As my health deteriorated and sleepless nights of unimaginable pain became the norm, my doctor recommended a life-changing process of transcribing my dreams. She wanted to give me something positive to focus on. All of my stories began with dreams. Dreams that would not leave me alone. Dreams that were repetitive and persistent and in full Technicolor! I used to think that my dreams were a nuisance, but now I know that I am blessed!

SW: What is your book about?

AD: My book is about a young girl named Alex, who dreamed of living a simple life as a painter away from her aristocratic family in France. However, at 18, she was forced to run away from home. After arriving in America, she changed her appearance and her name to Gabriella Gruena previously forbidden family name. Four years later, after graduating from Harvard and about to be married, Gabriella finally felt free. She promised herself that she would tell Stephan her family history before their wedding that afternoon. An hour before the wedding, she received a visit from her French solicitor who told her she had fulfilled the mandates to a mysterious codicil, which included a massive inheritance, some very old letters, and a precious ring that everyone believed had been destroyed. Her solicitor also told her someone had committed murder to find her and she would have to disappear immediately. Was someone after her? The inheritance? Or the ring? Feeling trapped and determined to protect Stephanand their unborn childGabriella ran. Again! Just when she thinks it’s safe to stop running, her solicitor is murdered and her child kidnapped. With no one to turn to, Gabriella is forced to seek Stephan’s help. Will he help her? And if he does, will it be merely for the sake of the child he never knew existed?

SW: What was the most difficult part of writing your book? What was the best part?

AD: The most difficult part of writing my book was the editingit never stops. Every time I would try to read through the book to determine if it was finished, I would always find something to change or rewritealways thinking I could make it better. The absolute best part was writing the scenes I could see in my mindscenes that had plagued my dreams for so long. And of course reading those scenes out loud to my friends over Sunday morning coffee. There is nothing better than receiving confirmation that your story is actually interesting, when your friends ask, “What happens next?”

SW: How did you go about having your book published?

AD: After attending a writing conference, I decided to self-publish my book. At first it seemed like an overwhelming task. There was so much to read and learn, but by taking each task one step at a time, I got through it. Was it hard, yes! Did I make mistakes, yes! Did I learn from those mistakestotally! Was it worth it, yes! But hopefully, the next time around will be easier. The most important thing is to remember what you love, have patience, and be organized. Planning, budgeting and lots and lots of help from family and friends were crucial to the process for me. Without the help of my family and friends, I would not have finished by my deadline.

SW: Do you have any other projects in the works? What's next for you?

AD: My next project is my second book, The Divorce, which I’m planning to self-publish in 2017. I’m in my last year at SNL and I hope to graduate in June 2018. I also plan to start my master’s program with SNL soon afterward. I’m so excited for the future!

SW: What is the most helpful writing advice you've received?

AD: Actually, Steffanie Triller Fry, who I met in the Month of Writing class once told me to imagine my characters on a stage and ask myself, “Are my characters moving the story forward?” After she had read a few of my chapters, she said my dialogue moved the story forward, but my characters were stationary for two chapters. Best advice ever!

SW: How did your writing change during your time at SNL? 

AD: I have learned a lot about writing during my time at SNL, especially how to be inspired to write. Professor Craig Sautter taught me how to use pictures, news, and music to inspire my writing. A great example is that I never liked poetry before, but now when I listen to certain music the words to a poem will just flow through me. My best friend told me that she loves my poems, which is such a huge compliment to me, as I am such a novice with poems and I still have much to learn. But inspiration comes in many forms. Now after a class exercise by Professor Sautter, when I read a particular depressing news item, I am inspired to imagine a more positive outcome and write about it. And there are times when I can look at the most diverse and sometimes bizarre pictures, and based on another class exercise, I will write what I think about each picture individually. It really helps to create the most wondrous short stories or poemsat least to me.

SW: What writing advice would you give other SNL students?

AD: Be open to all types of writing styles and genres. Be open to going back to the basics of writing and refresh your mind of how to write. Be open to all forms of inspiration to help your creativity. Use the people and places you are most familiar with and write about how they make you feel. Use your feelings, use the feelings of others to make your characters more real. Writing can be beautiful and can help inspire others if you are willing to share your emotions, your vulnerability, and your imagination!

SW: Did SNL encourage your writing? If so, how? What support did you receive or value?

AD: Oh yes! Almost every single professor and faculty member that I’ve met has encouraged me to continue writing and has offered words of wisdom that has given me confidence and inspiration, which I will forever be grateful for!

SW: Is there anything else you'd like to share with your SNL community?

AD: I would not be where I am today without SNL; my professional mentor, Asha Nathan; my peer mentor, Kim Allen; another SNL graduate, Kim Lewis; and my family and friends that support my pursuit of higher education! I’ve published my first novel and soon to publish my second, I’m almost finished with my undergraduate degree and about to begin my master’s program, and I’m finally pursuing the passion in my life! This is all because of SNL. The day my co-worker, SNL graduate, and peer mentor, Kim Allen, told me about the SNL program was the day my life truly changed for the better!

Writing Showcase Live TONIGHT!

SNL's annual Writing Showcase is over, the entries have been scored, and winners will be announced soon. We had lots of incredible submissionsour blooming tree (one flower per entry) fits right in with Chicago's spring weather!

Now it's time to celebrate our Writing Showcase nominees with Writing Showcase Live, our third annual event where we're able to hear our SNL students read and discuss their excellent work. Please join us this evening, April 20, in room 1451 of the Daley building from 6-8 p.m. Light refreshments and pleasant conversation will be provided.

In addition to the readings from our Writing Showcase nominees, our featured reader for the evening is Annette Davis, an SNL student and one of last year's Writing Showcase winners. Annette will be reading from her recently published book, The Lost Codicil, and discussing her writing journey. Annette will also sell and sign copies of The Lost Codicil as we wrap up the Writing Showcase Live event.

Stay tuned for more information about our featured reader and her book; hope to see you tonight!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Resources for MLA Update

Sometimes it feels like getting students to use correct citations is a struggle. Many of us develop resources to help students learn the forms and formats. Then the organization makes an update, and we have to change all of our student resources.

Last year, MLA updated their style, and we are faced with another round of changes. Thankfully, Beth Gulley of Johnson County Community College has created this padlet to share resources and presentations on MLA 8.

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Opportunity for SNL Writers to Hang Out

by Steffanie Triller Fry

“The lonely writer” has long been declared a myth by social epistemic composition theorists. No longer do we believe that writing involves sitting alone at a desk late into the night penning pages and even volumes of work before ever sharing a single word with a reader. Nevertheless, this is exactly how many SNL Online students undoubtedly feel as they tackle Research Seminar and Advanced Project, sitting at their computers late into the night after kids and partner have gone to sleep, struggling to find the right word or the right place to put the period in APA citation format while their brain would rather wander to other things: work, family, non-existent social life, and sleep.

When these student writers need a place to turn for help, they do have options: DePaul’s Writing Center tutors review Advanced Projects, but most of them have never completed one, and the Writing Center usually expects students to show up with a draft, however rough. But where can the student go for help in developing that draft? In forming a research question in the first place? The AP Online course includes the assignment to create “Working Groups,” but some students struggle to find camaraderie in the Discussion Forum, and these groups often fizzle for lack of participation.

Nontraditional adult students who are often distance learners require creativity and flexibility from the institutions that provide them with services (Compton, Cox, and Santos Laanan 78). Some institutions, like Empire State, have online writing centers. While DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning does provide services that are accessible to fully online students, it does not provide creative and flexible services designed for the adult online population. Additionally, SNL students have demonstrated that they prefer SNL-specific writing help: in a recent Student Satisfaction Survey, 82% reported that their writing improved “Quite a bit” or “Very much” after attending a Boot Camp in contrast to the 41% of students who reported that their writing improved “Quite a bit” or “Very much” after working with a Writing Center tutor.

But the Writing Boot Camps, evening sessions that take place in a computer lab 4 times each quarter, are not accessible to most distance learners. To this end, the SNL Writing Program recently created “Writing Hangouts” that are currently facilitated by Student Support Coordinator and Part-time faculty member, Nicholas Hayes. I was the lucky Advanced Project Online Course instructor who piloted the first Writing Hangouts. My Winter Quarter students were required to attend two Hangouts with Nicholas. In the course Q&A discussion, one student highlighted their formative function: “The hangout is basically like going to a class where you can formulate your questions about your current writing difficulties with your AP, or any questions related.” Few resources provide students help in the development of a paper. This is one of them.

Hangouts fulfill 4 out of 8 of CAEL’s “Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners” (CAEL). Adult learners are known to spend less time in extracurricular activities than younger students. They also spend less time chatting with peers about their courses, and can sometimes struggle to work in groups because of conflicting work and family commitments. Adult students rarely “hang out.” Distance students have the opportunity even more infrequently. O’Donnell and Tobbell argue that students must engage in dialogue with one another in order to become legitimate peripheral participants in the higher education community of practice. In one of the Hangouts, two students arrived to the chat room early and began discussing their projects, independent of the facilitator. The Writing Hangout provided them with the opportunity to participate in this community of practice.

I must admit that, as their instructor, I feel a bit guilty. All I did was require students to attend two Writing Hangouts. Then, I sat back and watched as their projects grew more developed, more thoroughly researched, and better analyzed. I have always been impressed by what students could produce in 10 weeks, with some support. I am now more impressed than ever before.

SNL has long believed that reflection leads to deeper, more connective, more impactful learning. But the Advanced Project Course now demands that students complete a capstone experience that demonstrates both prior and new learning, and reflection, more quickly than ever before. To support them as they go, SNL Writing will continue to offer this opportunity to Hang Out to students completing Advanced Project and Research Seminar in the Spring and Summer Quarters. Email if you want to invite your students to attend Writing Hangouts.

Works Cited

CAEL. “8 Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners.” The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

Compton, Jonathan I., Elizabeth Cox, and Frankie Santos Laanan. "Adult learners in transition." New directions for student services 2006.114 (2006): 73-80.

O'Donnell, Victoria L., and Jane Tobbell. "The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice?." Adult Education Quarterly 57.4 (2007): 312-328.

Spring Quarter Hours at the Writing Center

The University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) will open for Spring Quarter at 9am on Monday April 3 at both Loop and LPC Writing Center locations. Hours for both campuses are below.

Loop Campus Writing Center
(312) 362-6726

Monday: 9am-7pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 9am-7pm
Thursday: 9am-7pm
Friday: 12pm-5pm
Saturday: 12pm-5pm
Sunday: Closed

Lincoln Park Campus Writing Center
(773) 325-4272

Monday: 9am-7pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 9am-7pm
Thursday: 9am-7pm
Friday: Closed
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: 12pm-7pm

Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to register and make an appointment. Be sure to select the correct campus from the drop-down box at the top of the WCOnline scheduler when making an appointment online. Call either Writing Center with questions or concerns.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Remind your students about SNL's Writing Showcase today

Here at SNL, our Writing Showcase submission tree is blossoming, but we still need your students' work! For every Writing Showcase entry we receive, another flower growsup until this Saturday, April 1.

Please remind your students to collect their best work, fill out an application, and email everything to by 11:59 p.m. on April 1. SNL students may submit up to three pieces, including poems, stories, essays, reports, ILPs, Capstones, Advanced Projects, Applied Inquiry Projects, Integrating Projects, and e-Portfolios.

Check out our previous blog to learn more about Writing Showcase, which is open to all SNL undergraduate and graduate students. And stay tuned for information about our upcoming Writing Showcase Live event where our Writing Showcase nominees will read from their excellent work. Will your student be one of them?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Writing Showcase Submissions Due April 1!

The deadline for Writing Showcase submissions is right around the corner!

The Writing Showcase celebrates outstanding student writing. If you know a student who received an A on a paper or glowing feedback on an ILP, please have them fill out an application and submit their work by April 1. They may submit up to three poems, stories, essays, reports, ILPs, Capstones, Advanced Projects, Applied Inquiry Projects, Integrating Projects, or e-Portfolios.

We encourage students to share their accomplishment and inspire others!  Excellent submissions are recognized at the annual SNL Spring Awards Luncheon. Writing Showcase participants are invited to recite selections from their submissions and discuss their writing processes at our annual Writing Showcase Live event, which will be held on April 20, 2017 from 6-8 p.m.

All work completed since April 1, 2016 is eligible for submission. To submit, students should email the application form (linked above) along with their work, to by 11:59 p.m. on April 1, 2017. Click on the image below for more information, or visit the SNL Writing Guide under “Writing Events.” 

Both Writing Showcase and Writing Showcase Live are excellent opportunities for students to share work in a supportive community (and to include on a CV). Click here to check out last year's winning submissions, and ask your students to submit their work today!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Compassion’s Last Stand

by Kamilah Cummings

Last month my colleague wrote a wonderfully thoughtful and informative blog that explored the roots of plagiarism. In it he opined that understanding the root of plagiarism offers educators options for addressing it (Hayes). Having spent nearly three years as a member of a committee tasked with ensuring that the University’s academic integrity policies are upheld, I have often  found myself suspended between shock and sadness when confronted with the options some colleagues have chosen to address plagiarism. Recently, a particularly dispiriting situation beckoned me to question the role of compassion in addressing plagiarism. Even the most egregious act of academic dishonesty presents itself as a teachable moment. To that end, if compassion has a place anywhere, it should be in the classroom. 

A cursory glance at daily headlines from Washington D.C. to Chicago illuminates the reality that compassion is under siege. Even some of the most well-intentioned people and institutions appear to be forcing compassion to retreat in favor of addressing more pragmatic concerns. However, for me it is a harrowing proposition to envision a world where compassion is a casualty of war. Yet, this is the daily reality for many. Given this fact, it is troubling to witness situations where students who commit plagiarism whether unintentionally or intentionally are not only met with a lack of compassion but with scorn, belittlement, and indifference as well. I have seen compassion eschewed more times than I care to recall in these situations. However, I am particularly disturbed when these incidents occur in first-year courses with students from underrepresented groups, as research shows that two of the primary reasons that these students leave higher education are feeling unwelcomed and lack of academic preparedness.

“Integrating compassion into classrooms can strengthen the emotional, intellectual and social learning environment of a school” (Berkowicz and Myers). One need not teach compassion or design assignments or learning outcomes based on the principles of compassion to infuse the learning environment with it. One can simply model compassion in her interactions with students. Faculty can model compassion when addressing acts of student dishonesty, particularly plagiarism, by considering possible causes. For example, there are distinct cultural differences in defining what constitutes plagiarism. Having taught writing to international students from Indonesia to China, Iran, Pakistan, Mexico, and Togo, I have learned that there are striking differences in global perceptions of plagiarism. 

An additional issue to consider when addressing plagiarism is academic preparedness. For example, multiple factors might affect a nontraditional adult learner’s understanding of plagiarism. Some adult learners might have never been required to cite in school, while others may have been away from school for long periods of time and need refreshers on citation, while others might work in professions/industries that approach plagiarism and citation differently than academia. Additionally some traditional-aged students come from high schools that have failed to adequately prepare them for the rigors of university work in many regards, including working with sources.  Finally various internal and external stressors might contribute to an act of plagiarism. 

In essence all learning is developmental, and a compassionate response to plagiarism recognizes this. Although the University requires that acts of academic dishonesty be reported, faculty have freedom in assessing sanctions. I recommend that faculty include an opportunity for the student to learn from the incident as well. A punishable moment is still a teachable one. Yet, I have seen sanctions from zero credit on an assignment to complete failure of a course issued without any accompanying educational remedy. In addition to assessing a penalty, as an educational remedy faculty could require students to demonstrate understanding of plagiarism by completing a free online tutorial with The Writing Center or through a website such as Lycoming College’s "Goblin Threat Plagiarism Test” or Indiana University Bloomington’s "How to Recognize Plagiarism” test. Faculty might also have a student resubmit an assignment for a reduced grade (or no grade at all) and have the student include annotations of the revisions that were made to correct and avoid plagiarism.  

Another option could be to have the student write a short reflection on the experience of committing and being sanctioned for an act of academic dishonesty with an explanation of why they committed the act and how they will avoid it in the future. Faculty could also meet with the student to discuss the situation. I am often surprised at how infrequently this option is selected, particularly in marginal situations when despite an earnest attempt at citing errors have occurred or situations when students who are otherwise performing well in a course commit an act of plagiarism. Meeting with the student could offer opportunities for faculty to reexamine course policies and expectations as Hayes suggests.

Myriad factors influence the way human beings act and react to situations and each other. The classroom can at times reflect the best and worst of this reality.  However, “teaching is a humanistic profession, requiring compassion and genuine caring” (Potter, Whitener and Sikorsky). To that end, the student-teacher relationship should be neither adversarial nor apathetic. As teachers we hold positions of authority with our students, and we can use that authority to build or destroy. The classroom should be a place where teachers facilitate a learning experience that is challenging, transformative, and empowering. As such, a teacher should have the capacity to address plagiarism with compassion. 

I am in no way arguing that faculty should forego sanctions for acts of academic dishonesty. As Hayes asserts, “blaming the students is the easiest strategy” (Hayes). A sanction for the act addresses the student’s accountability. However, once the easiest strategy has been deployed, what next? A compassionate approach holds the instructor accountable as well. It calls for a well-intentioned attempt to assist the student in not repeating the behavior. It moves the situation from merely a punishable moment to a teachable one. After all, teaching is what we are here to do.

Works Cited

Berkowicz, Jill and Ann Myers. Compassion in the Classroom: A 'Real Strength' for Education. 24 August 2014. Blog. 26 February 2017. <>.
Hayes, Nicholas. Rooting Out Plagiarism. 31 January 2017. Blog. 26 February 2017. <>.
Potter, Andrew, Amanda Whitener and Jan Sikorsky. 8 Qualities of Great Teachers. 30 November 2015. Blog. 26 February 2017. <>.