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Rinse Then Repeat: The Lost Secret to Preventing Plagiarism defines plagiarism as an act of fraud. “It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.” As we read what is contained in this definition, it is evident why plagiarism is such a very huge issue. Acts of plagiarism can lead to expulsion, suspension and even job termination for some. These are very strong outcomes for something that can be committed by accident.

What else can be offered about plagiarism that has not already been said? How much more can instructors and administrators hold student’s feet to the fire of academic mandates that suggests, “Here are the rules, you must play by them lest we hammer thou into the ground.” This was the tone of my graduate school “writing workshop orientation;” a mandatory session that left me with the sense that I could potentially find myself in serious trouble for my writing without even knowing what I did wrong.

As I progressed through the ranks of student to higher education instructor (now since 2004) it became crystal clear that institutions come by their rigid posture against plagiarism honestly. From having to contend with the likes of paper millers such as Ed Dante (a pseudo name for The Shadow Scholar), to the department chair who orders faculty to leave their students alone when they are caught in the web of plagiarism and should rightfully be held to the school and department standards of conduct. Perhaps more can be done to actively assist students how not to plagiarize, innocently or otherwise.

At Pearson’s eTeaching Institute, we often hear faculty who take our Web-based courses on special topics related to designing and teaching online, express concerns about preventing cheating. In such cases, we advise a more proactive approach by asking future online instructors to consider, “how they can encourage honesty in coursework,” as a way to preempt academic dishonesty. We believe this and more is a good position to take. In addition, I propose that a shared sense of partnership between students, faculty and administration is a proactive step in the right direction to prevent plagiarism. After all, if we are going to maintain tight control with rigid anti-plagiarism mandates in place then, the least we can do is to move a bit closer in the direction of, “here are the rules, you must play by them AND I am going to help you.” goes on to suggest that by giving proper authorship credit, we can avoid plagiarism. However, writing a good paper which avoids plagiarism involves much more than citing. If citing sources is all that is needed then why is the practice of plagiarism such a huge issue demanding large expenditures of academic energy and resources to prevent and detect and punish students for committing the act? Are students receiving enough “hands-on” resources and training to assist them with preventing plagiarism outside of doling out the building number, address or web site to the writing lab? Perhaps more of a sense of partnership with students is one way to help accomplish the goal.

Having evaluated many papers from undergraduate and graduate students over the past eight years; some replete with word-for-word transcripts from Wikipedia including links to the plagiarized content listed as the source, I decided to try tactics different from the usual, “don’t you dare.” The first task in all of this was to focus on that sense of partnership with my students, which I have hawked about previously. I decided to view plagiarism prevention as a shared responsibility that included some very positive and attainable steps students could take to prevent these acts. After all, if we are to hold them to the standards of our plagiarism deterrence tactics then, the least we can do is show them how not to plagiarize; and not necessarily in a one-time event or a syllabus policy or student handbook they may never read in the first place.

Could a more direct approach and (repeated) conversation be appropriate, followed by some very non-threatening steps on how to avoid plagiarism? Should we institutionalize methodologies that suggest to our charges that we recognize the temptation to take dishonest shortcuts then demonstrate that it is possible and relatively easy to avoid acts of plagiarism? After arriving at, “I need to do this without making a part-time job out of it,” I developed my mini-lecture, a cliff note of sorts, which included some very critical but important steps to avoiding plagiarism.

The first step in my brief tutorial to students is to make sure they understand what plagiarism is and its consequences. In our August 2010 Online Blogucation entry, my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Golightly noted that instructors should present clear and understandable statements about, “what plagiarism is, how it’s defined, and what the consequences for committing it are.” This is a first and critical step in the process of deterring plagiarism. I also believe that when delivered with a message of partnership, assistance and other measures that Jennifer discussed, we would likely assist more students from committing plagiarism. Next, I encourage students to:

Decide what their argument or premise of the paper will be. This may be assigned but sometimes not.
• Find time to read journal articles or other sources which supports the work. This is a requirement.
• Properly summarize and paraphrase sources. This does not mean changing a word here or there.
Quote sources sparingly using proper punctuation; another mandate.
• Deliberately cite sources within the body of the offering. This will give credibility to the work.
Reference sources by using a properly formatted works cited or reference page.
• Rinse then repeat. Perform these steps throughout the entire paper.

The session takes about fifteen minutes depending on Q & A and I wrap things up by reiterating my commitment to their academic success (as they should too) and that they should ask me for assistance when needed. Again, it takes much more than the steps above to write a good paper but it’s a start.

Practices to prevent plagiarism may seem harsh to students who find themselves caught in the snare of the deed. However, they are necessary and should be refined based on our experiences with the problem. Many institutions see the wisdom of ranking punishment based on the severity and number of offenses. Some schools employ student tutorials as a proactive measure. Others, keep a pile of lopped off heads in the back of the school. Not a first choice in my book.

Where needed, faculty and administrators should ramp-up their efforts to be partners in their students’ academic success to the extent that we present regular reminders and brief ‘how to sessions’ on avoiding plagiarism. Additionally, we should find creative and cost effective ways to assist students to make better decisions such as instilling a sense of partnership, more orientation and training aimed at preventing plagiarism before our students find themselves in really big trouble. The result could save valuable time for faculty and administrators then, schools can plant a nice flower bed where those heads are kept.

Do you have creative ideas about assisting students with preventing plagiarism? What do you think about an online student discussion forum with assignment endpoints addressing how not to plagiarize? What would be the benefit? Post your comments and suggestions in the space below.

Other Resources:
Best Practices to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Learning

Ralph Kennedy, MSW
Academic Trainer & Consultant


Individuals!? Where?

Recently, I read an article by a couple of colleagues about strategies for increasing students’ feelings of connectedness to their instructor.1 “Immediacy” is the term typically used for describing this phenomenon. One of the ideas they suggest putting into action is to set up telephone calls with students toward the beginning of the semester.

The telephone? The PHONE? Who do these people think they are, suggesting that I actually get my fingers off my keyboard and put them to my phone to make contact with my students?

That was my first reaction, anyway. The authors recognized the challenges in contacting all students (or nearly all, since students had to opt in to the phone call offer): it is time consuming, it can be expensive, and, let’s face it, some people just don’t like to use the phone anymore.

But their point is well taken. Too often, we do not recognize the need for immediacy with our students. Too often, we do not take the time or use the tools to foster a learning community in our courses. Now, I’m not suggesting that we all march to our desks, pick up the phone right now and start dialing. Especially in large, multi-section courses, it can be impractical, to say the least, to try to call all students. We don’t even offer such a service in our on-ground courses.

But there’s the rub: in our on-ground courses, immediacy is built in. Students and the instructor are already connected merely by being in the same room, with students listening to lectures, responding to questions, raising their own questions, etc.

In fully online courses — and again, I’m thinking of those large lecture-hall style online courses — we have other tools at our disposal to encourage immediacy and foster a sense of community: the introductory discussion forum, the virtual office, announcements, and one very powerful tool: the personalized email.

The problem — for many of us — is that we’ve forgotten that we teach individuals. We get so caught up in making our courses highly efficient that we often seek to teach to the masses without regard for what individual students need.

Yes, any course is essentially one large group. And we may split it up into sections or subgroups. But ultimately, groups are not earning grades, reviewing their transcripts, or, ultimately, paying their tuition and thus our salaries. Those distinctions fall to the individuals. Therefore, it behooves us to make sure that we remember that we are teaching individuals and that we treat them with the individuality they expect, need and deserve.

Maybe talking to our students on the phone isn’t such a far out idea after all. Or at the very least, it can be valuable to take the time to write personalized feedback in the Gradebook, send individualized emails to students to encourage thoughtful comments in discussion forums, or even just providing a simple welcome note to each student who participates in an introductory discussion forum. “Hi, Bob! Great to have you in the course! Glad to hear you’ll be graduating soon…” and so on.

By remembering that students are individuals, and treating them as such, we come closer to guaranteeing success; and student success reflects positively on our ability to teach and on our schools’ reputation for providing a valuable educational experience.

1. Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2010). Defeating the Kobayashi Maru: Supporting student retention by balancing the needs of the many and the one. EDUCAUSE Quarterly Magazine. 33(4). Retrieved February 21, 2011 from

-- Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
-- Supervisor, Academic Training & Consulting
-- Pearson eCollege


Let’s Make a Difference in 2011

In an age of constant student mobility, the students have changed and the paths they follow are diverse. Increasingly, those paths include transfers to and from many types of colleges and universities creating barriers to degree completion. In a 2005 issue of “Policy Matters,” the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) emphasized the need for collaboration and change among transfer students’ institutions with these remarks:

The process of bringing together so many different kinds of institutions and programs into common agreement will never be easy, but will remain an essential goal as student   mobility increases and options multiply. (…) States, systems, sectors, and institutions must continue to work together to eliminate their differences and create smooth working models that encourage student success. (Conclusion section, para. 2)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Economics Situation Summary, Friday, December 3, 2010 and the November 2010 numbers reflect we may not have made much progress in finding ways to increase student success.  The unemployment rate is 9.8% and the difference among those with college degrees and those without is striking (see Summary Table A)!


Table A indicates “High school graduates, no college” have twice the unemployment rate of “Bachelor’s degree and higher”.

Our country has made significant gains in “access” to higher education but despite the efforts of the institutions to have policies in place some students still encounter difficulties obtaining degrees. It seems that one of the problems may be positioned in the fact we are often concerned with “student retention” which has an institutional focus and not “persistence” which has a student focus. Determining clear connections supporting learning and student success could lead to a significant narrowing of the economic inequity in our society through empowering learners.

The first step is to increase high school graduation rates across America. The students who don’t acquire their high school diploma have the highest unemployment rate, currently reaching a level of 15.7%.  Upon attaining this milestone, high school alumnae see unemployment rates drop to 10%.  These learners need to not only graduate but  graduate with college ready skills and have a community of people willing to provide them financial, emotional and motivational support to enter higher education. Taking the initial step to enroll in post-secondary education and secure some college experience shows unemployment numbers of individuals begin to fall, if even ever so slightly. In the most recent unemployment numbers for this group rates fell from 10% to 8.7% when some college credit was achieved.

One resource with implications for academic practice deals directly with innovations in testing and measurement. Pearson’s Test, Measurement, and Research Services Newsletter (TMRS) provides an easy to reference list of current publications and conference presentations that deal directly with promoting student success in K-12 and Higher Education.  Pearson's research publications are for educators, parents, students, researchers and policy makers. Visit the Publications section of Pearson’s Assessment & Information website to search by topic, tile, author and date. All documents are available to view in PDF format.

A  Sampling of Recent Publications:

Almond, P., Winter, P., Cameto, R., Russell, M., Sato, E., Clarke, J., et al. (2010). Technology-enabled and universally designed assessment: Considering access in measuring the achievement of students with disabilities—A foundation for research. Dover, NH: Measured Progress and Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Bodenhorn, N., Wolfe, E. W., & Airens, O. (2010). School counselor program choice and self-efficacy: Relationship to achievement gap and equity. Professional School Counseling, 13, 165–174.

Conference Participation

Phan, H., Sentovich, C., Kromrey, J., Ferron, J., & Dedrick, R. (2010, May). Correlates of mathematics achievement in developed and developing countries: An analysis of TIMSS 2003. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Van Moere, A., Suzuki, M., & Klungtvedt, M. (2010, October). Time is money: Assessing efficient use of written English skills for work purposes. Paper presented at the ninth annual conference of the East Coast Organization of Language Testers, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

As educators we all need to take accountability for fostering student success. As United States citizens we need to foster the state of our economy through two of our most valuable resources…..labor and entrepreneurship. Today’s students evolve into leaders of tomorrow. The paths chosen by students have become quite complex. The traditional vertical progression through higher education has become a pathway of the past. It does not suffice to simply understand the various pathways; we must understand why these pathways are chosen and have policies in place to support these pathways. This understanding comes through exploring the perceptions, ambitions and reasons for persistence of all students in their pursuit of degree attainment at all levels of education. The ultimate goal is to empower our struggling labor force to reach personal academic goals and become productive citizens in our workforce!

Let’s make a difference in 2011!


American Association of State Colleges and Universities (ASSCU). (2005, July). Policy Matters: Developing transfer and articulation policies that make a difference. Retrieved December 10, 2010 from http:/

Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS),  United States Department of Labor. (2010, December). Economics Situation Summary. Retrieved December  13, 2010 from

Pearson’s Assessment and Information: Research and Resources Website. Retrieved December  13, 2010 from

Pearson’s Test, Measurement, & Research Services(TMRS). (2010). Quarterly Newsletter v3 n3. Retrieved December  13, 2010 from

Karen R. Owens, Ph.D. / Academic Assessment Consultant / Pearson eCollege


“Good Enough” Learning?

Back in August of 2009, Robert Capps wrote an article for Wired Magazine called, “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.” He commented on the fact that while consumer electronics (including computers) had tended to move toward the more complex, more expensive models in previous years, nowadays, consumers are satisfied more and more often with “good enough” computing. That is, when you look at netbooks, point-and-shoot cameras, music players, etc., we are becoming a society that doesn’t need the fastest and the best. We just want something that will get us along.

One of Capps’ examples is using Pure Digital’s Flip video camera to create “homebrew” videos and quickly publish them to YouTube. (This blog post should not be seen as an endorsement of any products or sites mentioned here; they are merely examples.)  “Traditional” video camera makers like Sony and Canon have had to downgrade – if you will – their engineering to keep up with this trend. Pure Digital jumped to a double-digit market share within two years, while Sony and Canon executives were saying, “Who?”

So, what does this mean for the Learning Management System? Examples abound of “good enough” systems and technology for managing an instructors’ courses.

At Pearson eCollege, I can tell you that we’re not satisfied with just a “good enough” LMS. That’s not to say that we’re going to lumber forward as an ineffective behemoth. Far from it. Rather, we are constantly making improvements and pushing out updates to our system so that it continues to meet the needs of just about every faculty member, student, and administrator.

But let’s take this to the instructional level. Are you, the practitioner, satisfied with “good enough” learning? It’s a question worth thinking about. It would be practically impossible to spend enough time developing courses that were 100% perfect all the time. But how much learning is happening in your courses, and is there something more you could do to improve them?

Consider, for example, the tools available directly in your LMS. What more might you do with them? It’s worth considering how often – and with what degree of quality – you respond to students in discussion forums. What kinds of feedback do you provide to students in the Gradebook? Do you share supplemental readings and Web sites in the Doc Sharing and Webliography areas of your course?

Further, what could you do with the addition of some audio/video or Web 2.0 tools? There are hundreds (probably thousands) of Web 2.0 tools available that can add widgets, mind-maps, presentation slides, animation, translation and language services, and so on that can be incorporated in your course. (We cover a number of these in our EDU 2.0 course offered by eCollege’s eTeaching Institute.)

Again, I’m not expecting your course to be perfect. But think about “good enough computing” the next time you set to working on your course, and think then about “good enough learning.” Are you satisfied with your students’ learning being just good enough? And if not, what can you do about it? You have the tools and you have the talent. Go make your masterpiece!


Recipe For Success

A year and a half ago, my wife went in for radical, life-changing surgery.  The surgery worked and her life is altered for the better.  But an odd thing happened just before the doctors started removing organs.  I got a text message from my Dad.  While it was impressive to get a text from the 64 year old minister who flies 200,000 miles per year, that wasn’t odd.  What was odd was how he signed it.  The text simply said,

“Jeff, know that we’re all praying for you.  Please call us when you can, but know you’re in our thoughts.  LOL.”

Now, for those of you not in the know, it’s the LOL that really threw me.  So, about a week later, I was going back through my messages and I found it again.  So I asked my sister why Dad would sign a text that way.  She said that she had gotten a similar one.  Her little girl was having some dental problems and needed a root canal.  Dad sent her a text the ended the same way.  “Hope she does great…LOL”

So I called my dad and asked him why he was signing his texts that way.  He told me, “I was so moved by a text from your sister a few months back that I’ve adopted it!  She wrote me a text saying she had just seen my book on the shelf in Barnes & Noble and that I was the man…then she signed it, LOL.”  He went on to explain that the comment, “Lots of Love” was so moving, he almost cried and had been using it ever since…

The following five minutes of conversation led my father to hang up and spend two days calling and apologizing to people for “laughing out loud” at their deeply troubling problems.  My uncle’s divorce was met with LOL, a roommate from college who just lost his own father was followed up with LOL…essentially my dad had offended about 20 people in 2 months via text message!

As much as that story makes me smile, and while I hope it also makes you smile, it’s the formula for that story that is important.  I teach speech and rhetoric – I have for years.  And throughout my years, I ask students to include plenty of narrative in their speeches.  Stories make a profound difference to an audience when told right. 

But there is a problem…often they are NOT told right.  I partially blame the news.  Your local news or the newspaper has always been filled with stories, right?  WRONG!  The bastardization of that term has caused people to believe that a “report” is the same thing as a “story” – when it’s not.  Let me explain.

Typically, an article or report is about time.  It is a chronological, step by step explanation of what happened.  Can it be engaging?  Sure – but more often it’s just informational.  But a “story” is different. 

Coming from “mythos”, the idea of story is really all about plot.  And the idea is simple – the plot should create tension, keep tension, and release tension!  Let me share a quick, but simple (and effective) recipe for a story that my students try to use.

Step one is to provide an attention getter.  In my story above, my first sentence was designed to be a bit engaging.  Nothing Earth shattering, but unusual.  A hook to keep you listening.  This was followed by a very important step two – the creation of tension!  My statement about an odd text message hopefully had you wondering what exactly was odd about it.  Step three is actually the majority of the adventure.  The purpose of step three is to keep the tension building.  Hopefully you were wondering with me why in the world my dad would write such a calloused message and why he would perpetuate that message over and over.  Finally, in step four, I released you from the tension.  I explained the behavior and concluded the story. 

The formula for a good story.

The formula for a good story.

If you think about it, almost every good story today follows this formula.  This recipe can be found in prime time dramas, late night sitcoms, or blockbuster movies.  If you look at a legal show like Boston Legal, the only difference is that they use this formula five or six times per show, often leaving the tension for a few storylines so as to bring you back next week.

So, as you consider creating content for your course…heck, as you consider your course in general!  Think about this formula.  Do you tell stories that create tension, hold tension, and release tension?  On a bigger scale, does your course grab students from week one and build the tension until week 15 when they say, “A-ha!”  Of course there are mini-gestalt moments along the way, but if you use this formula correctly…your students will be clamoring for more week after week! 

So, whether it’s an individual narrative, a discussion illustration, a lecture, or an entire course, think about this “recipe for success” the next time you want to really engage your students.  I think you’ll like the results.

Good luck and good teaching.
Jeff D Borden, M.A.
Senior Director of Teaching & Learning


The more things change…

Greetings! I’m the new guy on the Academic Training & Consulting block here at Pearson eCollege, and as such, I get to do a lot of historical research. My supervisor and my colleagues want me to be up-to-date on how our department works, how we fit into the larger structure of Pearson eCollege, how eCollege fits into the larger structure of Pearson plc, and so on. I find that one of the best ways to understand how we are going forward is to look backward.

So, I have been tasked with reading (or at least skimming) the blog posts as well as the Educator’s Voice articles and Instructor Tips from over the years. These date back as early as 2002, which in Internet history, falls somewhere after the dot-com bubble burst, but before Web 2.0.

What really struck me in this review process was how much some things have changed, while others have stayed the same. Specifically, as more and more of our EV articles were written, the tried-and-true instructional strategies remain as strong as ever. On the other hand, the technology – not just the eCollege platform, but all related Internet technologies – has changed drastically in these past eight years.

Take, for example, a Tech Tip by Stephen Shugart (a former Instructional Design Consultant – what we now call Academic Trainer & Consultant) that taught EV readers how to insert images into course items using html. All but the most advanced of these functions have been replaced with the “Insert an Image” button on the .NExT Visual Editor. Another former IDC, Errin Klein, discussed the technological marvel that is the Dropbox. (Well, okay, she mentions that she is glad to have it; but calling it a technological marvel is my own literary license.)

Let us also not forget how much Internet technology has changed since 2002. At that time, cable modem and DSL access were just starting to make their way into the home market. Most students working from home were still on dial-up. Multimedia resources (such as the streaming video now available in eCollege) were available, but the quality was less-than-stellar and many students’ Internet connections lacked the bandwidth to view them.

Nowadays, not only do we see professors embedding YouTube content in eCollege courses, but students creating their own video responses on YouTube and even embedding these in discussion forum responses. Yessir, technology has enabled many new ways of communicating within our courses.

On the flip side, strategies for and indicators of quality teaching have remained the solid foundation for what we do. In March 2002, Keith Millner wrote a column for EV called, “Good Teaching is Good Teaching (No Matter Where or When it Happens).” In it, he discussed five propositions from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for what constitutes quality teaching:

  1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning
  2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students
  3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning
  4. Teacher think systematically about their practice and learn from experience
  5. Teachers are members of learning communities

These are as relevant to online learning as they are to the classroom, and are as relevant today as they were eight years ago.

Jeff Borden, once an Instructional Design Consultant and now Senior Director of Teaching & Learning for Pearson eCollege, wrote in April 2003 about the need for immediacy in online learning. (Ironically, at the time, Jeff was the new guy.) This is not the impatient, Veruca Salt immediacy you might think of, but rather the concept that students in online courses require a perception of closeness to their instructor, of knowing who is behind the curtain and why he or she cares about what the students are learning. Photos, audio & video, narrative, open discussion, humor, and check-up emails are tools that Jeff described as valuable in providing that sense of immediacy.

I am not recommending here that you should be reading all of our old EV columns. (Though feel free – they’re great resources!). My point here is that describing the brief but rapidly changing history of online learning teaches us two things. First, technology will always be marching ahead, bringing new tools and delivery methods for the growing population of online learners. Second, and perhaps more importantly, quality teaching can still be informed by returning to what we know about students, about their needs and our capacity to meet those needs, and our skills as educators in delivering information effectively. It’s a twist, you might say, on the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the online learning realm, that’s exactly what we want.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D. | Academic Trainer & Consultant | Pearson eCollege


Communicating with students

A column on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website recently reported that students’ #1 technology request is to have online chat capabilities with their instructor (here’s a report on the CDW-G study examining the role of technology in higher education). I’ve been kicking this around in my mind since first reading that CHE column. What does that result really mean?  Since the study considered on-campus tech resources, I’m assuming that these are students in traditional classrooms that have in-person access to the professors, yet they still want more. Is it truly synchronous chatting that they are longing for? Or do they simply want additional ways to communicate with their instructor? And, do they want to know that their instructor will actually hear them and communicate back within a certain timeframe?

Communication between instructor and students is extremely important in traditional classrooms, and is even more important in online classes where instructors need to work to create and maintain instructor presence. For example, a recent study by Dennen et al. (2007) asked students to rank the importance of different instructor practices in online courses. Six of the eight most highly ranked behaviors involved communication, including: checking email, posting in discussions, providing timely feedback, responding to student inquiries, communicating rules and expectations, and modeling communication protocols (the other two factors related to information needs, and included providing examples and providing appropriate course materials and activities).

So for instructors who would like to build better communication with their students, these are good places to get started. You can examine these six areas to see if you’re doing all that you can to communicate with students… are you regularly checking and responding to email, or other student inquiries? Do you regularly post in discussions so students know you are there reading the responses they work to create? Do you provide timely feedback on course assignments? Have you communicated your rules and expectations for the course so students know how to be successful? And finally, do you model professional communication throughout the course? If this seems too much to tackle at once, pick a few things to focus on and get started. Remember that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao-tzu). Both you and your students will be glad that you took that step.

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Senior Academic Trainer & Consultant

Dennen, V.P., A. A. Darabi, and L.J. Smith. (2007). Instructor-learner interaction in online courses: the relative perceived importance of particular instructor actions on performance and satisfaction. Distance Education, 28(1), 65-79.



Do you know the story of the student who kept taking his Final Exam after the class session ended?  The instructor of the large, Freshman lecture called for all tests to be turned in on her desk.  Every student complied, creating a very large stack, save one.  He just sat in his desk, writing and filling in bubbles.  After three attempts to get his attention and the student obviously ignoring her pleas, the instructor sat down at her desk and watched, excited to refuse the exam of such a petulant student.  Finally, after twenty minutes, the student put down his pencil, stood up, and casually walked toward the instructor’s desk.  As he began to extend his hand with the exam in it, the instructor spoke up.  “Young man, I asked for these to be submitted twenty minutes ago.  You took more than the allotted time and so your test will not be counted.”  The young man cocked his head and chewed his lip.  “Do you have any idea who I am instructor?” he asked.  The teacher was indignant. “I don’t want to hear about how your parents donated a building!  I don’t know who you are and I don’t care!”  At that, the student said, “I didn’t think you’d know me…” as he lifted half of the stack of tests on the desk, placed his exam in the middle, and walked out of the room.

Walter Fisher (1995), arguably the most notable story researcher of our time, discusses the narrative paradigm in great detail.  He suggests that all people are essentially storytellers who make decisions on the basis of (their perception of) good reasons.  History, biography, culture, and character determine what we define as “good reasons”.  The world is a set of stories from which we choose (and constantly re-create) our lives. 

In education, story is powerful.  Story creates context.  Examples define paradigms.  Illustrations generate meaning.  In other words, narrative bridges learning style preferences, increases attention span, helps retention, and integrates curriculum across disciplines.  If the world is full of storytellers and narrative is how we make sense of that world we live in, the question of usage in the classroom is obvious.

How often do you tell stories in your course?  For my online teachers out there, this becomes even more relevant.  How often do you tell stories in your online class?

What a great potential for audio clips in the online course.  Adding a link at the top of a difficult concept with “Listen To Fred’s Story” or “Here’s A Real Life Example of Statistics in Action” might be one way to incorporate stories.  Voice threads from Web 2.0 sites like might offer a way for teachers and students to share narratives in the online course.  Or a simple text box, highlighted by color or bold font might be enough to emphasize your point through illustration. 

No matter how you slice it, stories are important to our culture and our world, so they should be peppered throughout our courses.  They can be personal (which then creates a nice tie to Instructor Immediacy…but that’s another blog) and they can be from outside sources (creating a good venue for modeled credibility).  Just try not to “hear” my message today, instead really “listen” to it! 

A Congressman once publicly criticized the Department of Agriculture for wasting the taxpayers’ money printing useless pamphlets. According to the politician, they printed pamphlets about “everything except the love life of the frog.”  Following the Congressman’s speech, the Department of Agriculture began to receive orders for The Love Life of the Frog. As more and more orders arrived, the department eventually had to make a public statement announcing emphatically that no such pamphlet existed. After the public denial, letters requesting The Love Life of the Frog began to arrive by the hundreds. Finally, the Secretary of Agriculture, in a national address, stated that the department had never printed such a pamphlet and had no intention of ever doing so.  Following the broadcast, thousands of orders for the pamphlet arrived in the mail.

See…listening is crucial…and so is storytelling.

Jeff Borden, M.A.
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Fisher, Walter R. (1995). "Narration, Knowledge, and the Possibility of Wisdom" in Rethinking Knowledge: Reflections Across the Disciplines (Suny Series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences). (Fisher & Robert F. Goodman as editors). New York: State University of New York Press.