Connecting Course Design and Academic Integrity: Scaffolding Reading to Structure Success
Many, perhaps most, students engage in academic dishonesty, and many factors can contribute to these behaviors. Because cheating is often impacted by the situation, we can use what we know about the factors that impact academic dishonesty to design courses that support integrity and structure student success.
The connection between course design and impact factors such as high stakes assignments, workload, and procrastination is evident. Standard scaffolding can support students and guard against those factors, but expanding scaffolding to include reading can broaden the impact and further mitigate risks related to academic dishonesty.
Scaffolding assignments, writing assignments in particular, by breaking them into process steps is a well-known best practice. Scaffolding can structure skill-building activities through low-stakes tasks that deepen comprehension, practice application, and construct larger assignments. It’s clear to see how scaffolding (or a lack thereof) can impact procrastination and how procrastination can impact lack of preparedness and anxiety. Taken together, students can easily find themselves in a perfect storm of poor performance that perpetuates low academic self-efficacy.
Since students are more likely to cheat on written assignments, scaffolding writing assignments is an important way to support academic integrity and student success. Scaffolded writing assignments often begin by submitting a topic, outline, annotated bibliography, or early draft, which overlooks the opportunity to focus on a key component of student success: Reading.
When we assign reading without assigning a point value, we are sending the message that reading is pointless. When we assign reading without a support structure, we are assuming that students have the time management skills needed to prioritize reading, which they may find difficult, boring, or pointless. If students do complete the reading independently, we are assuming that they are reading closely and critically, identifying key elements, and connecting them to assignments and objectives. If our assumptions are incorrect, students can fall behind and end up struggling to complete assignments without comprehending the content.
Structuring student success is especially important now that many students are learning online, including many who would not have selected online sections if given an option. Students who were able to get by without reading and supplement their learning with class discussions are now required to complete the reading and to do so alone. For our online sections of first-year writing, we expanded our design to scaffolded reading through the steps of collaborative reading, reading quizzes, and discussion posts. Collaborative readings allow students to comment on the content readings with their peers, and reading quizzes and discussion posts allow students to earn points for engaging the readings.
All of our content readings are distributed as Google Docs, and students are required to comment on the readings. Collaborative readings allow students to engage content and practice active reading strategies with peers. Students can ask their peers questions and help each other by answering and adding context. In online sections, it is particularly critical to create opportunities for students to interact with their peers, and collaborative reading provides a peer audience:
Collaborative readings allow instructors to discuss reading practices and to direct reading by adding their own comments before students complete the readings, which they can use to demonstrate annotating techniques, highlight key terms and takeaways, and ask leading questions.
Students can also access recordings of the readings in Youtube:
Readings include a time on task estimate students can use for planning. Students are encouraged to pay attention to their time on task, schedule breaks as they learn their reading patterns, contact their instructors if something is taking considerably longer than estimated, and stick with the task if they haven’t put in the estimated amount of time.
After students complete the collaborative readings, they take a ten-question reading quiz. The goal is not to test comprehension or retention but to facilitate reading, help students identify important elements, and provide points for engaging the reading.
“The reading quizzes are designed to facilitate comprehension of course content. Understanding the reading material is essential to successful completion of the assignments. Quizzes highlight important points from each reading. Feel free to reference the readings as you work on the quiz. Reading quizzes are not timed and can be taken once.”
All quizzes are automatically graded in Canvas, and answers become visible after the quizzes are due.
After students complete the reading quiz, they submit a discussion post, which deepens comprehension and provides points for commenting, engaging peer comments, and summarizing content. All discussion posts are threads so that students have a peer audience. The questions are the same for all readings:
Instructors do not need to review student comments on the collaborative readings because they can see them in the discussion posts. Evaluation should be approached as check/minus, but question five can be answered to encourage communication, especially in online courses.
Our scaffolded reading structure was deployed for Fall 20, when all sections of ENC 1101 and 1102 were online. The results of our student surveys are overwhelmingly positive—even higher than the F2F format—with over 95% of respondents agreeing that they are better writers for having taken the course. Students noted benefiting from seeing peer samples and responded well to that concept of showing their work to earn points for reading. Completion and retention results were also positive. We will continue to track outcomes connected to academic dishonesty, and we plan to evaluate the impact of scaffolded reading on FTIC, FIF, URM, and Pell-eligible student populations.
Scaffolding reading provides structure for online sections and increases peer interaction among students. Reading that is actively engaged and instructor mediated is considered direct faculty instruction. Scaffolding reading can also ground hybrid/hyflex sections or facilitate flipped classrooms. Assigning quizzes and posts before class meetings helps students get more out of discussions and activities. Scaffolding readings also provides assessment content to demonstrate SLOs connected to reading (e.g., identify, recognize, discuss) and allows instructors to identify students who are not completing the readings and provide intervention opportunities.
Elements of this approach can be utilized independently. Standard scaffolding can be expanded to include the submission of any course content or lectures. If an outline or annotated bibliography is assigned, students could submit an annotated article each week for a few weeks before the annotated bibliography is due. If textbooks do not include pdfs or digital copies, students can still communicate in a collaborative notes doc and submit summaries, share takeaways, and post comments in a graded discussion thread.
Scaffolding reading through collaborative readings, quizzes, and posts prepares students for success in subsequent tasks, which can decrease procrastination and build confidence, and advances critical reading skills, which can transfer beyond the content and the course. All quizzes and posts are due at the same days and times and create low-stakes assignments that add up over the term and provide a foundation of points. The consistent structure provides a clear path to success that values participation and effort while avoiding the anxiety associated with high stakes and poor performance.
Alaina Tackitt and Morgan Gresham are Rhetoric and Composition faculty in the English department at the University of South Florida. Dr. Tackitt specializes in Writing Analytics, and Dr. Gresham specializes in Writing Program Administration.