Key Insight: My last column on writing letters of recommendation (LOR) for students has generated more ideas, experiences and potential ethical issues! Here, I consider LOR requests from long-graduated students who contact you (sometimes out of the blue); the online recommendation phenomenon, such as with LinkedIn, that utilizes ‘blanket’ or generalized LORs; potential legal issues about what we say in LORs with respect to privacy laws, including what might change for us writers when students can examine our letters before we send them; and finally, an ethical issue raised by different cultural interpretations of what’s OK. Let’s go!
KEY INSIGHT: THE ETHICIST has been running as a blog on AOM Connect for a year now so it makes sense for its creators and bloggers to take stock of what the blog has (and has not) accomplished over the past year, and to think creatively about how to move ahead. We will hold a Caucus session, “THE ETHICIST: THE INFORMAL ECONOMY AND SCHOLARSHIP, TEACHING AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE ETHICS,” to discuss this issue at the Boston AOM annual meetings in August 2012. Please join us!
The semester ended a week ago, with the usual flurry: exams, grading crunch, and anxious seniors making sure they passed my section of their capstone strategy course. But this semester, the end of the semester also brought something new: Facebook ‘friending’ requests from my soon-to-be ex-students. They want to keep in touch, they say, and Facebook (FB) has become the default mechanism to do so. I got friend requests this semester for the first time because I QUITE belatedly have created my own FB page. At the time of Facebook’s IPO, the site had about 845 million users. I was probably number 844,999,000 to sign up, just opening my page in January of this year. Getting on Facebook has been a true event for me, having easily resisted the pull of FB since its inception about eight years ago. Do I need another thing to do, really??
I graded my strategy students’ first position/reaction paper late last week. As is usually the case on the first one, students do quite poorly, not making the conceptual leap from summarizing the contents of the article to which they had to respond, to making supported judgments about the article’s assertions. It’s a complex learning process, and as such I offer extensive handouts and scaffolding to lower their anxiety level. While the mean score is usually a low ‘C’ on the first paper, one student simply.. how should I say it.. bombed the assignment. “Bob” [not his real name, and he knows I am writing about this] did not follow any of the directions for either content or structure, and appeared to have no grasp of the assignment’s intent.
I am delighted with the responses to the Ethicist posts—both on the site and to me personally. Thanks for your energy and insights.
An Academy member sent me a very interesting scenario he has been facing that should resonate with many, not only in our field but with those following trends in academe as a whole. I have experienced a version of it myself just this semester. Consider this:
For the past 10 years, you’ve taught a required course you like. You’re effective at teaching this course, too: in the first several years, your course evaluations were very high and other student feedback indicated that they loved your course. However, although you manage the course in essentially the same way as you have since the beginning, and your teaching style has not changed dramatically for the worse, your course evaluations have become not so great. The reason behind this is that your students now evaluate your course’s workload as much too heavy, especially in relation to others who teach the course. When you first were teaching the course and got great evaluations, over 90% of students evaluated your course’s workload as “appropriate.” Over time, you now earn that evaluation metric from only 20% of students.
For students considering taking your course, the word on the street is that you are a very difficult instructor and your course carries an inappropriately rough workload. So, along with decreasing student evaluation numbers, you’re also facing fewer students in your section and resentful colleagues, all in the context of a dramatically increased institutional focus on student retention. You consider your assignment load completely appropriate for the course material.
As you puzzled over your change in evaluation fortunes, you reviewed syllabi from colleagues who also teach this course and found out that, based on similar student feedback, they had been gradually decreasing the workload in their courses. It appears that other sections of this course now require only a group presentation (without a corresponding written assignment) and one multiple choice exam at the end of the course. Indeed, you do have the heaviest workload now out of anyone teaching that course, although there is nothing out of the ordinary in your assignment mix: multiple writing assignments, group written project, and two essay/short answer exams.
What do you do?
I had the most interesting event happen a couple of days ago and I wanted to share it on this blog with the Academy community. One of my strategy students came to my office the morning after they had all handed in an assignment—a case analysis practicing basic tools such as Five Forces and SWOT. “Scott” [not his real name] told me to remove the back page of his analysis because he had largely filled it in during our class discussion, and as such it should not be evaluated as homework completed. Scott said, “I had to come see you. I fretted [he actually used that word] about it all night.” I had already graded the assignment, and had no idea he had not filled it all out as homework.
I am delighted to engage the Academy community in discussion about the myriad ways ethics may be manifested in our teaching responsibilities. While I have a long list of topics I am eager to put out in this blog column for your input, let me echo Lorraine Eden’s introductory invitation for you, the Academy member, to send me topics you’d like to see in discussion.
What do the following have in common?
- Grading student work fairly and consistently
- Taking into account for final grades some ‘outlier’ student life experience or individual student need, such as a mid-semester baby birth or care of a sick parent or sibling
- Discovering that a student has disclosed private or inappropriate information to others in an online discussion
- Considering extreme consequences of students’ earning failing grades, such as with international students being deported if they fail a course