Preserving Academic Integrity in Writing at the College Level

NF ThoughtLeaders Template

By Nicole Fortuna, MLA
Professional Writing Tutor
Center for Academic Enhancement

Grammarly.com is my virtual nemesis.

And its older, invasive cousin, autocorrect, is on the precipice of ruining my credibility with loved ones. Despite Grammarly.com’s sleek, relatable marketing and blatant appeal to the younger millennial audience (who often learned how to write essays on their school-issued tablets rather than with paper and pencil), I wholeheartedly reject this “improvement” app. In an age of hegemonic text automation alongside a ubiquitous adoption of online learning, how do we continue to preserve academic integrity and authenticity in writing at the college level?

Grammarly.com’s more recent advertisement portrays a Journalism professor who relishes the tool’s prose-interloping ways—or automatic prompts within text—which his students rely upon to polish and even rewrite their copy. This seemingly innocuous aid fosters a mentality of learned helplessness: “If it’s wrong or bad, someone or something else will automatically fix it for me.” As a result, students are shown that complacency is acceptable in the writing process—educational subterfuge at its worst.

I maintain that learning how to write well is an underrated rite of passage, bristled with countless revisions and humbling reality checks along the way. Sites like Grammarly.com illustrate that grit, patience, and thick skin are not required in becoming a good writer; however, these qualities cultivate a student’s thoughtfulness, cognition, and most importantly, the commitment to create original work. A student’s academic integrity.

In August 2017, the Center for Academic Enhancement (CAE) introduced online tutoring. When I piloted this modality, my first concern was not that online tutoring would be unsuccessful, but that our rich tutoring interactions within the face-to-face setting would translate into watered-down, one-sided editing sessions in the online setting. To avoid this, I use what comedian Gary Gulman describes as the “call-other-people app” to speak on the phone with every student I tutor. (The audacity!) And, I carry the conversation as if the student were sitting next to me at the CAE.

Our first priority at the CAE is to preserve and practice academic integrity—on both sides of the table, phone line, or private messaging. It is our responsibility to eschew adopting ownership of a student’s work and rather facilitate a heuristic dialogue that empowers the tutee to embrace their own work, and ultimately, aspire to be authentic, good writers.

In light of the most recent college admissions scandal, we in higher education everywhere are reminded that academic integrity—before, during, and after the admissions process—is neither a fixed nor widely adopted principle, but rather a precarious construct that we as educators need to openly model, uphold, and measure. This starts by teaching our students to write authentically and fearlessly, and with the kind of integrity that would leave any automatic prompt at a loss for words.