Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Ethics of Co-authoring a Pedagogical Article with Students

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I’ve got an interesting little ethical dilemma here. I’m co-authoring a book chapter related to a course I’m currently teaching. Currently, the authors are myself and my colleague who has been observing the course all semester (she’s been to maybe 90% of the classes, and brainstormed along with me much of what I’ve done, but not been heavily involved in grading or looking at student work closely).

While thinking about the chapter (due end of this month, so not too much after grades will be out), I wondered if students might like to co-author it.

My general approach to writing it, so far, is to tell the story of the course from three perspectives: mine, my observer’s, and my students. Originally, I was going to use the students’ own words via their blogs. And that should still be a good option. However, what if actual students could be involved in either telling their personal stories, or interpreting the stories of their colleagues as well as their own?

There are multiple ethical dilemmas with this:

  1. The students who choose to participate are likely the ones who enjoyed the course; they would give a skewed view of the course
  2. Do I put out an open call to students to participate? Do I do this before the course finishes? Would that make some people feel like they need to say yes in order to get a good grade? Should I make it an “extra credit” assignment, to encourage it? Is that no unfair to those who would not want to do it?
  3. Should I just let them know that their final reflection might end up in the book chapter, and if so, that I would include them as co-authors if I use more than X number of words from their blogs? This sounds like a reasonable thing… and once I’ve done that (after grades are out) they can choose to look at the chapter itself and add other stuff or not…
  4. Should I just wait until the course is over and grades are out to get in touch with the students whose views I’d really like to hear in the chapter and ask them THEN? Should I not mention it at all before the grades are out?
  5. Should I make it a whole-class thing and just have a discussion with the whole class about it?

gaaaah I don’t know.

I tried to see if others had thought this issue up, but what I found relates more to co-authoring with a student whom one is supervising  – a completely different thing to co-authoring with a student about one’s own teaching. Hmm.

Had my deadline not been this close, I would have had more time to think about it and definitely to consider waiting until later… the issue, though, is that the deadline is looming, and I don’t want student participation to be tokenistic… so… thoughts?

2 Comments

  1. I’m increasingly convinced that it’s important to cite our students as active human participants with names in the scholarship of teaching and learning, not just as anonymous data points. Obviously there are issues around the power dynamic of attributed comments (as you list), but I feel like the “anonymize everything!” solution is often just a “social science-y” handwaving to negate the issues around anonymization. So good for you for running straight at it!

    I think the big question is how much you want the students involved in the authoring of the chapter. Mark Carnes did a great job of incorporating student voice in _Minds On Fire_ (including some of the reflective work that I think you’re considering) and talks at length about the issue of student agency in the book, but while giving extensive credit to the named students, he’s retained sole authorship for himself. You could go a notch above that by circulating your draft to the students (or a select group of them) for comment, and thanking them for their input in the text, but treating it more as acknowledgement of a peer reviewer/trusted colleague than a co-author. Your Option 4 is really interesting – after the semester, solicit a couple of students who you’d really like to keep working with. Personally, I wouldn’t try to engage the whole class at this point in the project or the semester… that seems like a major re-conception of both the chapter and the course, so I’d probably avoid it.

    • I wonder if doing it intentionally at the start of a semester would be a good thing… Thanks for responding Joe! Was really hoping folks would think this through with me

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