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Credit Where Credit is Due

Notice: Originally published May 13, 2016 at Teaching Out Loud.

Are you taking credit for someone else’s work?

“Of course not!” you might say. “That goes against everything I teach students about respect, honor, and good scholarship!”

“How dare you!” you might even add.

Everyone in higher education knows you have to give proper credit. If we had Ten Commandments, “give proper credit” would be at least the third one. So, not long ago, I would have responded the same way. Of course not! How dare you!

But then I had an epiphany. In the middle of a PowerPoint presentation, no less.

Let me give some context. Dartmouth has a great teaching community. Our teaching and learning center organizes several workshops every quarter. Faculty presenters share their successes and failures. It’s a great opportunity to see how other people solve interesting problems and take on big challenges in the classroom.

In one of the recent sessions I noticed that every speaker thanked an instructional designer for their help. I kept nodding. Our instructional designers are so good! I was right in the middle of thinking “it’s nice when they credit the instructional designer, so people know who does good work….”

And then something went “click” in my head.

In front of our peers, we give credit to our collaborators. But do we do that in class? Was I doing that in class? Or was I taking all the credit?

Uh oh.

I realized that I hadn’t been telling my students about all the help I get. I wasn’t giving credit where credit was due.

The thing is, I get a lot of help! Take Mike Goudzwaard, for example. I’ve collaborated with Mike for years. We’ve worked on digital scholarship projects, developed open badging for learning, and created unique active learning experiences. We’ve written articles together and traveled halfway around the world to deliver workshops together. He’s made everything about my teaching, and my students’ learning, better.

And yet, in the classroom, I hadn’t been telling the students why their learning experiences were so great. When something worked especially well, I would just stand there and be happy, soaking up the admiration.

I was teaching my students to credit their sources. But I wasn’t doing it. In that moment, during that presentation, it clicked. I had to do better.

So this quarter I did three things differently. Here’s what I did:

First, I introduced Mike as the instructional designer on the first day of the course. I explained what an instructional designer does, how we’ve worked together on past projects, and how much better the course is because he is involved.

Second, I made sure students knew that Mike is as much a part of the course as I am. He can (and does) come to class anytime. That’s normal. The students know him. When he visits, he participates alongside them. And if he tries to stay off to the side, they pull him back in!

Third, I encouraged my students to ask questions about collaboration in their other courses. Does the instructor collaborate with an instructional designer? Who? Who makes their learning better? Which instructional designers help make the classes they enjoy?

These might seem like small changes. Or, if you’re one of the professors getting questioned by students, these changes might seem a little subversive! But they’re important changes. I’m glad I made them. Mike deserves the credit.

And yet, now that I’ve started thinking about giving credit, I’m finding it hard to stop thinking about how to do more. How we can show students all of the work that goes into good learning experiences? How can we provide better information about learning quality, and help students make better decisions?

So here are some ideas. Why not build course catalogs that promote courses based on the quality of learning experiences? Why not create course descriptions that show learning objectives, not just the topic or reading list? Why not replace “instructor” with “subject expert?” Why not empower students to make learning decisions based on information about all learning collaborators, not just the faculty member whose name is in bold letters?

I know, I know, it’s a slippery slope to ratemyinstructionaldesigner.com. And frankly, not all faculty are ready to give up their privileged positions in the course catalog. These ideas aren’t going to turn into policy just yet.

But in the meantime, let’s at least give credit where credit is due.

Michael S. Evans

© Michael S. Evans 2008-2017