Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Cultivating Honest Hearts and Knowing Heads: An Experiential Learning Project to Increase Campus-Wide Levels of Trust and Responsibility through a StudentLed Campaign

Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Cultivating Honest Hearts and Knowing Heads: An Experiential Learning Project to Increase Campus-Wide Levels of Trust and Responsibility through a StudentLed Campaign

Article excerpt

Scholarship of Application, Winter 2017

Recent headlines about the Harvard cheating scandal and articles chronicling the rise in cheating culture and increase in academic violations over the past 30 years (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 2001) have pushed the topic of academic integrity to the forefront of the higher education agenda. Thomas Jefferson once said "an honest heart" is "the first blessing," and he suggested that "a knowing head is the second."[1] This Jefferson quotation can be found on the inside cover of the Honor Code given to all Virginia Wesleyan College students, emphasizing to students the college's mission to serve as a supportive community committed to social responsibility, ethical conduct and higher learning. Jefferson was a leader in the interdisciplinary approach that comes with a liberal arts education where students are taught to ask and answer questions and think innovatively-a hallmark of learning in small communication programs.

This paper describes a teaching module for a public relations course set in a small liberal arts college, which is grounded in honor, trust and personal responsibility, yet threatened by the encroaching cheating culture of higher education today. The project spanned two academic semesters and drew from funding provided by an internal teaching grant. The budget was used to implement a student-led public relations campaign directed at educating the campus community about academic integrity and increasing awareness of and adherence to the existing college honor code.

While much of the knowledge of the public relations higher education curricula comes from and is modeled after the bigger, AEJMC-accredited PR programs, many public relations courses at the college level are taught within the framework of smaller communication programs that may offer only one or two public relations classes. Additionally, Virginia Wesleyan College has recently transitioned to a new 4^4 curriculum, whereby each 3-credit course has been expanded to 4 credits, inviting professors to engage students more deeply in course material by including enhanced out-of-class experiences and projects. The challenge for this type of class, which introduces students to new material and also immerses them in a deep, experiential learning opportunity, is to provide the fundamental tools of the subject in a survey-style course, while concurrently encouraging them to "learn by doing" with an experiential project.

Overview

Documentation of this two-semester learning experience will be twofold. Students in the spring (2013) public relations course were charged with crafting detailed action plans to increase the climate of academic integrity on campus. They were given a 20-item personal involvement inventory to assess their own attitudes and behavioral intentions toward the college honor code during the first and last weeks of the semester (Rubin, 1994). Students demonstrated significant increases in personal involvement following the 15-week course. These data, triangulated with qualitative reports gathered from the students' "personal reflection" journals, provide a detailed account of how the experience in a small program, using the enhanced hour for intensive experiential learning, has allowed for a unique and impactful learning tool. Additionally, a pedagogical examination also documents how this experience has impacted students' own views of ethical behavior and academic integrity in a campaign-style framework.

This paper will also document the efficacy of the student-led communication campaign among its target audiences using pre- and post-test measurements from quantifiable objectives. Students from the fall (2013) public relations course, which implemented the campaign, reported pre- and post-campaign data that illustrated higher awareness levels in four of five areas about the campus honor code among the student population. Additionally, data show that freshmen reported higher levels of personal involvement following the semester-long campaign. …

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