Turned my grades in yesterday (vegging out today, tomorrow all-day workshop on Gen Ed reform). The Registrar changed the submission cut-off from 9am to 1pm. She’s German (and not Bavarian), so this was a significant concession. It helped me a lot. It’s much different to stay up all night leisurely rather than frantically.
In my World History sections I asked the students to do something pretty hard for their final papers, as usual – synthesis. We spent the semester working our way through a series of documents ranging from Assia Djebar’s fictional account of growing up in colonial Algeria to Adam Smith and the Communist Manifesto, using ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ as our rubrics. The students wrote papers on both, and their task for the final paper was to use specific examples to analyze how structure and agency relate to ‘freedom’, using both readings from the course texts and some outside research as sources. We did brainstorm this quite a bit in class.
I did not have a dogmatic answer in mind, so a variety of answers did well based on how thoughtfully conceived and well supported they were. Most of the students figured out that agency isn’t quite the same thing as freedom, in part because we discussed at length how structures can be either/both constraining and enabling. In a familiar way, the worser papers asserted that freedom is complicated and a matter of perspective (you’ll get a D or maybe a low C for stating what should be the obvious after a whole semester of focused investigation), while the better papers dug down into cases to show how agency was constrained and enabled in particular historical contexts and/or theoretical concepts. And the best demonstrated that what counted as freedom had to be specified depending on contexts and concepts.
We also talked quite a bit about establishing rhetorical credibility and about the authority of sources, so even the marginal students were pretty well inoculated against plagiarism. But I did get two papers that properly cited essays found at commercial plagiarism websites as outside sources. I laughed and laughed.