Helping Students to Succeed. Honestly


At the 2005 Spring Plenary Session of the Academic Senate, in the spirit of the themes of the Session, show and tell and accountability-one of the many breakouts addressed two perennial concerns of community college faculty. How do we help more of our students to reach their goals? And, how do we prevent them from taking shortcuts by cheating?

At this breakout, Leon Marzillier introduced two faculty members of Los Angeles Valley College, Deborah Harrington and Scott Weigand, who described a successful program they put together at that college with the help of a FIPSE grant. It is known as the STARS program (Strategic Team for the Advancement and Retention of Students). Following are some of the programs and ideas stemming from this initiative described by Deborah and Scott, but developed by a whole team of faculty, staff, and students at that college. Maybe it will give you some thoughts for putting a like program together on your campus.

In developing the STARS program, Project Director and grant writer Deborah Harrington recognized that faculty and staff are provided with numerous opportunities for professional development where they can meet and discuss different strategies to foster academic success in the classroom; however, in these sessions, the primary stakeholders-the students-are being left out of the conversation. Therefore, the STARS program was designed to provide opportunities where students and faculty could meet regularly both in and out of class in order to discuss and monitor their learning. The idea is that STARS students-with the help of faculty-will learn to set goals for learning and to monitor their learning progress; in this way, STARS faculty will help students to better understand the process of learning itself.

STARS has thus been a vehicle for bringing together students, faculty, and staff to engage in a comprehensive dialogue about academic honesty at Los Angeles Valley College. Over the course of two semesters, STARS facilitated twelve roundtable discussions exploring nearly every aspect of this topic. The sessions began with students and faculty sharing their own experiences and concerns and then discussing how cultural differences as well as transitioning from high school to college can lead to students misunderstanding the conventions of the discourse community at the college level.

In subsequent sessions, the amount of information on academic honesty in Los Angeles Valley College's course catalogue was examined and compared to other colleges. And in doing so, the group discovered the need for more explicit information detailing not only the school's policies, but suggestions for how and where to get help when students are struggling with assignments. Out of this grew an understanding that a primary cause of academic dishonesty is pressure and anxiety. By shifting the focus of the conversation to preventative strategies rather than punitive measures, participants came to understand the importance of shared responsibility. That is, students, faculty, and staff all hold a stake in creating an environment which privileges academic integrity. The work on this topic and others related to academic honesty has highlighted the need for changes to take place in the classroom itself rather than merely providing recommendations for changes in policy. In the case of academic honesty, the importance of instructors specifically addressing how the topic relates to their particular discipline cannot be overstressed.

This has been a central goal of the STARS program -providing students and instructors with practical strategies for fostering academic success in the classroom. The program designers are also busy working on bringing the STARS model to campuses throughout the state; our most current session occurs during the week of August 18th when STARS will be conducting a professional development session at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon. If you'd be interested in finding out more detailed information about STARS work with Academic Honesty or any of the many other topics addressed regarding student-centered learning, or if you'd be interested in scheduling a student/faculty professional development session for your own school, please contact Deborah Harrington at harrindl [at] or at (818) 947-2811.