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Seaver College Professor Sarah Fischbach Publishes Graphic Novel to Engage Students on the Topic of Academic Integrity

Sarah Fischbach

Sarah Fischbach, an associate professor of integrated marketing communication at Seaver College, recently published a graphic novel about academic integrity after learning of its lasting influence in the professional lives of students following graduation. 

Recent research emerging from Rutgers University and California State University San Marcos, along with a host of other prominent institutions and scholars, has concluded that students’ comprehension of academic integrity is vital to fostering their moral outlook and ethical professionalism in the workplace. While considering engaging and informative educational approaches to help students understand the concept, Fishbach, whose research focuses on pedagogy, chose to explore the effectiveness of graphic novels in the classroom when she recognized a lack of resources available for professors to support conversations with students related to academic integrity.  

“I hope college students can use innovative tools like the graphic novel to rethink ethics and integrity in the classroom,” Fischbach says. “Graphic novels introduce another way to learn, and I think it’s important to try and reach students where they are at.”

The graphic novel format expresses long-form narratives using illustrated pictures and dialogue bubbles to tell a story. Derived from comic books, the literary medium was popularized in the latter half of the 1900s as illustrated stories began to grow in size and narrative depth. Fischbach’s graphic novel, produced in collaboration with a professor at California Lutheran University,  features mini-cases of academic violations based on real-life examples, such as students using improper citations, cheating on exams, or borrowing work from their peers.  Together the two professors sorted these various scenarios into five core themes, which Fischbach used to structure the graphic novel.

Once completed, Fischbach began to employ the unique educational resource in the classroom to supplement lessons on the principles of academic integrity. Undergraduates at two Southern California universities read through the graphic novel and its mini-cases after the syllabus was discussed in their respective classes. One hundred eight of these students self-reported that the text was successful in improving their ability to analyze and evaluate potential academic violations.

“The results demonstrate that graphic novels work as an educational resource,” says Fischbach. “Students like reading these creative texts more than just discussing the concept of academic integrity. The students we surveyed reported enjoying the graphic novels far more than a traditional lecture because they’re not just static information.”

Fischbach began studying graphic novels while earning her doctorate from New Mexico State University. A former Fortune 500 sales professional, she recognized that the illustrated stories could help advance a conversation about ethics in the workplace. She began writing and producing illustrated training materials while writing her dissertation. 

After completing her PhD and committing to a career in higher education, Fischbach began to study and publish scholarly articles on effective transformative learning techniques for adult learners. Thus far, she has published research on how to integrate virtual reality, social media, and digital brand storytelling into the classroom.

With her latest article Fischbach has merged her two research interests—graphic novels and pedagogy—in order to contribute to the scholarship of her field and to help cultivate an environment conducive to student success.

“I hope this research on graphic novels opens the door for faculty members to begin having in-depth discussions of academic integrity in the classroom,” Fiscbach says. “As students enter a new environment and begin thinking for themselves, I believe it’s important that we introduce ethical dilemmas in an engaging manner.”