Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thoughts on plagiarism, social media, etc.

I got this email from an intern at Maupin House, asking me for some thoughts:

I’m currently working on a blog post focused on the ethics of digital plagiarism.  It’s based off of an eSchoolNews article that states students are increasingly using social networking sites for their essay material.  In the article, has made the discovery about these newfound sources of plagiarism, but the interesting thing is Turnitin is owned by the same company that owns a program that allows students to check their papers for plagiarism, WriteCheck.  In this program, students can put their essays into WriteCheck and figure out a way to manipulate their plagiarism to make it undetectable in Turnitin.

I’d love to get your perspective on all of this. Please check out the eSchoolNews article and the WriteCheck article and tell me what sticks out to you.  Here are some questions to consider:

-It seems that students have forgotten (or have not been taught) the value of critical thinking and original writing and have instead sought to get the most amount of work done with the least amount of effort.  Why do you think this has happened?  Has social media played a part in this?
-What resources do you think teachers (technological and otherwise) could use to impress upon their students the value of that mentioned above?  Where do you think teachers’ focus should be in lessons that warn against plagiarism?
-Any additional points you think should be made?

Here was my response:

1. Students have always searched for and have found the path of least resistance.  Social media has just made it much easier to share that path with a hundred of your friends.  I think the real issue at hand are the assignments themselves- if you're assigning something that is easily plagiarized or you don't know your students well enough to tell when it's their voice or someone else's, then that's on the teacher.  The critical thinking aspects have to be built into the assignment themselves.  Instead of just asking kids to regurgitate an essay on the civil war, ask them to compare it to a modern event.  Ask them to analyze two things together.  Basically, if you're giving an assignment that can be easily plagiarized, then you're not creating an assignment that provokes critical thinking in the first place.

2.  I think the focus needs to be on students creating impactful, meaningful products.  Products that show their own personal creativity, passion, and thinking.  If you get something from a student and you can't tell which student created it, that's a problem.  It should scream their name!

One more additional thought- I think a lot of these issues stem from an over-reliance in the past decade-plus on grades, tests, bubble sheets, etc.  Kids have been told for quite awhile now that there is one right answer to everything, and one way to solve a problem.  That, of course, is far from the real world truth.  There is a focus in schools on "getting it right" instead of learning.  Which is a shame!  It's not about getting it right- it's about the attempts, the mistakes made, the growth, solving problems, looking at things from different perspectives, and all that other good critical thinking stuff that has been too often shoved to the side.