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Who is to blame when the charge is ‘plagiarism’?

Can we blame the students? What if they don’t understand what is meant by plagiarism.  So maybe we should educate them.

Scholars on this topic, Jocoy and DiBaise, cite this definition from Council of Writing Program Administrators:

“Plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) materials without acknowledging its source.”

You might think that the internet makes it easier to plagiarize; and, you would be right.

Plagiarism is a hot topic among the online-learning community because it is easier than ever  for a student to Copy someone else’s work and Paste it into their document.  Luckily, the same electronic-formatting of information that allows for easy plagiarism, also allows for (relatively) easy detection of plagiarism.

Using software such as Turnitin.com, “original work” can be compared against “existing work” to detect overlaps.  Braumoeller and Gaines (2001), as cited by Jocoy and DiBaise, found that incidents of infractions fell when students were told that software such as Turnitin would be used, and that their would be grade penalties for plagiarism.

Problem solved

So, here’s our plan:

  • help students understand which actions constitute plagiarism
  • remind them of the penalties of academic dishonesty
  • inform students that software such as Turnitin would be used to detect plagiarism

Notice anything?  We have not talked about course Content.  Precious time and energy have been spent on saying “no”.

This is a good time for a deep, cleansing breath.  Because, there is another way.  Our good friends, and very knowledgeable instructors, Palloff and Pratt have figured out how we can get back to the matter at hand (teaching).

What would happen if we gave meaningful assignments?  Assignments that were so individualized as to make plagiarism impossible.

I go back to my favorite idea, expressed by learning theorist, Weigel:

“Content is the clay of knowledge construction; learning takes place when it is fashioned into something meaningful.  Creativity, critical analysis, and skillful performance are inextricably linked to the process of creating more viable and coherent knowledge structures.” (2002, p. 5, as cited by Conrad & Donaldson)

The discussion turns back to knowledge, not homework, not four-pages double spaced – knowledge!

Isn’t that easier, and a bit more meaningful?

Here’s what it looks like

Imagine we are learning about parallel lines.  We could distribute worksheets and surprise quizzes (and remind the students of the penalty for cheating).

Or, we can give the students a figurative lump of clay.

A perfect example of meaningful assignments that guard against plagiarism is given by this teaching technique described by Jenny Ashby in a recent Elluminate Session on Mobile Learning entitled “Learning at the speed of need”: http://www.learncentral.org/event/149662

She presented this image:

And explained it’s meaning as read from the center outward.

Yellow circle – Create content:  .  You ask your student to take a photo that depicts parallel lines.

Next – the Orange ring – Modify content: the photo using tools such as “paint”.

Then – Green ring – Add Value to the content: using an audio tool, for example

Finally – Exterior area – Share content: mail to the class e-mail address, course wiki, etc

Now, can you imagine how a student would plagiarize this assignment. – Exactly!  It is original content in which the student

  • thought about parallel lines,
  • found some in the immediate environment, and
  • described it verbally,

That is Active Learning, achieved through a Meaningful Assignment.

Obviously, Jenny Ashby, designed this activity for primary school-age students and used age-appropriate technological tools.  If we transfer the technique to older students it gets easier – yes EASIER

Imagine that the course is Anthropology and you want them to create a multi-media project that represents one of the major themes in Thomas L. Friedman’s book “The World is Flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century”.  I’ll bet the students create original works exemplifying active learning.

Links in this post:

Ashby, Jenny: Elluminate session: http://www.learncentral.org/event/149662

Ashby, Jenny: Blog: http://web.me.com/jenashby/iPodTouch_Project/Blog/Blog.html

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friedman, Thomas: http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/

Jocoy, C., & DiBaise, D. (n.d.). Plagiarism by Adult Learners Online: A case study in detection and remediation | Jocoy | The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved April 7, 2011, from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/242/466

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (n.d.). Crossroads Consulting Group. Retrieved April 2, 2011, from http://www.xroadservices.com/home/partners.html