Saturday, November 05, 2005

Don't Fear Plagiarism; Embrace it!

Plagiarism is the bugbear of higher ed these days and digital technologies are often identified as the vehicle if not the culprit for the plagiarism boom. Ultimately, my read on it all has to do with the growing pains we're experiencing as we move from the social, cultural, economic, material, and noetic structures of print into the social, cultural, economic, mateiral, and noetic structures of the digital. Any way, Mike over at Vita has a great discussion of his recently invented instant plagiarism assignment. The idea is behind the assignment is to have his students "do some initial focusing research while also making a point about plagiarism, and then to scaffold upon that initial research, getting them to put together an argument and structure in their own words without relying on any sources. " Mike concludes his post by saying:
And with that “Aha!” moment on their part, we moved on to the final portion of class, where they put together their pseudo-plagiarized draft with their assertion outline, introducing the combination with a brief note to me concerning how their perspective and insights extend the argument beyond what their sources say. As I look through their drafts tonight, it’s some solid initial work. Their assignment over the weekend is to do their library research in earnest; to come to me next week with a five-source annotated bibliography, which — scaffolded upon this week’s work — should give them a better idea of the range of discourse they’re addressing for this assignment.

I’m quite happy with the way this early work came out, and I think it more effectively models the careful and recursive way in which good research works, while explicitly addressing some of my other major pedagogical goals for this assigment, as well.


Don't fear plagarism. Embrace it.

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2 Comments:

At 11:15 AM, Blogger lisa schamess said...

Yay! This is wonderful information...Is it the mid-term factor, or is this issue bubbling forth of its own accord in several places at once? Nick at TechNotes just did a wonderful post about CliffNotes going to IPod. And me, as my college students move from personal narratives to documented papers and reading summaries, I see the most egregious examples of this problem, for which this assignment seems the elixir. Even though I have heard myself explain the dangers of paraphrasing hundreds of time, I still have students in genuine agony, not knowing how to present info in their own words AND attribute the sources of their support.

Meanwhile, my high school students are so afraid of plagiarizing that they give me virtually content-free essays. Don't get me started (oh, I see I already have...)

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger John said...

While a legitimate issue I don't want to downplay, the war on plagiarism is, in many ways, insane. Or, to be more accurate, to keep coming at the issue from a print-centric view is insane. At a recent conference on writing assessment held here at SLU, a participant objected to a student's video which included a number of juxtaposed movie clips and audio recordings mixed with the students own words. One participant declared that the whole project was plagiarized and in his program, where plagiarism is defined as three consecutive words taken from a source and presented without attribution, such a project would not be acceptable because the student had "done no work of their own" (note that he refused to accept a list of credits at the end of the video as acceptable documentation).

Putting aside the assumption that editing a montage in a way that is rhetorically effective constitutes "no work," and putting aside the assumption that a list of credits at the end of a video is not citation, I want to focus on the notion of plagiarism as "three consecutive words taken from a source and presented without attribution." How do they apply this? Do they really think that any three words strung together have any chance of being unique? Maybe "dogfish Egils Photoshop" is a unique construction, but dogfish Egils Photoshop is, um, nonsense, or, really, is a list of three random nouns that together mean nothing outside of being an example of a list of three random nouns that mean nothing.

And this is why I like Mike's assignment, it's an engagement with the issue of plagiarism that recognizes the shifting conceptions of intellectual property and composing processes brought about by digital technologies. In a culture that is awash with mixing, sampling, and remixing, both of the professional and DIY variety, in a culture where academics are posting blog entries which are little more than large chunks of quoted text with little, if any, significant commentary, in a culture now allows us an unrestricted view of news wires and journalists having their by-lines assigned to stories that are little more than slighted modified stories written (or lifted) by other journalists, in a culture in which students as content creators consider whether their material should be released under traditional copyright, under a Creative Commons license, or as public domain, and in a culture in which media corporations are assaulting fair use as piracy, plagiarism is not cut and dry, and it's not a simple issue. Engaging it head on, acknowledging it as a complex issue, foregrounding not only the issue of intent but also context, and discussing the shifting, sometimes outdated notions we're left with, while not making the issue any easier, will help students think about how to make their choices. But only if we don't impose upon them dogmatic, black and white rules.

But I see I've gotten on my soapbox. I'll get off now.

 

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