Saturday, August 30, 2008

Share and Share Alike: Digital Natives and Plagiarism

Keeping Up with Digital Natives - Part II
Share and Share Alike: Digital Natives and Plagiarism

This is the second installment of my series on digital natives and how we can meet their needs in the classroom.

In the fifteen years I've spent in education I have never ceased to be amazed at how often students resorted to plagiarism and sharing of work on homework, quizzes and tests. I have never understood the phenomenon until recently. As I've read and study about digital natives, a light bulb slowly has appeared and finally I had a Eureka! moment. What I'm about to discuss is not an excuse for the academic dishonesty phenomenon faced by educators at all levels but rather an explanation.

Digital natives have grown up ripping CDs and burning CDs on their computers. They've spent countless hours filesharing with the original Napster, Kazaa and Limewire. Today with other services they upload and download music as often as they please with not so much as a second thought. They share playlists and tracks more often than they share gum and pencils at school. Digital natives upload and watch videos on YouTube, including scenes cut from movies, TV shows and other copyrighted sources, on a daily basis. They upload photos to Flickr, PhotoBucket and other sites so their friends and the rest of the world can see, and have for free, their photos. They edit wikis more often than digital immigrants use wikis. They mod as much as they play video games. I'm willing to say that the overwhelming majority of digital natives never intend to rip-off or steal from music and media companies. Digital natives do all these things simply because they can be done in the digital world into which they've been born. While many of these things are appalling to digital immigrants, for digital natives these actions are value-neutral.

With all this in mind, why then are we surprised that our digital native students have no qualms about collaborating on homework in the halls before school, about texting their friends about a test's content or format or about using information from outside sources without proper citation? In the context of their digital world (and, yes, they do have an entire world that exists outside of school), plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration aren't exactly crimes against humanity.

The challenge facing the next generation of educational leadership is this: we must help our students understand the difference between filesharing and academic dishonesty, between creating playlists from borrowed files and from creating papers from borrowed material. We can't always be the morality police so we may not be able to stop illegal downloading and filesharing. What we can do, though, is help students understand that in the academic world there is a certain standard of academic integrity expected of all who contribute to the content universe, be that in the form of a dissertation at research university or a freshman research paper in World History class. What we can do is give educate our students regarding the proper use and citation of sources and hold them accountable when they fail to meet the standards. How? Let me offer what we have done on our campus.

Using information from plagiarism.org, from a plagiarism guide I developed at another school and from a plagiarism guide developed by our English Department, our English faculty spent several days at the beginning of school teaching our students not only about plagiarism but also about the correct way to write, to paraphrase, to cite, etc. To engage our students, our English faculty used presentations on our Promethean Activboards throughout the process. At the conclusion of our instructional time, the faculty assessed the students' knowledge of plagiarism with an exam on the Activboard using a classroom set of Activotes. After students successfully completed the assessments, students and parents signed contracts acknowledging their training in the correct way to write and cite as well as their agreement to meet our expectations. By the end of the second week of school, our more than 500 students had successfully completed training on the subject of plagiarism. We will repeat the process at the beginning of each new school year with every student in the high school. As students write and submit their papers throughout the year, we require them to submit their papers through Turnitin.com, an anti-plagiarism site we use as a teaching tool to help students write and cite correctly.

Have we changed the world? Maybe not, but I believe we have changed our campus.

2 comments:

Phil said...

Interesting post, and you've given me much to think about.

I think you are right about the collaborative lives students live--as educators we need to spend more time thinking about what this means for students writing papers and conducting research.

Seminars, discussions, and collaborative presentations clarifying what it means to cite sources and build on previous knowledge no doubt is helpful. I look foward to hearing the results of this experiment.

Johannah Kersey said...

Personally, I have grappled with teaching students how to avoid plagiarism as long as I've been teaching. However, I haven't given enough thought to the reason why students have a propensity for taking information from sites. In my experience, students give me this deer in headlights response when I show them the plagiarism in their papers. While it may be a way to cover what they've done, I genuinely think some students had no idea what they were doing when they lifted words from an article on the Internet. Educating them about plagiarism as you did in your school is the only way to raise the bar and expect students to write and speak with intellectual honesty. Plus, I think the line between sharing information and plagiarism is not as defined as we'd like it to be. Knowing the difference takes practice. I think it is important for teachers to design activities that are collaborative in order to show students the value of an exchange of information. I also think it's important to expose real life stories from college students, executives and politicians who have lifted words from others without giving credit. Case studies such as these put the consequences of plagiarism in context. Thanks for the great thoughts.