Monday, December 12th, 2011
This is not to say that students plagiarize maliciously, only that copy/paste is often too easy not to do.
In an attempt to cut back on plagiarism, many high schools have started using turnitin.com as a way of comparing student work to assignments submitted by other students and to sites across the web. The truth is, turnitin.com is effective in reducing plagiarism, mostly because it makes students scared. In my opinion, making students fearful every time they submit an assignment leaves a bitter taste in their mouths, which I think is harmful for inquiry-based learning in the long run.
Just to be clear, what I am talking about in this post is the type of plagiarism that most high school teachers deal with, namely copy/paste. I am not talking about more serious issues of academic integrity like paying other people to do your work for you.
I think that the problem of plagiarism in high school stems from two bigger issues:
- We are not taking the time to teach students how to conduct research properly.
- Assignments that teachers give are often too simple to be called “research.”
In general, we need to be doing a better job to educate teenagers as to WHY referencing is so important. Most importantly, it needs to be taught, not from a place of fear for getting caught, but from a place of character education. It is important to be academically honest because it is the right thing to do! In my experience, appealing to students’ sense of right and wrong is actually quite effective because everyone has been on the receiving end of “wrong” before, and knows what it feels like.
I also think that students fail to site their work, simply because it’s a lot of extra work to do it. I remember being in university and being told that my APA formatting had to be perfect or I would lose marks. But who can really remember if you’re supposed to put a comma after the date or a period, or whether or not the title should be underlined or italicized? Even for someone like me, who wants to be academically honest, referencing properly is annoying. The inconvenience of creating citations is one of the reasons why I like the web tools so much (easybib, bibme, Citation Maker, etc.) Although these tools are not perfect, they make the process of creating references so much faster and and easier for students.
The second reason that students plagiarize is because they have been asked to do meaningless work. The teachers who are teaching now did not grow up in the same type of world our current students are living it. We grew up in a time of information scarcity; our students have an abundance of it (and maybe an overabundance!) Finding the name of the Prime Minister and a list of his duties is now so ridiculously easy that the task becomes a joke. Even looking for more complex information, such as the pros and cons of nuclear energy, may have been difficult at one time, but can easily be found these days with a simple Google search. No wonder students copy/paste from the internet!
Teachers need to be redesigning their assignments to make them plagiarism proof. One of the key ways of achieving this is to ensure that the method of output is not the same as the method of input. That is to say, requiring that students transform their learning into a new format or medium. For example, if students are researching the pros and cons of nuclear energy, don’t ask them to write a report (text in, text out); instead, ask them to put together a public service announcement, or write a song about it (text in, audio/video out). Even more important though, is asking students questions that are not easily googlable. If the answer can be found in one of the top sites in a Google search, then the question does not require any higher order thinking skills and should not be considered research to begin with!
Photo Credit: Nisha A