"Last year, students in an Easton Area High School entrepreneurship class were assigned to write business plans. While reviewing them, teachers quickly realized one student had copied entire portions of his from a plan posted on the Internet."They seem to think it's common knowledge and they can cite common knowledge without citation."
"When confronted, the student said he thought the information was free to take and did not realize copying it constituted plagiarism.
'"He seemed baffled," said Michael Koch, the high school's 11th- and 12th-grade principal.
'"There is a blurred vision by many in this digital age because there's just so much information they have access to," Koch said. "It's very difficult for them to filter what is mine and what is yours. It's all out there for you to utilize."
"Although local educators said they haven't seen any rise in plagiarism cases lately, many found students from a generation raised on the Internet have a different perspective on what constitutes plagiarism.
"Not only is it easier to lift material from websites, but when information is so readily available via sites such as Google and Wikipedia, it becomes less clear what material is free to take and what requires attribution.
'"Some students seem to think that whatever is out there is free to take," said Ed Lotto, director of first-year writing at Lehigh University. "They seem to think it's common knowledge and they can cite common knowledge without citation."'
Here's the question: Is it "common knowledge"?
OK, "Columbus discovered America in 1492." "Common Knowledge"? or a quote? Does a student writing that need to cite author, publisher, page number?
|What histories and sources did Homer cite?|
Today, of course, there is not just more knowledge. There is far more available knowledge, and far more shared knowledge.
When is shared knowledge "shared knowledge"? When is it "common knowledge"? And is there such a thing as "commons knowledge"?
Isn't Wikipedia "commons knowledge"? It is community collected knowledge placed in a common place for people to use. That is the entire idea.
So is using Wikipedia uncited different than using, "the earth orbits the sun" uncited? Both are information freely and generally available, and placed in general circulation by generally unknown authors. So, what is the actual difference?
In school this is a huge question. After all, teachers and professors keep harping on plagiarism yet, according to the Education Week article, only 29% of students see it as "wrong." Obviously the old set of concepts is not resonating with the future. And even The New York Times is panicked, forcing Stanley Fish to wade into the battle, twice. Even I commented:
"Moral or professional evil is not the question for me, I believe that there is a strong societal value in being able to track the genesis of ideas, and I think that the current ways in which schools - secondary and post-secondary - attempt to teach encourages plagiarism, and in doing so, damages our ability to track ideas through time.Which pretty much sums up my feelings here. As Dr. Fish ends his second column, “Plagiarism is Neither a Moral Nor a Philosophical Concept,” it is, instead, a structural way in which we engage with the world's knowledge. It is a structural system put in place by the elites of one strain of global culture, and it is a structure which, given today's information realities, requires a vast overhaul.
"It is easy to start with bad assignments: If instructors (at any level) ask for rote explanations or simple reports, plagiarism is encouraged - in fact, it is actually requested because the information sought must be copied in order to be accurate.
"But the bigger culprit is our arcane citation systems, which are tied to the antiquated technologies of the (now departed) Gutenberg Era. In today's world I want "live links" in student documents which connect me directly back to the sources, I'm not at all interested in APA or MLA citation systems. And I believe that if students learn that "quote = link" we will solve this issue (slowly) throughout society.
"Current citation systems are so bizarre and frustrating that many students would rather quote unattributed than risk getting their citations wrong. They are so complex that they encourage students to ignore the whole system.
"With today's technology every researcher, every author, has the ability - via diigo, delicious, evernote, and embedded links, to keep sources with quotes from beginning of study to publication. But in order to get future generations to do this we must (a) let them use the tools of today rather the rules of the past, and (b) we must express a more compelling social reason for theses practices than "you're stealing from Disney Corporation and Dr. Fish."
As I say above - if the rationale we give students is primarily economic, we're in the ugly territory of Disney and the RIAA, and you are not going to win many arguments with a system which guarantees mouse film profits for ten times as long as the fruits of pharmaceutical research. And if your rationale is that it is not "common knowledge," you better be able to express how you define "common knowledge" in a way better than I have heard before.
But if your rationale is the continued construction of community knowledge, and you make it simple - yes, "quote=link" is the phrase - your student audience might be receptive.
"Quote=Link" - forget about your citation systems. They are based in 15th Century printing technologies and 19th Century library catalogues - and nobody cares, but if you just teach this: "The concept of plagiarism, however, is learned in more specialized contexts of practice entered into only by a few; it’s hard to get from the notion that you shouldn’t appropriate your neighbor’s car to the notion that you should not repeat his words without citing him." the problem has solved itself.
Which is no different than saying, "that's by The Beatles" as your mp3 players blasts out Hey Jude.
"A generation raised on the Internet have a different perspective on what constitutes plagiarism." Yes, as they should, because the information "commons" has changed. It is not only these students who need to learn the new rules, it is every teacher, professor, journal editor, and dissertation committee who holds to antique practices designed primarily to (a) limit entry into "Club Academe" and (b) turn a professional, structural mistake into a violation of God's word from Sinai. (Fish: "Hundreds of respondents to the column answered theft or fraud or lying or a wrong against God or plain evil. Not only is this inflation of an institutional no-no into the sum of the Ten Commandments a bit over the top; it is decidedly unhelpful when you want to tell students exactly what plagiarism is and why they should avoid it.")
So let's solve this. Let's create a link system for this world, that tells us all where information comes from.
- Ira Socol