jump to navigation

Plagiarism and Influence September 26, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Assessment, Literacy, Online Tools.
1 comment so far

plagiarism   My daughter, a middle school student, slowly explained to her stone aged father that she had to submit her assignment to a class blog. I was excited to see the writing process at work, from reading to thinking to composing to editing to polishing and, finally, to posting.Seeing her write was interesting, of course. Her task was to evaluate an online news article and she handled the project as well as any other kid in her class would have. She took pride in the article she found after evaluating several child-focused news sites. In her determination, National Geographic had the best articles for her needs; bonus points for evidence of higher order thinking.

She posted her entry on the class blog and my RSS reader notified me immediately. It was interesting to read what other students wrote and then figure out how much influence adults had on the piece.

One response was a single sentence; bonus points for doing it entirely on your own.
One had misspelled some common words; points off for not using a spell checker.
Some wrote about music stars; bonus points for choosing your own article.
Some responses were about car crashes; points off for not choosing a current event.
One was about the Alternative Minimum Tax. Hands up if you parent is a CPA.
One response weighed in at twenty sentences; points off for too much parental influence.

This is the point at which parental influence bumps up against the issue of plagiarism. My pre-service student teachers get riled up about plagiarism too, but on mentioning programs that scan for plagiarized articles, to my surprise, there was not uniform support for such tools.

Charlie Lowe, spokesperson for the Caucus on Intellectual Property and Composition/ Communication Studies (CCCC-IP) wrote publicly that plagiarism detection services such as turnitin, iThenicate, and iparadigms are creating the wrong atmosphere for writing in schools. The organization’s statement  notes that academic integrity can be compromised in at least five ways:

1. since students’ writing is going into databases, students are losing authority over their work;
2. students are viewed as guilty until proven innocent and not as trustworthy learners;
3. the services promote a culture of mistrust;
4. the responsibility for detecting plagiarism is removed from the professor, and;
5. the databases of student work risk being available to third parties not directly engaged in the educational relationship originally implied.

The act of plagiarism, when it occurs, is a teachable moment between the teacher and student – and both should benefit. The student should come away from a discussion about writing with a renewed understanding that his writing is being read and considered by someone. The student should come away with a sense that his own ideas are what are being sought in the writing assignment. The student should realize that the most important thing teachers are asking is for students to engage with a concept and writing is a way of making it their own.

The teacher must come away with a lesson learned also. If a student can think she can get away with a copy and paste product from a web site or an online encyclopedia, then the teacher has not created an engaging assignment. The teacher should come away with the understanding that assignments need to engage, to challenge, and to promote an inner dialogue with material they are studying. If the student can just copy and paste to fill out a traditional ten pages, then it is time to re-examine the assignments that teachers are imposing.

There is a great deal of support for p-20 teachers who are looking for ways to change their ways of assessing students. From self tests and study guides to portfolios and synthesis projects, teachers have more at their disposal than the ten page paper.

In my observations, most students will rise to the challenge of being assessed in novel ways and some teachers will attempt the change.


Bill Valmont: a remembrance September 11, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Colleagues.
1 comment so far

Valmont   Today I learned that my predecessor at the University of Arizona, Dr. Bill Valmont, passed away over the weekend. I had known him and worked indirectly with him in the Instructional Technology Facility while I was working on my Masters. In fact, Bill was my technology advisor and allowed me to do an independent study under his guidance.

When I learned about the position of Clinical Assistant Professor for Technology that was opening up at the College of Education, I immediately e-mailed Bill and asked if that was the sort of position that might be a fit for me. This was a radical departure for a fellow who had been a classroom teacher for almost two decades. Career teachers like me stayed in the classroom and retired from the classroom. We rarely left the school system entirely.

You can imagine how nervous I was before my first interview at the University. Bill was the one who met me at the door and brought me into the conference room. We joked about our mutual lack of hair and teased each other suggesting that a shiny head was required for the job. Bill was always ready for a laugh and we shared quite a few.

I served as a Clinical Assistant Professor for almost two years but when my term was nearly up Bill supported me for a position in the college. I believe he had the sense that I would be able to take over his position when he retired. Just over a year later, he made the move into retirement and I moved into his office.

We certainly came from different backgrounds and occasional we clashed over issues that were petty in hindsight, but his insights were profound and occasionally prophetic. One day, when I was talking about the possibility of going back into the classroom if things did not work out at the University, he simply said, “Those days are done for you. It’s time to move on.”

Two years later, I had my doctorate and three years after that I find myself in the position of Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University. Bill was right.

The office we occupied concurrently for over a decade is still empty but I hope the person they choose to fill that seat will remember the prime consideration for that job would have to be a bald head and an excellent sense of humor.

Update. Update. Update. September 9, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
add a comment

typing   I used to be quite concerned about teachers who did not have web pages on their school sites especially after training sessions. I have discovered something even worse, teachers who have web pages but fail to keep them up-to-date.

My daughter has six teachers in her middle school. Four of them have websites. Two of those are placeholder pages with no information of any value except to note that information will be forthcoming. One of the websites has links to class information however it is dated 2004 and the information on the page is about the end of school party.

My advice to teachers who, I assume, are too busy to be bothered keeping their web pages up to date is as follows:

  1. Get a student or two to help keep the information current on your website
  2. Try to get into the habit of posting something daily 
  3. Keep your posts simple. Parents want information, not design.
  4. Copy and paste. If you type your homework assignment in one document, open FrontPage, Nvu, or whatever editor you use and paste the information into a page.
  5. Ask for help. Many parents are eager to assist in the classroom and this is a good job that they can do, even from home.
  6. Administrators might consider making updating the web pages part of the teaching evaluation. Communication with your community of parents is extremely important and class webpage is an excellent tool to keep that up.

Electronic Banking in the Classroom September 7, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
add a comment

emonopoly   When I used to teach students with behavioral problems, we played a great deal of Monopoly. The object, for us, was not so much to amass property and assets but to learn how to negotiate with each other peacefully and to express ourselves without aggression. I believe that particular board game is many closets in many classrooms across the country.

This evening, a television commercial stopped my wife and I in our tracks. It was a commercial for a debit card version of Monopoly. In this game, if somebody lands on your property all you have to do is place your deed card into a device that automatically debits the account of the player who landed on your property.

Similarly, when you pass “Go” or land on “Community Chest,” the same device automatically credits your account as well. At first, I was not sure how I felt about the disappearance of cash, but with the exception of the occasional Tim Horton’s coffee, I rarely carry cash anyway.

My wife, the accountant, thought it was a wonderful idea. Our daughter has been receiving her allowance for the past three years as a direct deposit into her bank account. She can write checks, collect interest, and see how much money she has in her account online. I should point out that she is not yet a teenager.

With television commercials from credit card companies showing how fast and easy plastic transactions are, it makes sense that this world of electronic banking should make it to a kid’s board game. Monopoly will still have the fun and the arithmetic as well as the negotiations, but perhaps the electronic banking will bring some of the real world to the classroom.

It might have even reduced the number of arguments among my students. Hmmm, I wonder if the device leaves a paper trail.