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Plagiarism and Influence September 26, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Assessment, Literacy, Online Tools.
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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.

Online Sheet Music March 17, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Literacy, Online Tools.
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Armstrong   Sometimes motivating my daughter to practice the piano is a difficult thing to do.  Recently I have been encouraging her just to play and make joyous sounds on the piano without having to read musical notation.  This has helped somewhat and, the other night, to my surprise she composed a neat little piece that sounded like an Irish jig.  She then worked very hard at transferring those notes to composition paper.

This was very encouraging.  Even more encouraging was what happened when I sat at the piano the next night.  I was trying to pick out the melody from a tune and I had heard in a movie, Love Actually.  The music, by Craig Armstrong, was called Portuguese Love Theme.

Both my daughter and I are quite fond of that particular piece of music, so when I started to pick out the tune she shoved me aside and tried to play the piece also.  This is where the joys of technology came in.  After a brief search on the Internet, I was able to find an online source for sheet music that also carried the music of Craig Armstrong, the composer.

After installing musical notation software from and onto my computer, I was able to listen to the first 20 or 30 notes, and was then prompted to add this particular piece of music to my shopping cart.  My daughter and I used a very fuzzy screen capture of the music to decide whether we thought the piece was something we could ever play.  Together, we decided we were ready to play, and that meant that we were ready to pay.

Less than four dollars later, we had the three sheets of music in our hands.  With luck, and a lot of practice, this might be my daughter’s recital piece this May.

Propriety Pony March 10, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Literacy, Students.
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rainbow pony   Students using Facebook and MySpace should be aware that school administrators take note. Students with creative e-mail address names should also be aware.

A school administrator shared with me in a meeting this week how some of his Principals have reported choosing one candidate over another based on their e-mail name. When two candidates stand identically in almost every respect and the contact address for one of them is yummymachine36 or foxy_von_humpmeister then the administrator will almost certainly cast that candidate aside.

This is a little reminiscent of those studies done in the seventies when researchers ask students to identify personality traits of people based solely on some subjective piece of information like a photograph. When researchers changed the photographs, the traits followed the subjective stereotype. The blonde woman would be “fun? while the woman with glasses would be “serious.?

These administrators would be the first to wonder aloud whether someone with a racy or raunchy e-mail address would be prone to making professional errors in judgment. We are reeling in Tucson from the revelations of a football coach engaging in a sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old student. Lapses in judgment happen all the time and if sexy_momma25 or well_hung34 might be an advance indicator of potential professional impropriety, then administrators will certainly react.

I wonder about e-mail addresses created when students are still in grade school. They carry them through middle then high school. My free professional advice would be to change the address before rainbow_pony16 shows up on your professional résumé.

Sundance and Films March 9, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Literacy.
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sundance   Since I cannot get up to Utah to attend the Sundance Film Festival, I am doing the next best thing, watching some of the short films online. The motto for this year’s festival appears to be “Keep it free.? After the reminder from some of my blog readers that free software is the only way to go, I am even more delighted that the Sundance organizers have put so many short films and short documentaries online for the public to preview.

Actually, the short films have done something else for me. They have punctured my pride and, of course, we all need that. Yesterday, I put the final changes on a film I made for the staff at my College. It will premiere at the Staff Advisory Council awards luncheon in May and it is my little way of giving a little thanks to my colleagues for all their hard work. It consist of clips all chopped into a montage of their daily work lives. Some parts moved quite well, some were a little heavy handed, and I may have broken at least one copyright restriction, but my pride in my workmanship and editing prowess was taken down a notch or two after watching the excellent films on show from Sundance.

As I type this, I am watching Before Dawn, a winner at the Festival. The director shot the entire film from the perspective of a single camera panning and tilting from a single position. In a single shot and in fewer than twelve minutes, it wordlessly told a powerful story of desperation and hope in the hour before sunrise.

The ethics of insistence February 18, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Literacy, Students.
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insist   The question arose yesterday about the ethics of insisting a teacher use a particular educational technology, an affordance of sorts, in the act of teaching. If we put educational technology to the side for a moment, are the parallel situations in education where an administrator insists on a particular teaching strategy?

I think elementary teachers would resoundingly agree that many principals have tried to insist on one reading program over another. Perhaps a principal might insist on basal readers or some sort of reading program, for example, and then evaluate the teachers based on how well they used the program. In the middle school, administrators might evaluate based upon adherence to an imposed lesson structure. For example, they might insist on seeing students start the lesson with a short question (bell work). They might later expect to see an example of guided practice, independent practice, closure, and the assignment of homework.

If the administrator or the district can prove those previously mentioned elements are essential elements of instruction and should appear in the majority of your lessons, then few would react that anyone is usurping their academic freedom to teach. Now, if I insist all teachers must have a web page for parental communication, or all students must type each day in a blog, or PowerPoint will be used for demonstrations, then I will expect some resistance. The tools mentioned are not always appropriate and I have not shown you how they can improve education.

However, if a teacher is demonstrating a concept using a white board and in the process is making sloppy or crude drawings, wiping information off the board as the lesson progresses, and using an excessive amount of instructional time to write a full set of notes on the board, then that teacher is doing an educational disservice to the students.

If a tool, such as PowerPoint, can improve the quality of the presentation with clear notes composed in advance and shared in meaningful chunks and topped off with engaging graphics and a degree of interactivity, then that teacher is using the technology to improve education just as much as the teacher who follows other essential elements of instruction. Good teachers will seek out best practices in teaching either with or without technology.

New Century; New Skills February 2, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Literacy.
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21st   It was a good morning since I was able to remove four versions of the STINX Trojan from one computer, got the machine back on the network, installed anti-spyware (because I did not trust the user to do it herself), and clean out the registry. That whole operation took about an hour. If that happened with any great frequency than once a day, it would take a real bite out of my schedule.

Today I am traveling to Catalina Foothills School District to be a part of their Advisory Committee on Twenty-first Century Learning. While waiting for the computer to disinfect, I read the small stack of materials the Assistant Superintendent sent me. One of the articles contained an interesting chart from enGauge Twenty-first Century Skills. I will add a link to a good version of the chart when I can. 

What strikes me as interesting about the chart, and I realize it is just an overview, is that schools can rally for Effective Communication and Inventive Thinking and so forth and spell out what it means to be inventive or communicative, but these sort of movements seem to stop there. The real issue for administrators who really believe in Twenty-first Century Skills is that it is a matter a changing an intractable culture in schools. I have attended in-service workshops where scientists have discussed brain based teaching then demonstrated incontrovertible evidence showing improved learning from certain techniques. Immediately after the workshop, I have heard the same teachers toss the entire set of concepts out the window calling them “new age? or “ridiculous.?

Today we will hear from Ken Kay about the benefits of this skill set in the Twenty-first Century, but my concern is going to be the challenge of getting teachers to recognize inventive thinking when they see it. I want teachers to be able not only to use the new tools of communications in their classroom, but also to use them in their personal and professional lives. The best teachers, I have found, are constantly learning new things.

Teachers and administrators should be encouraging students to interact with others around the world, the tools are available and the support is there. I am concerned that teachers are feeling so locked into test preparation, annual yearly progress, and addressing standards in ways administrators can see they are addressing them, that so much of this drive to develop new skill sets will simply evaporate.