I think that you post gets to one of the things that I keep reminding myself of as my research into digital culture continues and that is that there are digital cultures, not culture. For instance, in western cultures we see a diminished use of Facebook by youth and young adults in favor of smaller social media networks. However, this is not true anywhere and considering the cultural context is key. I also like the metaphor of the amalgamation as the the binding that makes up any urban area, for which youth social media use is one bond in a network of bonds and structures.
As you look at this research question from what seems to be an interdisciplinary and multi-factor approach, I actually wonder about what methods you are using to discern meaning making within the process. By which I mean, if everything means something as far as constructing Guinean urban space, where do we begin to pull apart the strings and analyze to find meaning? I would love to hear more about this research in the future!
I love your perspective of online idea sharing as the norm, rather than something immediately viewed as plagiarism. I honestly don't think I've ever interpreted something I shared online as plagiarizing, and I think many students only give credit if they "took" the idea from someone they know personally (or, more likely, someone that they know will see what they "copied"). The line certainly blurs between the validation of the idea and the stealing of the idea, as most online profiles are made up of non-original ideas that somehow still convey an "original self." This becomes the norm because, as you say, why would anyone think the content we include is our own? Also, posting things without giving credit to the original author can sometimes be used as a way to see who else is "in"-for instance, someone recognizing movie quotes/song lyrics/the original story modified in fan fiction/etc., without attribution, shows that the poster and the reader have similar interests, and creates online community building. On the other hand, though the online community is still participatory, collaborative, and at times one big "mashup," we do live in a world where many young people are obsessed with online fame. I have seen a larger insurgence of people demanding credit for their YouTube videos, their short stories, etc., which suggests that maybe the "insistence on receiving credit" no longer violates the norm as much as the insistence on giving credit. Thanks for this post, and it will be interesting to see how this topic evolves.
I agree that we need to find ways to instill "confidence and integrity," as commenter Jamie Henthorn puts it, rather than explore technology's ability to surveil students. My college has had a student-initiated Honor Code since the early 1950s that places most of the responsibility for ethical behavior on the students themselves. Tests are not proctored, and if an instructor discovers suspected cheating he/she does not confront the student but reports him/her to the Honor Board, a student-run panel that includes faculty. Like many schools with such a code, Knox is proud of the opportunity it offers students to claim ownership of their academic integrity.
Of course, the execution of the Code is fraught with pitfalls. The penalties can be severe, the President can override Board decisions, and the overall tone of the system continues to be legalistic rather than educational. However, these problems are being addressed. For myself, as a writing tutor and instructor here over the past twenty years and as a member of the Honor Code review committee, I focus on the pedagogy of integrity. When working with other instructors' students as a tutor, I see every suspected act of plagiarism as an opportunity to teach; as an instructor, I make it clear that I employ no policing methods—aside from my own ability as a reader to "hear" the telltale signs of plagiarism (not a precision instrument, but I've been working on it for thirty years now)—but we frequently discuss plagiarism, the challenges it presents in a digital age, and the kinds of things we can do together through in- and out-of-class assignments to continue to learn how academic integrity can be strengthened. I have long relieved myself of the (for me) oily role of word-cop—I find no pleasure in finding plagiarism, just a kind of sad anger—and instead recognize that academic integrity, like writing itself, is a process learned incrementally. We must give students opportunities to fail without penalty (the foundation for most scientific research, and a necessary component of all empirical and critical analysis).
As to generational shifts in the perception of what constitutes intellectual property theft, on the whole my students believe two things: (1) It's their right to own/use/enjoy everything ever published, composed, and designed—and all for free; and (2) claiming ownership of it without attribution in their academic prose is cheating. They see the line, and are more worried about their inability to chart that academic undiscovered country (should I cite that phrase?) than they are eager to "own" another scholar's work as they would a song, movie, or image.
I think that the most interesting thing to come out of this conversation is that in many ways the digital age has made us more aware of plagiarism. As a teacher and digital media scholar, this is wonderful to hear.
Your discussion of the shift in professor as surveillance is one that I also find troubling. I think we have all joked that it would be great to have a piece of software that assigned grades to papers, but in reality that's not how I feel. I enjoy learning about my student's research and discussing how they can develop it. An increase in students means a decrease in the amount of time I can spend with each one. The idea that I must be more efficient at grading writing/research, which will always be messy business, means that plagiarism and misuse of sources becomes much easier to monitor than writing or content. You have given me a lot to think about here.
Thank you for this post. I think in general a lot can be done to improve discussions of plagiarism if we focus on academic integrity or the integrity of our own work. I think one thing my students miss about plagiarism and one thing that keeps them going back to direct quotations is a lack of confidence in their own understanding of a particular work. For instance, if they are not exactly sure what a particular piece means, it is much easier to quote it than to properly paraphrase. If they exist in this space and the teacher demands that less than a certain amount of the paper be direct quotations, then I think it becomes easier to cut and paste than to grapple with the text. I think one thing that the internet does well is give students the opportunity to see a wealth of examples of something (like a meme) that my classes can't afford.
In my classes, paraphrasing and citing to prove comprehension is pretty common (though I don't call it that I call it a reflective writing) and I find my students are much more comfortable with the task. Teachers and developers of writing confidence and integrity instead of teacher as plagiarism surveillance can go a long way. I think we can have a different and more dynamic conversation with a student when we do find plagiarism within his or her work if we focus on this as well, even when we are not teaching composition courses.
Thanks, Chvonne! It's true, most students don't consider ethics beyond their specific assignments. I know I didn't when I was an undergraduate. I wasn't aware of concepts like fair use and intellectual property until I began working in a publishing company where we had to be so very cautious about the written and visual materials we collected. That cautiousness carried over into my online publications today. I now turn to compfight rather than google images and seek creative commons licensing just to be safe. I don't think many students see themselves as 'real' composers, so they don't worry much about copyright issues; however, online publication and multimodal texts certainly problematize their role as "consumers," and cause many to find themselves as "producers" without being entirely aware of it.
Honestly, I have never considered the plagiarism in a global context. I, like many of my students, probably think of plagiarism and piracy as something small scale. Thinking of it in regards to Gross Domestic Product makes plagiarism seem real; there are far reaching implications. I have never addressed the global concern in my classroom. However, we do have a several discussions about plagiarism and the immediate impact it can have. After reading this, I realize the conversation has to be expanded to address immediate and long term impacts of plagiarism/piracy. I think that most students would feel different about plagiarism if the conversation included the economic implications. Discussing ethics can be tricky. Students are aware of, even if they don't understand, the importance of economic growth and stability. I'm starting to agree with Bodi and Rife that these conversations should be a regular part of the classroom dialogue. I think that students are aware of the short term implications of plagiarism (their grades), but do not consider the long term impacts or the culture that it creates.
I like your suggestions. Publishers of professional and business communication textbooks already have been touting their scenario-based software: students decide how to respond to a business problem or conflict by choosing branches along a decision tree, often represented in an office environment.
But these scenarios are focused on narrow consequences, rather than how actions affect one's character and future authority. Plausible, well-written stories that follow the sequence you suggest would help people visualize what is otherwise vague and abstract.
Young people that are just beginning to build their professional reputation need to be more aware of how much more difficult it is for them to control that reputation in the digital age. I find the discussion of how you used to be able to just move and change jobs and rebuild our reputation an interesting one. It serves really well to highlight just how different this current situation is to one way things have been historically.
That said you bring up a couple of points that I think are worth exploring further. You questioned if we could develop markers in online courses that mirror physical markers of honor and reputation. The Four Gates concept that you talk about is an interesting one because it creates a metaphor for the student’s success and reputation that is easy for them to understand outside of a classroom. I think that is the key to that type of work. Students need to feel that they are gaining something by responding in an honorable way and giving them some form of progress bar for it allows them to see how they have improved. I also feel that this addresses the question you raised about students taking care outside of the classroom.
That is where the third question comes into play too. If tools are developed to show students the ways that acting honorably help them even outside of the classroom then they are more likely to take those lessons with them. Once a student understands that plagiarism and acting dishonorably has consequences outside of the classroom they are able to connect those points.
In my mind I imagine a short narrative based game that would take you through a period of a character’s life making questionable or dishonorable decisions. If you took that concept and fleshed it out you would be able to tell stories about how decisions inside and outside the classroom effected someone’s life. Show how a decision made three years earlier cost you a job in the present because your reputation was tarnished.
Hi Claire — Great question! Training instructors in the Processing programming language is an excellent idea, and that is something we are thinking about as part of our outreach efforts at the TACC Vislab. I also agree with your point that "visual learners" have a lot to offer the humanities, and bringing together these communities is one of the motivations of my work.
As I alluded to in my post, a major barrier for students in the humanities who want to learn is that there are few incentives for their professors to investigate computational tools that might inform their work and teaching. While many might like to invest hours in learning to code, current standards for promotion and tenure make this kind of professional exploration a risky use of their time. The lack of basic literacy instruction in computer programming at primary and pre-secondary levels also means that there is a long learning curve for them to become creators (and not just users) of computational tools for humanities scholarship.
On the other hand, there are many fantastic resources available for those who are motivated to learn to code on their own time. Processing comes with a library of examples and tutorials that don't assume any prior knowledge of the language. For those interested in visualization, O'Reilly's Visualizing Data: Exploring and Explaining Data with the Processing Environment is an excellent introduction.
Also, since Processing was born as a teaching language, there is a lively community of educators using Processing in their curriculum. Khan Academy's exciting new computer programming curriculum teaches a modified version of Processing in their online courses, which allow students to write and run code directly in their web browser.
One final point that may not be clear from my post: Processing is a great programming environment for creating dynamic visualizations, and our Massive Pixel Environment library makes it easy to create massive visualizations with millions of pixels. However, it is not designed for searching through large archives or mining "big data". With future funding, we hope to create tools to simplify this part of the data visualization process as well.