Thursday, May 7, 2015

Are You Teaching Your Students to be Unintentional Plagiarists?

"Gasp" by Halimae / CC BY 3.0

Sometimes plagiarism is intentional. Sometimes it's not. But neither are acceptable. 

During the year, my students spend a good deal of time learning to cite evidence and identifying their sources when writing essays or research-based speeches. However, do students apply this practice when creating other types of content? Do they understand that when they reuse someone else's creations (images, videos, etc.) without permission that they may be plagiarizing and violating copyright laws? Do teachers know this?

How does this apply to nontraditional forms of classroom writing? All of my students have their own blogs, and some enjoy writing posts about their favorite athletes or a game they just watched. They often incorporate facts they read from other sources, but they fail to identify where they found this information. This is when my students forget the concept of plagiarism. Perhaps this is because they don't associate blogging with academic writing since blogging isn't commonly taught in schools. However, this is still not okay.

Some educators are guilty of the same mistake. I know I used to be. When we are looking to spice up our lessons, we may search for ideas on the Internet. Sometimes we come across a great idea and a lesson is born. But how many are actually acknowledging that their lessons originated from someone else's hard work? Sure, ideas are not copyright protected, and we're not breaking any laws. (Unless we are lifting words and content from someone else's work and reusing that for our own needs without the consent of the creator. Then, yes, that is illegal.) 

We need to remember that plagiarism is the act of appropriating another person's idea without credit attribution regardless of the purpose behind our actions. This may not always fall under the jurisdiction of the law, but it does under the court of ethics.

In my "9 C's of Digital Literacy," I pointed out that we should be teaching about character when teaching digital literacy. I believe that we should be encouraging our students to be advocates of ethical practices even if not legally required.

So now I make it a point to include either of the following sentences on my assignments if the situation applies: "This lesson was inspired by _____" or "This lesson idea originated from ______" with a link to this person's work.

If we want to teach our students to do the right thing, shouldn't we be modeling these behaviors as well? It takes so little effort to acknowledge another person for his or her hard work. Isn't it time we started? Sometimes the best lessons are the ones we don't explicitly teach, and many times those are the ones that leave the biggest impact on our students.