Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Journal 9

"Avoid the Plague: Tips and Tricks for Preventing and Detecting Plagiarism" by J. V. Bolkan

Plagiarism is an unfortunate issue facing teachers today. Although it is a crime committed by the students, Bolkan's article offers that the teacher can do several things to discourage plagiarism in the classroom. The first is taking a clear stand against plagiarism and explaining to students not only why it is wrong, but why it is harmful to the students themselves and their learning outcomes. Less directly, teachers must understand that they are responsible for designing assignments and can develop several safeguards against plagiarism into the assignment itself. In creating a specific research question, requiring process work, and expecting students to be able to talk about their projects teachers make it more difficult for students to plagiarize. Lastly, once students have committed plagiarism, it is the responsibility of the teacher to discover it. Sure, services like can aid in this, but teachers should strive to know their students' abilities and writing styles well enough to know what they are and are not capable of producing. I appreciated that this article placed so much responsibility on teachers for changing the current trend toward plagiarism. Sure, students have the ultimate choice on whether or not to plagiarize, but if teachers just blindly expect academic honesty, then they forget their main role: to teach! Teachers have to set students up for success and the way that they design their lessons and develop the learning community in their classroom is vital to student learning outcomes.

Q1: What was my favorite suggestion that this article gave for preventing plagiarism?
A1: I think that emphasizing process work is really important. If students steal the work of others they don't get the chance to develop ideas for themselves. Finished essays nearly never come with rough drafts or topic proposals. Process work, since it is so rough, allows teachers to get familiar with student writing patterns and, at the base, it gives students experience with the writing process! I think that all English teachers need to understand that the finished product is not all there is to learning--the process can be just as instrumental to understanding. If we place all value on the end product, then students might be more inclined to plagiarize because too much rides on getting something perfect. As the article points out too, it's just so much of a hassle to create rough drafts that students may as well complete the final essay. By forcing them through the process then, it not only ensures original work but helps them develop lifelong skills for original thought.

Q2: Often students argue that plagiarism was accidental. How can the method learned in Journal 8 help students prevent their own "accidental" plagiarism?
A2: Well, this article explained that teachers detect plagiarism often by entering the paper into search engines and then checking them against similar web resources. If students kept all of their research on a computer in one coherent spreadsheet, as the research article suggested, then they could complete much the same process as a plagiarism-hunting teacher. If any parts of their own papers feel to them like they may be too derivative of their resources, then they can insert the questionable content into the search function on their research and see what matches they get back. This allows students to take responsibility for themselves!

Journal 8

"Updating the Research Paper" by Werner Liepolt

Liepolt's approach to student research papers is genius. Whereas all prior curriculums have instructed students to take notes and keep citations on notecards, Liepolt updates the process by integrating technology. With spreadsheet software, students can keep citation data, summaries, quotes, and notes all in one place and can therefore clearly label and keep track of where their information came from and what it is for. This method helps them generate a works cited page quite easily, as there would be a column in the spreadsheet for each of the required pieces of information for a proper citation. With the process that Liepolt has developed, students have the option of printing off their notes in notecard form, allowing them the best of both worlds then. As I read this article I was absolutely blown away by Liepolt's approach. In all of my own research papers, I have always been resistant to the notecard method because it just did not make sense to how I operated. To have a separate notecard for every note I wanted to make was tedious and inefficient when it came to sorting through the notes to write the final paper. Plus, I lost a lot of the notecards. Using spreadsheets just makes so much more sense! Instead of a separate notecard, there can just be a separate column, which ensures that students will collect the necessary information and will allow them the opportunity to add information easily as they see fit.

Q1: What would I have to learn in order to teach research practices in this manner?
A1: I am not comfortable with spreadsheets. As Liepolt pointed out, spreadsheets have been removed from research efforts and are now viewed as primarily good only for numerical data entry. My teachers have all fallen prey to this trend and thus my humanities course has not familiarized me with programs like Excel. I would have to become a pro at using Excel in a research setting before I could expect my students to use it facilely. Besides, I would love to integrate this method into my own research practices, so learning Excel would have a great personal benefit as well.

Q2: What are potential problems with this method?
A2: Spreadsheet software can be daunting to learn and difficult to teach. I would be worried that training students on the programs would take too much time away from the curriculum. However, if this approach became widely accepted enough, perhaps more schools would see Excel's value as a research tool and make more of an effort to teach it to students in a computer skills class. Also, I think that this approach would be so helpful in research strategies that I would probably be willing to take the time to teach it; it is a skill that will be necessary for students their whole lives. With keeping notes on the computer there is a worry that students will engage with the material less, and this can lead to plagiarism. When students actually copy notes and quotations onto the notecards, it gives them a chance to internalize the information, which allowed them better understanding and the realization that it was someone else's work. If students are just copy and pasting research from the Internet, the research is a lot more passive and students may not interact with the text as much. I think this worry is outweighed by the benefit of being able to see all the research laid out together. This is an interaction with the text in its own right.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Journal 7

"Electronic Editing: Taking Advantage of Built-in Tools to Improve Student Writing" by Leigh E. Zoitz

When grading and/or reviewing a student's paper, teachers leave suggestions in the margins and make corrections directly onto the paper. This can get messy and is not the most efficient way to do it. Zoitz offers that if students turn in an electronic copy of their papers, then teachers can used the editing tracking features on word processing programs to comment on student papers. This way students can more easily access the teacher's input and the editing exchange can happen faster because papers can be turned back outside of class. I like this idea but not only for the reasons that Zoitz offers. Yes, it would be neater and more expedient, but it would also be easier for students to keep a record of teacher suggestions. If students have corrections of previous assignments saved directly on their computers, I think they will be more inclined to look over those assignment and be better able to notice and avoid patterns of error. If they keep getting the same comment over and over again, students hopefully will take notice and change it. Likewise, the teacher will have this same collective record so that she can keep track of the student's difficulties, and the problem areas of the class as a whole. If she has to keep writing the same comment over and over again, perhaps on seeing this she will realize the need for a reteaching intervention.

Q1: Could these tools be put to use by the students themselves?
A1: Absolutely! I think that if students learned the potential of these tools it would greatly help their writing in two ways. First, the teacher is often not the only one to read student work; peer-review is an integral step in the writing process. If students used the tools on each other's papers, it would allow them to comment easier and to receive criticism in a more effective format. Peer review could take place outside of the classroom, perhaps, leaving classtime to discuss the problem areas instead of setting aside a large chunk for the reading itself. As the students write their own papers, I think that if they tracked their editing on rough drafts it would help them understand the editing process better and give them a record of their changes, which may help them understand later why those choices were made. Since the editing tools don't erase the first version, students get to view the original and the changes together, which lets them see the effect that those changes have on the work as a whole. Also, once the revisions are done, students have the option of reverting to the original if it would be helpful to do so.

Q2: What is an issue with this method?
A2: I often find that when I read off a computer screen for long periods of time, I become disengaged and begin to skim instead of absorb the material. By actually physically writing on the paper, there is more action involved. Also, handwritten comments feel more personal and weightier. So teachers would have develop an attitude for themselves and in their classroom that emphasized the importance of these tools and how to overcome the ennui that can come from a white screen (quick, frequent breaks, perhaps?). There is a paradigm shift that is taking us from a paper culture into the world of technology and we have got to develop the skills to help us meet this change.

Journal 6

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" by Ivan W. Baugh

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a fun, popular song sung during the holidays. However, Baugh understands that the song has a historical and social basis and implications. Capitalizing on this understanding, he has developed a multidisciplinary lesson plan. Students get experience with math and economics by using spreadsheet programs to chart the presents and holiday spending trends. In the humanities, students learn about the history and religion underlying the song, get a chance to write songs of their own, and study songs in current popular culture that have social importance of their own. The research is all web-based, and Baugh provides many suggestions for credible and interesting sites. Although Baugh's lesson incorporated activities, such as math and economic planning, that I would not be able to apply in a high school English classroom, I found his idea of using something iconic in our culture as a jumping off place for his lesson. There are so many things in our culture and traditions that we just take for granted without fully understanding what they are about and where they came from, so I think it is great that Baugh interrogates these familiar social practices and encourages better understanding of them. I also like that his lesson extends beyond just the song itself. Using a popular song is a great way to hok student interest so that the teacher can then segue the lesson into a bigger concept like world religion.

Q1: What should teachers be cautious of in choosing popular culture and in designing lessons around them?
A1: Often items taken from popular culture will relate to specific cultural groups and their ideals. They can express biases that oppose other groups. In this article, for example, a public school teacher would have to be very cautious in how he or she approached a Christmas song in the classroom due to the religious ties and connotations that come with it. Baugh does a good job because he does not focus on the idea that it is a Christmas song so much as a historical document that must be understood and analyzed. He does discuss religion, but in an manner that encourages inclusive inquiry into all religions, not just Christianity. The idea that songs and other cultural media might associate with particular groups also impacts a Teacher's choice because he or she must take into account which media the class will be familiar with. What is normal and traditional to us may not be part of someone else's culture.

Q2: What else would a lesson of this type be good at teaching?
A2: As this is a magazine emphasizing technology in education, I was surprised that Baugh did not discuss the validity of his web sources. He designed several research projects that were primarily web-based, which is great because a multidisciplinary project of this magnitude would require easy and quick access to a variety of information. If you are looking at popular culture, there will, no doubt, be a plethora of information offered on the Internet. However, there is a lot of room for error and bias in this information, so this project would be a great chance for students to encounter the range of validity in web sources and give them a chance to develop judgment skills for researching.