Saturday, July 21, 2007

Trying to Practice What I Preach and Loving the Results!

Like some people that I really admire, including Doug Johnson, I believe that the best way to insure that students do original work is to give assignments that preclude plagiarism. Too many times teachers and professors give assignments that cry out for copy/paste. In my school librarian days, I had a colleague who taught health. He would bring in his classes every month and direct them to write a report on a disease. I came to think of these days as “Disease ‘o the Month” days. After this happened a couple of times, I approached him and suggested that the students’ reports would be a lot more interesting if he had them write in the first person, and tell what it was like to have the malady, or put themselves in the place of a family member, or pretend to be a doctor talking about his/her patient. I went on to say that the copying would also go down. He and his students seemed much happier with their “disease days,” and so was I.

As a professor of library science, I see few instances where I wonder if the copy/paste syndrome is displayed by a student, but I realize it is not out of the question in any discipline. It occurred to me that some of my assignments were less creative than they should be, and closer to the kinds I criticized in class. So, in recent semesters, I have revised some of my assignments. In one class, students must complete an Internet tutorial, and in another they read a book about library automation, Dania Bilal’s Automating Media Centers and Small Libraries. Their instructions are to convince me, with a CREATIVE RESPONSE, that they have completed the task. Chapter summaries, bulleted lists, or outlines will not be accepted. Grading papers today was payoff time! These assignments, which used to be my least favorites to grade because they were so repetitious, are ones I now look forward to reading. Responses I got today included:

  • Blogs and journals with many personal comments
  • A book made with PowerPoint, complete with publication data, all parts of a book, and a personalized account of the tutorial
  • A hilarious account of a teacher who is called upon to teach Brittney Spears about the Internet during her incarceration
  • A conversation between two other celebs, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston as they sit side by side at computers and go through the tutorial
  • Ingenious charts and Inspiration diagrams
  • Letters describing the material. Some letters have been to historical characters such as Ada Lovelace, but among the favorite choices are letters to mothers. Some of these, students tell me, even get delivered
  • A conversation between the student and Socrates explaining the material.

I believe these tactics could be used for many research assignments as well as responses to required reading and even tests. The results are more interesting final products with greatly reduced chances that the work is plagiarized.

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