The principal sin of plagiarism is not ethical, but cognitive.
Brad Hokanson, U of Minnesota
The program for this year's ISTE had a few sessions with "Google-proofing" in the title. Since, I suppose no one copies directly from print sources anymore, "Googling" and "plagiarizing" are synonymous. And as professor Hokanson suggests in the quote above, when there is a direct transfer of information from source to student product - with no cognitive processing stop in-between - little learning occurs as a result of the assignment. It is busy work that no one likes.
Reducing the probability of plagiarism has been an interest of mine for some time. (See Copy, Paste, Plagiarize, 1997, The Other Side of Plagiarism, 2004, and Plagiarism-Proofing Assignments, 2004). And I have long argued that developing better research and test questions, rather than using Turnitin or other "gotcha" types of technologies, is the best long-term solution to plagiarism. And at the heart of most "better" assignments and assessments is attention to higher-order thinking skills that require original thinking rather than simple recall or reporting of content. The graphic below, one of many, many similar graphs and charts, matches Bloom's Taxonomy to verbs that help create better assignments:
But I don't think just attending to HOTS is sufficient. Assignments and assessments need to be personal as well. Engagement, creativity, and meaning result when the outcome of a project are in some way related to oneself and to those people, places and things one cares about. But what makes an assignment personal? I would suggest four primary means:
1. Allow (or require) the student to relate the academic topic to an area of personal interest. If the assignment is to do research on WWII and the student has a personal interest in horses, have the research question be "How were horses used in WWII battles?"
2. Allow (or require) the student to do inquiry that has implications for him/herself or his/her family. Rather than research a topic about an assigned health issue, ask the student to select a health problem that may be experienced in his/her own family or by someone he or she is close to.
3. Allow (or require) the student to give local focus to the research. Rather than simply studying bats, for example, ask that the student focuses on bats that are local and determine the ecological impact of the region.
4. Allow (or require) that the student's final product relate to a current, real-world problem. If the topic is genetics, ask that the result of the paper be a recommendation of how advances in genetic modification might solve a real problem in the news - hunger, disease, over-population, etc.
None of this is exactly rocket-surgery, but it is a fundamental way of re-thinking the purpose of research (to find real solutions to real problems or to explore topics that are meaningful to the researcher) as well as a natural means of reducing the chance of plagiarism.
Your suggestions for Google-proofing an assignment?