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EdTech Update





BFTP: Is academic recycling plagiarism?

Handing in an assignment twice, even if you've done it yourself, is considered "plagiarism." In other words, handing in the same assignment for two different courses... - Vivian in a comment responding to "To Make it Google-proof, make it personal" blog post.

I was startled when a magazine editor rejected a column I had written. "It's plagiarized," was the simple reason. And she included a URL where the material could be found online. I went to that web address, and sure enough, there was much of the material from which my column was composed.

Of course, the website was my own. I was busted. I'd recycled something I had written before. Which according to Vivian (see above) and the editor constituted plagiarism.

I would beg to differ. At a basic level, most definitions of plagiarism stress someone else's work is involved. For example define plagiarism as: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own) include reference to another person's work). If one steals a physical object - a can of soup, say - one removes it from another owner. Moving one's own can of soup from one cupboard to another, just isn't theft. 

So let's call this intellectual property recycling, not plagiarism and ask if that practice is ethical.

If the teacher, editor, or other requester specifically states that one's writing needs to be completely original then re-using one's writing is wrong. But I'd argue that there are nuances here that makes recycling ethics a bit more complex. When I consider reusing something I've written before, I ask these kinds of questions - and it would benefit our students if we gave them practice asking them as well:

  1. Am I writing for a different audience? (I may have written about a topic for librarians, but am now writing with building principals in mind.)
  2. Is the focus of the topic different? (When I am writing about plagiarism, for example, the focus changes depending on whether it is an English teacher or a computer integration specialist for whom I am writing.)
  3. Has the topic been updated? (What I wrote about BYOD two years ago may be very different from what I would write about today since technologies, legal interpretations, levels of acceptance have all changed.)
  4. Is the purpose of my writing different? (Writing to persuade a librarian to adopt a new way of thinking about technology is different from writing to inform curriculum directors about what they should expect from their school librarians.)

A student who chooses a single topic (or more likely a blend of topics) for research that works both, for say, science and history assignments is not only ethical, but probably doing more intellectually challenging work by blending diverse subjects. (What was the science behind the atomic bomb and how did the bomb influence international politics?) 

And I would argue that the best research, the best writing, the best media production will come when students are allowed to write about genuine passions. If a kid loves horses, why should their K-12 portfolio not show an increasing level of skills and thoughtfulness of work - all about horses?

Academic recycling just might have its place in education.

Original post 7/17/08



Is education spreading or mitigating the evils of technology?


And so, these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us. Neil Postman

In the article Is the Internet Evil?, Chrisine Elba digs up Neil Postman's old but prescient talk "5 Things We Need to Know About Technological Change" from back in the dark ages of technology - 1998. Both Postman's original talk and Elba's interpretation of it for 2018 are both great thought-pieces when talking about how technology is used in schools and what we teach kids about it.

Even as an "advocate" for information technology use in schools, I recognize that technology also has its negative impacts. Among the many questions I often ask:

  • Are we using too much data and not enough common sense in evaluating students and the effectiveness of our educational programs?
  • Are we communicating with our students and our peers digitally instead of in personal, face-to-face conversations?
  • Are we subjecting our students to "information" sources that are inaccurate and inappropriate before they have the skills to to evaluate and comprehend such materials?
  • Are we dedicating educational dollars to technology that might be better spent on libraries, smaller class sizes, better teacher pay, better facilities?
  • Are we increasing the inequity of learning opportunities between the haves and have-nots by using technological resources to which not all students have equal access?
  • Are students (and staff) becoming more isolated and distracted by omnipresent social networks and smartphones? Is deep, linear reading and thinking being replaced by snippets and tweets and bumper-sticker thinking?

Even if you are the school's biggest proponent of technology, you are probably asking these questions. And if you are your school's biggest opponent to technology, you are probably realizing that technology is not going away.

In These horses are out of the barn, I suggested that we as educators need to accept some realities about technology. But not only do we need to accept them, we need to recognize our responsibilities as educators in helping students (and each other) use technology wisely and avoid the most negative impacts they have on us both personally and societally.

As my friend Carol Simpson always says, "You can't teach children to cross the street safely if you never let them out of the house." How do we teach kids how to use technology well and mitigate its negative impact if we don't give them access to it in our classrooms where we can guide and inform?

To me, this one of our most important professional duties.


7 reasons your school doesn't need a library

I know there will be some raised eyebrows seeing my name associated with the “nay” side of any question about the necessity of school libraries. But let’s be honest here. There are schools that don’t need library facilities, library programs, or librarians. These school’s teachers and administrators:

  1. Are content to have their instruction be textbook and test-driven. Given the number of standards in the state-mandated curriculum and the state’s test-based accountability requirements, the staff does not see the need for in-depth study of topics, problem-based teaching, or authentic assessment. A single textbook meets teacher needs.

  2. Are unconcerned about providing quality information sources to staff and students. Administrators feel that edited sources of information – books, commercial databases, or reference materials - are necessary when “everything is free on the Internet.” Questions of information reliability and authority are deemed irrelevant.

  3. Believe students and staff can locate reliable information without assistance. Citing the ability of students to do a search in Google and find pages of information on which the search term appears, teachers dismiss the notion that more sophisticated strategies and search tools were needed. Kids can always change their topic if they don’t find what they need with Google in these schools.

  4. Feel that the ability to process and communicate information in formats other than print is unnecessary. Students in these schools use standard written term papers as the sole means of communicating the results of research. That they are word-processed was cited as proof of “technology integration.” Having students communicate using audio, video, photographic or visual productions, is dismissed as irrelevant to preparing students for college.

  5. Feel no need for F2F collaborative learning space. Classrooms and quiet study halls are the only places considered appropriate for learning in these schools.

  6. View independent voluntary reading is a waste of time. Strict adherence to the basal readers and reading “skill building” software results in students scoring acceptably on standardized tests, so both administration and teachers are reluctant to “mess with success.” Developing a desire to read is not part of the district’s strategic plan.

  7. Believe differentiated instruction is just babying the slackers. Providing materials at a variety of levels, in multiple formats meeting the needs of learners with divergent abilities, interests and learning styles is given a low priority by these schools.

Small classroom book collections that supplement the reading series and a word-processing lab with access to Google are all that such schools currently require. Since the skills of librarians are viewed as unimportant, the library can be staffed by clerks.

I would not send my own children to such a school, but it’s differences that make a horse race, I guess.

Published as a counter point in ISTE's Leading & Learning, Nov 2009