"Downloading for the greater good"

Via Johndan’s blog, I found this amusing look at plagiarism, “Downloading for the Greater Good,” by Lauren Frey and available at her blog “The Morning News.” It’s a firmly tongue-in-cheek look at the “up-side” of students buying/getting papers off of the Internet. Like Johndan, I thought this was the most humorous passage:

Most tenured professors didn’t grow up with computers, so they’re not always that sharp when it comes to zeroes and ones. I used to work as an administrative assistant at a very reputable college. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the professors couldn’t handle making microwave popcorn, much less checking their email.

But since students started downloading papers, professors have been forced to catch up with technology. Skipping past the skills needed to operate a microwave, they now have to search the internet looking for proof that the papers are “plagiarized.� Professors have had to learn software such as the “Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program,� which blanks out every fifth word of a student’s paper and then tests how long it takes the student to fill them all back in. Also, many colleges maintain online anti-plagiarism databases that allow professors to type in any eyebrow-raising turn of phrase from a student’s paper to see if it was copied from another source.

This may sound like simple stuff to you and me, but keep in mind that about half of currently tenured professors were born before TV sets became common in American homes.

That popcorn bit got me. I don’t know about where you work, but every time one of my colleagues screws up making microwave popcorn in the faculty lounge, it stinks up the whole floor.

Anyway, two thoughts:

  • To be fair, I have plenty of junior colleagues, some born in the 70’s, who not only routinely burn the popcorn but who are still somewhat in the dark about this whole new-fangled “Internet thing.” Sure, they do email and they will look stuff up on the web, but I think that people of all ages find themselves in fields like English because they don’t want to become particularly computer literate. Of course, as Frey suggests, they ultimately have to become at least a little computer literate.
  • If you’re a student and you’re reading this blog right now and you are thinking that your teacher will never know if you just “copied and pasted” a paper and hand it in, you are probably wrong. Let me try to explain why:

    As I mentioned back in June, I had a student lift a paper from one of these sites with free papers last Spring term. I honestly think that this was the first time this has happened in one of my classes ever. I’m not suggesting that students have never passed any plagiarized material by me or they haven’t passed work by me where they have received maybe a little too much help from a friend or whatever. But I’m talking here about a paper that was pretty much lifted wholesale from a web site.

    The student who did this in June was clearly desperate. The student (I’ll leave the “he or she” thing up in the air) was going to fail the class because he/she was not able to write a passing essay the entire semester. His/her writing was simply that bad. How bad? Well, I was going to type a sentence from one of his/her essays, but I decided that wouldn’t really be that nice, even though this student did in the end cause me much grief. Let’s just say that I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I have had few college-aged students who demonstrated this lack of basic literacy skills. In short, passing off someone else’s writing was his/her last-ditch effort.

    How did I know it was plagiarized? Well, I was reading along in this student’s final research essay and it seemed like his/her writing for the first page or so. Then I came across the sentence “Since strict monitoring of diabetes is needed for the control of the disease, little room is left for carelessness.” That sentence struck me as being distinctly not this student’s writing, so I did a Google search. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    This is obviously an extreme example, but I tell this story because I have had any number of students who have inserted passages and quotes from their sources without giving them credit. This is technically plagiarism, but I usually attribute this sort of thing to not properly citing evidence. Sometimes, when I note in a marginal comment that a particular passage has come from a different source and needs to be properly cited, students respond as if I’ve performed some incredible mind-reading/magic trick in being able to spot this. I think this is because some students think they have seamlessly integrated the lifted writing into their own writing. And yet every college teacher I’ve ever met can spot most of these kinds of mini-versions of plagiarism the same way that anyone listening to the radio can tell when the station changes from classical to rock.

    Anyway, a long way to the moral, but here it goes: Students, better to cite your evidence too often rather than not enough, and if you’re going to steal from the Internet, do a really good job of it because most professors know how to do a Google search, too.

Nice list, dude…

Bradley Dilger has a really nice reading list on his blog for a course he’s preparing called “Computers and Writing.” I’m linking to it now because, in a few days at the latest, I’m going to have to start planning a revamped version of English 328, and I’m always looking for things to do with my Writing for the World Wide Web class and Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice.

Congress wades into "grading and ideology". Sorta.

Yesterday afternoon, I stumbled across this article that appeared in The Boston Globe, “Provision tells schools to grade students on subjects, not ideology: Measure aims to shield campus conservatives.” It’s one of those kind of slippery stories that I don’t quite understand, but I’ll give it a try.

Congress is debating reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and one of the attached resolutions (undoubtedly, there are many such resolutions) “…tells colleges to grade students on the basis of their mastery of subject matter rather than on their political views.”

Ah, okay. I’ve always done that, and pretty much everyone I know, regardless of their political philosophies, does the same thing. Republicans can get an A in my classes and Democrats can get an F. It all depends on how well they do with the subject matter, not their political views.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m a complete “blank slate.” I’ve had students write things that were, for example, blatently racist that I simply was not willing to tolerate. I’m thinking in particular of an essay a student handed in many years ago in which the student argued that Native Americans were lazy and self-destructive and deserved what they got, and he (this student) knew because he used to live next to a reservation. My response was pretty direct. “This is incredibly racist. You’ve got to rewrite this, and this time, do some research.” He did (and, to this student’s credit, I really believe that he didn’t even realize that what he was writing was as ignorant as it was), he did some modest research, and– surprise! surprise!– he learned through his research that in reality, Native Americans have been getting the shaft from the U.S. government for quite some time.

Anyway, I digress.

The Globe article goes on:

The provision makes no mention of specific political leanings, but represents a victory for conservative student groups who have been arguing for years that American universities are bastions of liberalism seeking to impose their liberal orthodoxy on dissenters.

The measure is not binding, but some higher education analysts caution that it is not to be taken lightly. Colleges and universities, they say, should consider this a warning shot from a Republican-controlled Congress fed up with the liberal academy.

”If the universities don’t move, all that’s going to happen is this will build,” said David Horowitz, a conservative author and a driving force in the free speech movement that inspired the resolution. ”They’re sitting on a tinderbox. Now we have resolutions. I guarantee you, if they thumb their noses at this, there will be statutory legislation.”

A little bit later on, the article says this:

Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who introduced the original resolution that inspired the language in the higher education bill, said his aim is to protect conservative students from having their views squelched by the more radical members of the academy.

”The common knowledge is academicians are usually liberal, and it’s cute because they’re harmless ivory-tower types, but as the years have gone by, I think they have almost imploded among themselves,” said Kingston, whose father and sister are college professors.

Wow, I bet family dinners at the Kingston house are kinda tense…

Hmm. Okay. Well, I guess I’m left with a few questions and thoughts:

  • Other than the fact that this resolution has been introduced by conservative legislators concerned with the “liberal” academy and it is being supported by David (who gets WAY too much attention, IMO) Horowitz, why is this resolution a “victory” for conservatives? I mean, I understand that the goal of these folks is to “rein in” the (so called) liberal academy, but I don’t see how this vague and non-binding resolution does it.
  • As any number of people have written in blogs and elsewhere, the fact of the matter is there are a lot of “not so liberal” academics out there. I’ll grant you that most of the folks in humanities departments tend to be liberal, but I’m just not sure that’s true about my colleagues in the sciences, the college of technology (at EMU, at least), medicine. law, business, and a whole bunch of other areas. Look folks– don’t forget that Condi Rice was in the provost’s office at Stanford before she came into the Bush White House. You don’t get a whole lot more a part of the so-called “liberal ivory tower” than that.
  • And while we’re at it, what exactly counts as “liberal” or “conservative” here, what counts as including multiple viewpoints? If my university hosts a speech by a Holocaust survivor, does that mean, in the interest of providing “equal time,” my university should also host a speech by a Holocaust denier? I hope not. So, as far as I can tell what folks like Horowitz and the supporters of this resolution mean by “liberal” or “biased” views in college classrooms is “ideas we don’t like.” But of course, part of a college (dare I say “liberal”?) education is to confront and consider ideas we don’t like.
  • Oddly, it doesn’t seem like this resolution (which of course has no teeth to it anyway) would prevent me from teaching radical and polemic texts. So if I teach a whole semester’s worth of Marxist criticism, as long as I don’t grade a student on their specific politics, I’m okay. Hmmm….

An article I need to look up for 516…

This is really a message just for me, just a reminder to look up this article. I say that because I know that Collin and Alex have been talking lately of the “value” of scholarly blogging lately, by which I think they mean (or at least I mean) scholarly-types participating in the broader academic discussion. That’s something I might comment on when I get a chance because that’s one of the reasons I write to this blog. But one of the other reasons is to remind myself of stuff I need to look at. So if you’re not interested in this, feel free to ignore it.

Charlie Lowe posted this cite to the tech-rhet mailing list: Barb Duffelmeyer’s “Learning to Learn: New TA Preparation in Computer Pedagogy.” Computers and Composition 20 (2003), 295-311. I’m not familiar with this article, but if it is what I think it is, I should probably include it in English 516 the next time around.

A wiki on the fly with pbwiki?

Mark Crane posted a link to something called pbwiki.com to the Tech-Rhet mailing list. The “pb” part of things comes from their motto/catchphrase: “Make a free, password protected wiki as easily as a peanut butter sandwich.”

I haven’t quite figured out what I would use a wiki for in my teaching, but I did set up a wiki with this site in about 3 minutes, which strikes me as being kind of a good and cool thing.

Podcasting and teaching writing: an interesting example?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning on using some podcast technology in my online class this coming fall. Though to be completely honest, I haven’t completely figured out what I’ll be doing with it. My original (current?) plan is to use podcasts to supplement the online class materials– not a “lecture” exactly, but sort of a weekly (or so) “show” about the class. But I was at a function last night, talking with a bunch of fellow English (although literature) professors about this, and they wondered why I didn’t just write it all up and post it for students to digest in that form. I suppose they have a point, but I think you could make the same argument about radio in general: why listen to the news on the radio (or watch it on TV, for that matter) when you could just read it? Hmmmm….

Anyway, I’ve been playing around with iTunes and podcasts lately, and I came across some podcasts that are kind of an interesting example how this stuff might be used in a writing class context. Check out the CSU Writing Project Summer Institute 2005 blog and podcast site to see what I mean. I’ll be honest: I don’t find it exactly compelling “must listen to” stuff. But I also don’t think I’m the audience for these blogs, either.

Going "all laptop"

Rich Rice posted a link to this article in Boston.com, “Arizona school will not use textbooks,” to the tech-rhet mailing list. I saw a similar (more in-depth?) article in The Arizona Daily Star, “All-laptop high school to open in Vail.”

I guess my first reaction to this is “it ain’t gonna happen,” at least not entirely. Sure, there’s a lot of textbook info you could replicate electronically, but there’s a whole bunch of information that is either most practically available or only available in good ol’ fashioned books.

And I don’t understand why it’s an “either/or” kind of thing, either.

Miscellaneous links I came across today

In lieu of doing something a bit more productive, I cleaned out my email inbox today, and in the process, I came across a bunch of links to stuff I thought would be worthwhile to post here:

  • The Future of the Book web site. Some good info, but what I thought was especially cool was the java-script powered graphic at the top.
  • Journals in Rhetoric and Composition. Lists and links to different publications in the field. Hey, it’s from BGSU, so it must be good.
  • Today’s Front Pages. This is a pretty nifty little flash-driven site that show you the front pages of a bunch of different newspapers all over the world. It’s an interesting melding of traditional print and electronic media that might be a good topic of discussion in a class like 328.
  • 826 Michigan has opened up (and has a web site, too). I’ve been trying to find some time work with these folks, and I really want to find a way to make some sort of connection between the work that they’re trying to do (tutoring writing to young folks on a drop-in basis) and the work my colleagues and I are trying to do (teach future high school and junior high teachers). I do wish they had opened up the center in Ypsi, but that’s another issue.
  • TiddlyWiki. A friend of mine sent me a link to this. To be honest, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to mess around with this, but it looks to me like it has some kind of cool potential as an interesting way to write hypertext.

We're not Afraid web site

While watching ABC Nightly News last night, I heard about the “We’re not Afraid” web site, which includes a whole bunch of images that express support for Londoners in light of the recent terrorist attacks. I’m linking it here because I think it’s a worthy tribute and also because I’m planning on including a unit/project/discussion in a class I am redesigning this summer on “visual rhetoric.” This site and a few others might be interesting to talk about.

One thing to think about though: in the ABC News story, they showed a bunch of images from the site– individuals, couples, animals, etc.– but they did not show one person of color. All white folk. When I went to the site itself to look around a bit, it took me a while to find anybody who wasn’t white. I don’t know exactly what that has to say, other than perhaps that’s a commentary on “we” and who ought to be “afraid.”