Sunday, May 20, 2007

With Information Literacy Until - Now Context Sensitive

One of the most pleasant surprises of the WILU conference for me was the session, Student-Driven TURNITIN as a Teaching-Learning Tool. Like many folks, I came into the session with some strong misgivings about Turnitin. But I left the session a different person.

This presentation began with an introduction to the community of nursing that these teaching faculty were a part of. They told us that it was regulated community that places ethics and caring at the heart of the profession. And more importantly, they told us that they told their students the same thing before they spoke to them about plagiarism. They told them that use of Turnitin was voluntary, that they could see their paper's status within Turnitin, that they could re-submit their paper as many times as they wanted, and that could always come to them for help in writing their paper. This is so important because many students do not intentionally plagiarize - they simply don't understand when it is necessary for them to paraphrase or to quote their sources. The end result was that students submitted their papers in earlier, felt good knowing that they submitted original papers, and they sought help when their Turnitin reports showed a high percentage of unoriginal work. The faculty had less crying students to deal with and thought that Turnitin saved them considerable work in their pursuit of plagiarism. The difference that context and implement made in software implementation has really stuck with me (and it has made me hate this poster even more).

And then I got to thinking: what if every paper that a student submitted was signed and made available online for all to see and link to. How would that corpus of work take a life on its own? How would this change affect how students wrote their papers? Would students argue back and forth? Would student disagree with their younger selves? Why is it so important that students develop their undergraduate writing and learning in private? Is it that important?

I got infected with this notion sometime after listening to Rochelle Mazar speak on Making Coursework Matter. She told a great story of students rising to surprising and impressive levels through an assignment that had them editing and improving articles in the Wikipedia for the sake of the rest of the world (ha! I just wondered if I had paraphrased her abstract enough to satisfy Turnitin). She reminded us that students want their work to matter and challenged us to work on ways to make it so. Again, how work is situated is fundamental to how it is pursued.

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