During a recent conversation with my #ecosys Twitter friends, the topic turned to a recent BBC article about how Danish students were being allowed to use the Internet during exams. Danish pupils use web in exams
What followed was a thoughtful conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of allowing students access to the Internet during exams and if this amounted to cheating or plagiarism.
Phil notes that, “People now have access to levels of knowledge that was inconceivable 20 years ago. Rather than having to carry thousands of facts around in one’s head, what is needed today is an understanding of the context in which the question is being asked and being able to place the answers within that context.”
In terms of cheating during an exam Phil clearly points out that, “So when we see somebody ‘cheating’ in an exam, what are they doing? They are taking information from another source, in this case a fellow assessee. Is it legitimate to do so? Probably not, but … accessing the Internet with the correct question and being able to use the resulting answers when responding to an exam question requires an understanding of the context. In other words: “How well is the assessee able to remember the context (and everything that goes into making a context) rather than being able to merely regurgitate facts?”
I agree with Phil’s points and conclusions.
But beyond having access to the internet to answer test questions is the the larger question of taking existing ideas, research, work and “pirating” it into other “improved” or “reinvented” works.
Is if this is an actual skill that should be developed and encouraged in our students?
Is it piracy and plagiarism, or is it creativity and innovation?
Which do you suppose we should be teaching our students to do?
We live in an age where anybody can produce, mix, or re-purpose information and ideas.
When we pirate information and ideas, we may just be innovating new ideas and creating new ways of doing things.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and musicians viewed it as piracy. He was pirating their music, recording it, and selling it. They feared the end of live performances, instead an entire industry was born, the music industry.
MP3 players existed prior to the iPod, but the iPod pirated that technology and created it’s own phenomena. Music lovers, wanting to share music with each other without paying, created digital music sites like Napster. They were pirating their way around and outside of what the music industry existed to do. Steve Jobs figured out that to beat the pirates he had to compete with them and built iTunes. The pirates ideas had become mainstream and put old music sellers out of business. It is piracy or innovation? Is it plagiarism or creativity?
The iPod itself is just a combination of pre-existing ideas; the battery, operating system, hard drive, screen, MP3 technology, etc.
Reggae, Disco, and Hip-hop music demonstrate that we can repurpose music into something new. The pirate old songs and create new and innovative versions. These versions become so popular that they create entirely new music genres. It is piracy or creativity?
Moviemakers, not wanting to pay high fees in New York pirates their way around the system by setting up studios in California. Today we call it Hollywood.
India reverse engineers drugs for the poor pirating what they themselves could not afford to do. Drug companies, sensing the good public relations they can benefit from, begin selling their drugs at huge discounts an in some cases giving them away. They respond to the pirates by creating an entirely new approach of serving the poor of the world. Piracy or creativity?
Teachers pirate great lesson plans and instructional ideas from other teacher all the time. It helps them to be more effective and learn new ways of instructing their students.
So, is piracy and plagiarism just another way of being creative and innovative? Are they a source of new ideas, methods, and models? Are there links to each other or are they mutually exclusive?
A senior business executive needing the most current research on a company or economic trend asks his junior executive to find the best and most current information. The junior executive doesn’t start his or her own research project, rather he or she Googles the information looking for the most current research on the topic that has already been done by the most respected and knowledgeable experts. He or she copies it, rips it, digitizes it, scans it, re-purposes it, integrates it, synthesizes it, and puts into a usable document to give the senior executive. This is what we call good research.
In the classroom we call plagiarism. So, it is plagiarism or creativity?
Most of the examples I shared, which come from Matt Mason, would be examples of plagiarism and cheating if they happened inside a classroom.
Doesn't there seem to be a disconnect from what we do in the classroom and what the real world expects of them? I know most of you are saying it's about the process. But if that is true, then why do we spend so much time evaluating and grading the result?
If it really is about process then Pat Dixon has an idea;
- Give the students a question they know nothing about.
- Give them 30 minutes to put together a 3000 word report on that question.
- Grade for Correctness in the answer
- Authoritativeness of sources used
- Uniqueness of of the pieced together report.
In what ways could you re-purpose your research report assignments to develop real world skills that focus on the process, the correctness, the authoritativeness, and uniqueness of synthesis?
What might that look like in your classroom or school?
How does your current understanding of technology, business, and innovation impact your thoughts?
How might your students be better served with the assignments they work on?
In what ways have you been successful in the past in adjusting assignments to meet the changing needs of the students and the world they live in? How might you draw upon that experience?
In what ways does the discussion of plagiarism and pirating vs. creativity and innovation force you to think in new ways?
What are the underlying principles at work in this discussion and how does it/they impact your approach to education?
What if you were to reverse the process and have students examine existing reports and determine how well they meet the criteria for a good research report?
Which assignments could you substitute with these new ideas?