Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Using the Internet as an information source for help as opposed to a source for copying.

I am presently teaching a business communications ESL course at American University in Kabul and am learning more about teaching every day.

When I was in school (even in 2005) there wasn’t nearly as much information online as there is now (and there certainly wasn’t as much back during undergrad in the 90s). Without a doubt this information boom has been a blessing, no two ways about it, but the misuse or abuse of this information has become more and more disturbing to me. In the US I have heard about problems related to plagiarism etc but for those who are caught there are very stiff penalties (a friend of mine was expelled from school for a year and all she did was copy someone’s homework). In the developing world it is a different story. There are almost no laws about not claiming someone else’s intellectual work as your own and even if there are laws they are routinely ignored. I admit that I am perhaps a bit flexible about “fair use” but profiting off of someone else’s work or claiming someone else’s work as your own really really bothers me. In the class I am teaching I routinely catch students blatantly copying from the internet and not citing the copied work (or worse claiming it as your own); even worse many of the international students from developing countries in my grad school program routinely copied the work of others (and didn’t get caught nearly as often as they should have). I have heard worse stories from friends who are/were professional teachers having papers submitted with the URLs still in the header with students swearing it was their own work.

This is one of those “I can identify the problem, but don’t know the solution” things, if I was to treat my students as my friend in undergrad was treated I would have a class that was 1/3rd its original size. I have had to stress repeatedly that un-cited work will not be counted (they are presently working on final projects) all this and I am not even requiring the work be cited according to any particular standard (I had to use APA), just tell me how I can find the information if I wanted to refer back to it… and many of them still are not getting it.