Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Preventing Plagiarism...It's a Whole New World

One of my favorite lessons each year is the opportunity to talk to students about preventing plagiarism. The world of plagiarism is very different than what it looked like when I was a young student. Plagiarism used to take effort; actual scissors and paste were involved in cutting and pasting. Handwritten reports copied from the family encyclopedia set sometimes took longer than writing the words myself. I don't even remember hearing the word plagiarism until I was a senior in high school completing my research project on Utopia by Sir Thomas Moore. I still have the book, complete with my notes and it's definitely true that painful memories are the clearest. But that's another story.

Today, plagiarizing is much easier and can even happen unintentionally when students use technology to take short cuts during the research and writing process. As the first post of this blog states, just because you can doesn't mean you should. In the 6th grade, I share plagiarism scenarios with students who act as lawyers and a jury to determine whether or not the student in question has plagiarized. Many of the scenarios contain gray areas without clear or easy answers. The scenario we talk about extensively is the one I see most frequently in the middle school. It always starts with note taking. It is very common for students to want to copy and paste digital information to a word document as a note taking method. We strongly discourage this method. Yes, it is time saving, but it creates problems in the long run. Students who don't clearly delineate which notes are direct quotes and which are their own interpretations or lists of facts, inevitably end up including chunks of text in their final documents that they did not write themselves. They typically do this unintentionally, but there are consequences anyway. Cutting and pasting, rather than reading and interpreting, limits the brain's ability to process and analyze text. Students are short-cutting themselves and their learning by skipping this essential step.

To prevent this common type of plagiarism, we encourage students to work through research in chunks. Chunks can be different sizes for different people. Whether it is a paragraph, a section or a page, students read a "chunk" and then set aside or turn away from the source material to jot down the most important facts, information or ideas they gathered from their initial reading of the material. They can glance back and check for dates, spelling and other particulars. Notes should look like lists of facts, information and ideas rather than complete sentences or paragraphs. This also saves time and creates notes that are much more useful when working on a final project.

We discuss many plagiarism related scenarios that students might run into during their academic careers: recycling old projects for a new class, being asked to share answers with a friend, or whether or not to purchase a paper from an online essay "shop." We also keep talking about it every year and during most major research and writing projects to ensure that students have the tools to make better choices.

This year, when I spoke with the 8th graders, I used some real life examples to demonstrate that plagiarism issues never really go away, even as adults and that, in some cases we're all still trying to figure out what's acceptable and what isn't. The three examples I showed them are linked below. Interestingly, when I happened upon the Bob Dylan example, I found an image on a blog that reminded me of the types of charts I usually see in major newspapers, like The New York Times. The blog author did not attribute the chart to any source, causing readers like me to assume the chart was created by the author. I was skeptical and went straight to The New York Times. Sure enough, I was able to locate the original article including the chart image created by the Times. The students thought this was pretty amazing, since they would most certainly have been in trouble if they had done the same thing for an assignment. Of course, I never saw a single comment on the blog page noting the problem.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What do YOU want to talk about?

Sam and I mentioned, during a recent middle school parent meeting, that we would be hosting our annual "Parenting in the Digital World" workshop in January. Because technology is changing so rapidly, and we engage with students primarily in the academic setting of school, we'd like to know more about the issues that concern you as a parent. To that end, you can either submit comments here, on the blog, or you can visit our "bulletin board" of comments, hosted by lino. Go check it out, post a little sticky note of your own, and let us know your thoughts. We'd like to address the topics that most interest you. Thanks!

Ethics 4 A Digital World on lino.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bullying and Cyberbullying Part 2: Local Resources

Holly's post discussing the rash of suicides related to bullying and cyberbullying, especially those involving teens that identify as gay, or are perceived by their peers to be gay, included some excellent resources. It also got us talking about the resources available locally. The three organizations listed below are local to Tacoma and the Puget Sound region. We encourage you to pass this information on to anyone who may benefit from it. I have worked with all three organizations as a volunteer and have seen first hand the benefits they provide to young people as well as the families and teachers who work with them.

Oasis Youth Center is a confidential drop-in center and resource for Pierce County youth ages 14 to 24 who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning. You can contact the center for more information. Volunteer opportunities are available and the center is always looking for support from adult allies.

The Rainbow Center is located in downtown Tacoma. It is a community resource for Tacoma and Pierce County lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people as well as their allies. The Rainbow Center provides meeting space, referrals, resources and information.

The Safe Schools Coalition started as a Washington State resource for students and teachers who needed help fighting back against bullies and intimidation in school. Today the organization has gone national. It works with state educational agencies to create safer environments in school for all students and its website contains a wealth of information for parents, teachers and students. You can sign up for a number of different email alerts that will keep you up-to-date with current events and issues related to safe schools.

Links to more local resources can be found in a list on the right side of our blog. If you are aware of other great resources out there, let us know by replying to this post.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

But All My Friends Have It!

It could be a cell phone, a Facebook account or access to YouTube. How do we know when to give permission for young people to use the technology they desperately want? I was reminded of this dilemma a few weeks ago when I received a Facebook friend request from my eleven year old nephew and again yesterday when I read an article in the New York Times discussing the fascination toddlers have with iPhones. Just like our parents decided when we would get a second phone line, that cool new Atari game station or even a driver's license, we have to make decisions that match the values and guidelines we've established as a family or even as a school.

So, how do we decide? What can we do to make sure the decision is right for us? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Talk to the young person in question. Find out why he or she wants what is being asked for. Discuss concerns and don't feel like you need to make an immediate decision.
2. Talk to other adults. What are other parents or teachers doing? Is there a consensus among the friends of your children or your colleagues? Although a kid may feel that he or she is the only one without a Facebook page, the reality is probably different.
3. Try the technology yourself. If you've never used Facebook, sign up for an account. You don't text? Give it a try. If you've never understood what the big deal is with YouTube, have your child show you their favorite video.
4. Participate together with your children or students. Perhaps starting with a family web site or weekly game night that includes the Xbox will help you better understand why technology is important to the young people you care about.
5. Don't be afraid to say no. You can always revisit the decision in the future.

There is no magic rule or easy answer, but reflecting on family values, school goals or weighing pros and cons may make the decision clearer. It is also likely that your decisions may change or evolve as young people grow older, technology changes or your understanding of its impact is deepened.

We'd love to hear your feedback. Have you discovered a method that works for you? Did you stumble into a decision that backfired? Share your successes, do-overs and other experiences with the rest of us by commenting to this post.

Bullying & Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, bullying is making big headlines again, with several recent suicides calling our attention to the sometimes tragic consequences of cruel behavior. Personally, my heart is breaking over these stories. As a parent and teacher, I am looking at everything I can for help in how to handle bullying behavior when I see it and/or hear about it, particularly as it pertains to technology and the realm of cyberbullying. There are so many resources out there...please peruse the links in the sidebar and take a look at what's available. I would also encourage you to look at information about helping the bullies themselves, not just their victims. They need support and guidance, too.

Check out this page from the "What Adults Can Do" section of Stop Bullying Now! It may seem to apply to our younger kids more specifically, but our high school students are dealing with these issues all the time. They need a safe place to talk about it, and though they might think they can handle it on their own, that just might not be the case. Resources are out there for people of all ages.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Thin Line

Though I can't say I love MTV, I'm fairly impressed with A Thin Line. This is an excellent resource for teenagers in need of help as a result of digital abuse. An excerpt from the site:

The Web and cell phones help us communicate, connect and learn in ways we never could before, but they've also forever changed how we interact with others. Things we used to share in person – and in private – can now be broadcast to thousands, instantly. Sometimes we type things we would never say to someone's face. As a result, new issues like forced sexting, textual harassment and cyberbullying have emerged, which now affect a majority of young people in the U.S.

MTV's A Thin Line campaign was developed to empower you to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse in your life and amongst your peers. The campaign is built on the understanding that there's a "thin line" between what may begin as a harmless joke and something that could end up having a serious impact on you or someone else. We know no generation has ever had to deal with this, so we want to partner with you to help figure it out. On-air, online and on your cell, we hope to spark a conversation and deliver information that helps you draw your own digital line.

Take the Quiz

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Frequently, when we talk with students, we invoke this mantra. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Granted, it doesn't always have to do with online safety or ethical behavior. We bandy it about when kids get overexcited and go crazy with special effects in a video project, actions and filters in Photoshop, or animations in Power Point. More isn't always better, if you know what I mean. In matters of digital citizenship, however, can vs. should is an essential thought we'd like our kids to consider before they make a decision that could have lasting consequences, to themselves and others.

We hope you will find our blog a helpful resource as you navigate the digital world yourself, but especially as you guide your young people through this ever-growing realm of social media and interactivity. We invite you to join us, explore the resources on the right, ask questions, add comments, or send suggestions for topics.