Friday, October 21, 2005

No Writer is an Island -- A TYCA-SW Presentation

This is a miscellany post, a collection of rough ideas and links for a presentation I'm giving today at TYCA Southwest :

No Writer is an Island; All Writing is Connected to Sources

Students know, on one level, that they need to acknowledge sources and use them wisely, but on another, they're also faced with being graded as individuals. Sometimes, in the push to meet criteria for their individual grades and finding their own singular voice, they lose sight (cite?) of the role source use plays in connecting their voices --and their arguments-- to a larger conversation. This talk will focus on strategies for helping students use internet resources more fully and richly.

From I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online by Frances Jacobson Harris, some key observations:
  1. Libraries are formal information systems/places.
  2. Students' habits are informal.
  3. Things do not have to be either formal or informal because the Internet, to which libraries are linked, is an example of an . . .
. . .Information and Communication Technology
Barbara Fister's (See from her vita this reference "Teaching Research as a Social Act" and Teaching the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research.) research shows that successful student researchers, those who get A's, often begin their research communicatively. She also argues that it's possible to create assignments that help foster this communicative role. And of course, as a librarian, she knows that balance is important. Students do need to know when and how to use the library. Her work with Diana Hacker on Research and Documentation Online, work which informs all of Diana's handbooks, offers a wonderful resource for helping students find that balance. They'll find things on the Internet. Some of them not always so good. The trick is for teachers to find things that they can use to steer students in better directions.

What Fister's work celebrates is this simple formulation put forth by Doug Downs in a forthcoming digital publication from Bedford/St. Martin's:
sources are people talking to people. Unfortunately, our students often don't see this because they're often writing papers --let alone research papers-- that don't talk to anyone (beyond the instructor and possibly classmates).

Further, research and other writing assignments often focus on the mechanics of the things, and those mechanics are tied to the grade. So that as students write and research, they carry the burden and weight of those mechanics, which burden makes it even harder for them to find a rhetorical purpose and voice that seeks to speak. Instead of thinking of what they want to say, and to whom, and why, and how, they worry about
satisfying this kind of rhetoric:
  • Two weeks after the semester starts, all paper topics are final.
  • The final paper will be at least 7 typed pages .
  • MLA format will be followed.
  • Plagiarism will be penalized with a grade of zero on the final paper.
  • The thesis statement of your paper must be in your introduction.
  • There is a minimum of six sources:
    • at least one print medium
    • at least one non-print medium
Or from my own teaching at one point, this kind:
The Emerson College Statement on Plagiarism in The Emerson College Student Handbook warns that "plagiarism is the use of the words and/or ideas of another as if they were one's own and without acknowledgement of their source" (63). Please familiarize yourself with this policy by reading this section of the undergraduate catalogue.

Intentional plagiarism will not be tolerated. Any student who plagiarizes another's work will automatically fail this course. In addition, Emerson College will take disciplinary action and an official record of such action will become part of your permanent file. Plagiarism can result in probation or expulsion from the College. Most importantly, you are here to learn and gain skills that will serve you during your entire career and life; to plagiarize is to cheat yourself of this opportunity.

I don't mean to criticize the instructor whose bulleted syllabus list I quote from. I'd be a pot commenting on the color of a kettle. But I use these excerpts --unfairly in the first case because it is out of the course context and we have no idea, really, how the instructor tempers this and coaches and teaches around it-- as examples of the kind of thing I've seen get to students. For my own part, I've found it useful to back away from such weighted prose.

The language is headlight-on-high-beam harsh; it means to be. It's designed to be firm and clear. Unfortunately, it can also turn students into startled deer, one of the best ways to make them academic road kill. And if it doesn't do that, it frequently makes the reading instructors have to do drudgery because the focus on those kinds of details gets in the way of writing into a conversation. Form trumps purpose and stamps out argument.

Worse, this kind of language inhibits voice.

And voice matters, as Keith Hjortshoj reminds us in "Theft, Fraud, and Loss of Voice" (excerpted from Transition to College Writing). Keith writes (emphasis mine):
Both deliberate and accidental forms of plagiarism often result from the central challenge student writers face, especially in research papers: establishing a voice and perspective of their own. IÂI'vee already explained that if you have not established your own authority over the subject and a reason for writing, it will be difficult to identify the boundaries between your ideas and language and those of other writers. What you have to say will be what others have already said. Everything you write will come directly from sources and will seem to need citation. In their effort to avoid these strings of citations, students who are writing directly from research notes often drift into plagiarism, closely paraphrasing sources without citing them, or “borrowing” exact phrases and sentences without quotation.
So what are some of the ways teachers are finding to helps students find their voices and to have something to stay? Harris recommends having students do what they're doing anyway, but with more guidance from teachers -- creating and putting content on the Internet. She reasons that if students see how easy it is, it will help them appreciate how it easy it is and why there is so much stuff out there and how possible it is for much of it to be less than accurate, useful, considered, or trustworthy.

Some instructors are using
Podcasts. Andrea A. Lunsford's program at Stanford has students creating radio essays as a way to publish their wordss Many instructors are having their students use blogs, and "Teaching Carnival" roundups, like this one I linked to from Scribblingwoman, are useful ways to gather ideas.

Matt Barton has his
students writing a Wiki Textbook, with of course, a section on research. And Penn State has a whole Wiki Farm.

Others are helping students mimic not just essays academics write, but collaborative behaviors we engage in,
such as asking colleagues for help and sharing leads and resources with one another.

The key to all these things is not the technologies per se, but the uses to which they are put -- Information and Communication Technologies pedagogically guided become tools for helping students to understand, quite elegantly, that sources are people talking to people (for all the reasons people talk to one another). When students write, they enter those conversations.
Helping them to converse first and to write second, is a useful way to get them beyond the mechanics and weights of assignments.

Avoid Fared Use: Assert Fair Use

Inside Higher Ed has an essay by Tarleton Gillespie -- "Between What’s Right and What’s Easy" ( -- which argues that technologies such as the Copyright Clearance Center's new plugin for Blackboard (and soon, with the merger, WebCT as well most likely) that is designed to ease the ability to seek permission for using materials and content in one's course are a bad idea.

He writes:
Sometimes our tools are our politics, and that’s not always a good thing.

Even if the Blackboard mechanism allows instructors simply not to send their information to CCC for clearance (and it is unclear if it is, or eventually could become, a compulsory mechanism), the simple fact that clearance is becoming a technical default means that more and more instructors will default to it rather than invoking fair use.

The power of defaults is that they demarcate the “norm”; the protection of pedagogy and criticism envisioned in fair use will increasingly deteriorate as automatic clearance is made easier, more obvious, and automatic.
As Gillespie explains, the view of Fair Use implicit in technologies for making permission easier is that Fair Use is a practical solution to the difficulty of getting permission. But Fair Use is not, of course, a recourse when finding the copyright holder is too hard. It's a protection that promotes free speech, open inquiry, the ability to critique, and the need to study.

Gillespie calls for "educators, scholars, librarians, and universities . . to fight for a more robust protection of fair use in the digital realm, demanding that making “multiple copies for classroom use” means posting materials into Blackboard without needing to seek the permission of the copyright owners to do so."

Gillepie's right.

One of the advantages of learning management tools such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Desire2Learn, Angel, eCollege and other systems that make it possible to put course activities and content in a virtual space only a professor and his or her students can enter, is that it makes it easier to assert Fair Use.

Traditionally there have been four Fair Use factors. The UT Systems' Copyright Crash Course list them as:
  1. What is the character of the use?
  2. What is the nature of the work to be used?
  3. How much of the work will you use?
  4. What effect would this use have on the market for the original or for permissions if the use were widespread?
The great thing about a tool such as Blackboard and the others mentioned above is that they reduced the effect on the market to almost nil. Content is not put on the open WWW; it's locked behind a classroom wall.

Now that's flipped. Because it's behind a certain classroom wall --Blackboard's-- the default is at risk of moving from Fair to Use to Fared to Use. From a use based on fairness to one based on supplication. And if you ask for permission and the costs are too high or someone says no, what then?

So questions to consider:
  1. Will the CCC plugin be required in future versions of BB?
  2. Will campus IT departments and deans make the call as to whether the plugin is used or will academic department heads and faculty?
  3. If the CCC plugin is required on your campus or for your course, will you be required to use it? Will it function automatically everytime you upload content?
  4. Or, should permission be sought for every use of a source in an educational setting? Should Fair Use go away?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Free Student Papers -- For Teachers

We all know that there are plenty of term paper sites out there. You practically trip over them. The first impulse is to warn students against using them and to worry that they will use them. When I'm teaching, I find a more useful impulse is to use them for my own ends.

If you go, for example, to, you'll find plenty of student papers. Here are two ways to use a site like this:
  1. See if the paper topic you want to assign is heavily represented. If it is, you might consider changing it. For example, there are plenty of papers on King Lear, most of them fairly traditional: loyalty in; role of the fool; evolution of drama. Now those may all be important things for a writer to consider, but are there other ways to get your students to consider them without going the traditional route? Compare loyalty in Lear to something contemporary; perhaps there's a recent op. ed. on loyalty in the Bush administration you can assign your students to read?

  2. The papers in schoolsucks are usually typical student writing -- average at best and often not even that good. As such, they provide writing which can be used for any number of purposes: tutor training in a writing center; Writing Across the Curriculum workshops; instructor training on how to respond to writing for those new to teaching; and my favorite, coaching students on being peer reviewers for one another.
If you're going to use these papers to lead your students to being more confident peer reviewers, here's one way to go about it.
  1. Find an essay that you want to work from, one which, based on your knowledge of your students, matches or falls a bit below the writing you're seeing.
  2. Take a portion of the essay and share it. In a face-to-face class, I like to print the essay on blank transparency sheet so I can project it on a whiteboard. In an online class, I post the portion to a discussion board or distribute it via email or might use a blog.
  3. Tell students that the writing comes from a student, but not anyone in the class. Don't say where it's from yet. A simple, "here's some student writing from another class, what do you notice about it?" will usually begin to elicit a range of comments. Some will be on grammar and punctuation of course, but many will be about how something in the writing is or is not working. Students will point out where writing became vague or confusing or hard to follow.
  4. You'll be surprised --and your students will be pleasantly surprised-- by how astute their insights can be. Make note of the good comments coming in from the students, how well they can describe a piece of writing's strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Ask the students to revise the piece for the larger order concerns the class has identified -- what would you do differently. In a F2F this is where the white board is useful. Students can come up to the front and line edit --crosswords out, insert new sentences between the lines, write on the side. Or they can be asked to make suggestions.
After steps 1 - 5, let students know where you found the paper. Show them where you found the paper -- take a screenshot of the paper as it appeared to you in the term paper mill site. Or, if you're online, link to it. The point is not to show students the way to a term paper mill site -- they'll know how to find those just as you did. You're not teaching them about these things. Instead, you're showing them that you know about those sites.

You also show your students that the writing at those sites isn't very good.

But mainly, you can point out to your students that they are good readers, and that they know how to analyze writing and how to recommend useful changes for a writer or how to make them directly (for their own writing). Students often don't know they have these abilities, just as they don't often think that you have the ability to find scammed papers. You get a lot of useful lessons taught from going to a term paper mill first and turning these sites into something that you can use.