Plagiarism Education Week

While it hasn’t been featured as a Google Doodle yet, Plagiarism Education Week runs this week from April 21 – 25, 2014.  The event is sponsored in part by Turnitin, one of the world’s leading applications for originality checking.  This year’s theme is “Originality Matters” and culminates with a series of free webinars addressing different topics and concepts around plagiarism and teaching.  This week, I thought I’d share some resources to help the cause.

Understanding Plagiarism:

I shared this resource a year or so ago after a conversation on campus about cheating.  Indiana University has created a tremendous tool for educating faculty and students on plagiarism.  Offered through case studies with in-depth explanations, the site can help students and instructors better recognize and avoid plagiarism.  The site also offers a ten question quiz and certification process that would be great to use with students in any course that is writing intensive.  Students could complete the tutorial and the quiz and print off their certification to confirm that they understand plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Citing Sources Infographic:

Looking for a fun way to teach your students about citing sources?  Kate Hart, an education blogger, created a JK Rowling inspired infographic to demonstrate the best ways for students to cite sources and to avoid suspicions of plagiarism.  Using characters from the Harry Potter series, Hart uses a quote from JK Rowling and shows the proper (and improper) ways to cite a source.

Ten Types of Plagiarism:

This is another infographic based on a study that Turnitin conducted on the different types of plagiarism and their respective frequencies.  Not surprisingly, a student submitting a “clone” is the most common form of plagiarism.  Cloning is when a student submits the complete work of another person without alteration.  Other high frequency forms of plagiarism include the “Mashup” and the CTRL-C, which are clearly demonstrated in the infographic.  The site and its original paper would be great resources to share with students to foster a larger dialogue around the importance of originality.

Ratings for Top Student Sources:

Wondering where your students get their information for papers and projects?  Turnitin conducted a long-range study on the papers submitted through their service and examined the value of each.  Using a rubric called the Source Educational Evaluation Rubric, Turnitin identified the most common sources for student works.  Across all categories, Wikipedia emerges as the top source for students in K-12 and higher education environments.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL):

Offered more as a one-stop location for all things related to writing and academic research, OWL also offer educational resources to reduce plagiarism.  Looking for some classroom activities to teach about plagiarism?  Check out the lesson plans organized around contextualizing plagiarism and avoiding plagiarism.

B is for Books

Last week, I visited a sixth grade classroom in a local elementary school.  I was observing a lesson by a very creative teacher who was getting his students to learn a list of vocabulary words.  The vocabulary list related to an article the class was planning to read on Ancient Egypt and included words like primitive, descendants, ritual, fertile and flourishing.  To get the students to engage with the list, the teacher was leading a small group activity based on the board game Scattegories.  In the activity, the teacher selected a letter and the students had to list an item related to each of the vocabulary words.  For instance, when the letter D was selected, several groups identified the word “daughters” as relating to “descendants.”  The activity was a fun and interactive way to get the students to engage with the content and apply what they had learned.

In the next round of the game, the teacher selected the letter B.  I moved around the class watching the groups discuss the word list.  I was looking at one group’s selections when a dissonant moment shook me.  There, beside the word “primitive,” a group had listed “books.”  At first, I thought maybe the group was unique, that maybe one technologically adept student had lead the group to select the word.  As I moved around the room, however, I found that THREE other groups had listed books as their “primitive” item.  In total, almost half of the class had identified books as something primitive.  Shocking.

I need to say that the school I visited is not particularly wealthy or lacking in diversity.  The district draws students from a wide suburban/rural community that shares its roads with farm equipment and horse drawn buggies.  And books are primitive in the students’ eyes.

On first glance, the students’ views may be alarming.  Many would assume that this means that students aren’t reading.  The truth, however, is far different.  A recent study conducted by Scholastic found that children are still reading; they’re just reading differently.  With the advent of e-books and tablets like the Kindle and iPad, children are increasingly turning to electronic means for their reading.  The study found that number of children who engage with e-books has doubled in the last four years. 47% of children ages 6-17 had read at least one e-book.  Half of children age 9–17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books.  Looking more deeply at the report uncovers why children may see traditional print books as being primitive.  The majority of children who participated in the study said that e-books gave them the ability to carry more books at once.  Many students reported have a greater access to different types of books and the ability to easily look up words and view related contents when they struggled with concepts or vocabulary.  This level of interaction and access is not readily available in traditional print books and the sixth grade classroom I visited recognized it.

So, what does this wave of e-book usage by children mean for those of us working in institutions of higher education?  First, we need to identify that these students will be coming to our campuses in the near future.  These students see benefits of e-books and tablets and downsides of traditional print books.  But the reality isn’t that simple.  In a presentation shared recently at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, researchers from West Chester University found that e-books that included distracting games and multimedia did not enhance readers’ experiences or learning, but instead undermined their comprehension levels.  While the researchers did not suggest banning the use of e-books, they advised using e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the content that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming.  They also recommended using e-books that provide supports for making text-based inferences and for understanding difficult vocabulary. E-books that incorporated these features provided less distractions for readers and supported learning better than others.

Moving forward, it’s important for colleges and universities to consider students’ desires for the convenience and accessibility of e-books in our courses.  But, selecting instructional materials that support student learning  is paramount to our work as educators. It may be primitive, but considering student learning is still the most critical part of what we do.

“Call me Trim Tab”

It’s hard to turn an ocean liner.  By anyone’s definition, an ocean liner isn’t a particularly agile vessel.  Displacing millions and millions of gallons of water, ocean liners are massive and awkward.  They lumber through the water, barreling along on their predetermined paths undeterred by slight fluctuations in the ocean.  But ocean liners do turn.  They navigate successfully to dock at ports and to dodge the occasional iceberg.  While they aren’t as agile as a speed boat, ocean liners change directions.  It takes more time but ocean liners can be turned.

Most people would credit an ocean liner’s ability to change direction to the ship’s rudder.   Not surprisingly, the rudder of an ocean is itself a massive object, standing stories and stories tall for larger vessels.  But what turns the rudder?  The easy explanation is that a steering wheel turns the rudder and the rudder changes the direction of the ship.  Closer examination, however, reveals the structure and function of a much smaller and less well-known object:  the trim tab.  Simply put, a trim tab is small rudder connected to the larger rudder.  Turning the steering wheel turns the trim tab, which builds the pressure to make the larger rudder move.  It’s the trim tab that does the work.  Though tiny in comparison to the larger rudder and to the ocean liner as a whole, the trim tab is the one that’s doing all of the work.  The tiny trim tab deserves much of the credit in the changes in direction that an ocean liner experiences.

Lately, many people have come to expect big changes and disruptions organizationally and societally.  They want to see programs and systems quickly and easily changed.  But not every organization is a speed boat.  Some are ocean liners and require trim tabs to help them change.  Some organizations need pockets of innovators who work to make changes that will help the larger system change.  They need people to act as trim tabs and help the larger organization change path.

Buckminster Fuller is one of the 20th Century’s greatest architects, inventors and innovators.  Among his many achievements, Fuller is credited with the design of the geodesic dome and the Dymaxion map.  Fuller passed away in 1983 and had the following simple phrase written on his headstone:

“Call me Trim Tab”

Fuller believed in the power of individuals and how the actions of a few could make great changes in larger systems and society.  In an interview, Fuller explained his viewpoint:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.  It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab.”

While it’s important for organizations to discuss becoming more agile and to examine weighty systems and processes, we also need to recognize the great changes that a few committed innovators can have to any larger organization.  Acting as a trim tab, each of us can have an effect on the larger direction of our respective institutions.  While the impact may not be apparent immediately, there’s power in the work of the individual.

Do as I say, not as I do.

When I was younger, I often thought my father was a model of hypocrisy.  Moments after telling me not to do something, my brothers and I would catch him doing the exact activity he had prohibited me from doing.  In his defense, he would say “Do as I say, not as I do.”  While I now realize he was setting high expectations for my brothers and me, his words resonated in my head this weekend as I realized I was not taking the advice I give to others.  It’s like I was saying to the multitude of students and colleagues that I’ve worked with, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I don’t think I was necessarily being hypocritical. “Unwarranted confidence” would be a better way to describe the factors that lead me down a path of technological chaos.

The students in my Instructional Technology course are working on a Flipped Classroom project with a local school district.  My students are acting as instructional designers and creating short videos that teach different literacy concepts to elementary students.  The district teachers use the videos in place of in-class instruction and then develop higher order lessons that apply the concepts.  We’ve been piloting the program for the last two semesters and it has been a real success.  My students learn a lot from the process and from interacting with a cadre of really gifted teachers.  Because of the success, I decided to scale up the project this semester and double the number of classes working on the project.  Since we’ve seen real instructional benefits from the model with the district students, we also expanded to include some new grade levels.  What could go wrong?

The project is a lengthy, mastery level assignment for my students.  They go through several drafts, revising the project until they eventually develop an exceptional product.  Each draft is shared with district teachers and the teachers provide feedback on the students’ designs.  Last Friday, one of the last major drafts was due.  To expedite sharing, I invite all of the students to and have them upload their projects to a shared folder.  I was heading out of town for a conference, but was confident that the system would work.  I had used DropBox before with the project and felt assured it would work again.  And that’s where things went wrong.

I facilitate a lot of workshops with educators who want to use technology either in support of online and blended instruction or as tools to support face-to-face instruction.  One of the big pieces of advice I share with attendees is to always assign low risk activities before assigning high risk ones.  Let the students learn how to use the technology before assigning some major assignment.  Scaffold their learning by assigning some minor assignment first.  For instance, say you want your students to submit their research papers through your learning management system.  At the start of the semester, I would recommend assigning a low risk assignment that they submit through the same system.  Students learn how to use the technology first in a low risk manner and then can apply that knowledge when it’s really important.   It’s really great advice that can help instructors navigate a slew of technical problems.  And I should have heeded it myself.

While DropBox is a simple site to use, not every student had experience using the system.  A few students struggled with the process and others didn’t really understand conceptually how the system worked.  Add in DropBox’s policies for large shared folders and there was quite a bit of chaos.  We eventually solved the problems and were able to deliver the videos to the teachers.  But a lot of the problems could have been avoided, if only I would “do as I say” myself.

I spy with my little eye…

The question came very innocently.  A participant in a workshop I was co-facilitating asked me where our learning management system stored its data.  During the workshop, I was praising Desire2Learn and how the system was easy to use, student-centered and scalable.  I explained that I also appreciated Desire2Learn’s focus on accessibility and how it has received accolades from different groups like the National Foundation for the Blind.  But none of that seemed to matter.  The participant asked again.

“But, where does the data live?”

Since Desire2Learn is a Canadian company, I explained that I would assume the data would be stored on a site in Canada.  With a huge sigh of relief, the participant explained that she would recommend the service to her institution’s IT staff.  During a break, I approached the individual to delve more deeply into her inquiry.  As a professor at a foreign institution, she explained, her college was purging itself on any American-based technologies.  The college was not pursuing new contracts with American-based tech companies and was not planning to renew the current American contracts it had.  In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, the institution was concerned about spying from the National Security Agency and didn’t want any of its data in the hands of companies based in the United States.

My first reaction was that this person represented a single institution that was being influenced by some overly cautious IT staff members.  This weekend, however, I read an article in the New York Times titled “NSA Spying Cost on Tech Firms” that changed my perception completely.  The article outlined how many companies around the world were choosing technologies based outside the US so that “their information is safe from prying eyes in the United States government.” After reading the article, it is clear that the fear of US technology companies isn’t a sentiment shared by a single institution but by companies and organizations worldwide. For instance, after hearing reports that the NSA spied on its governmental leaders, Brazil decided to no longer use Outlook as its mail service for fear of having its data mined again.  Companies like IBM are not being invited to bid on contracts with foreign-based firms.  Runbox, a Norwegian based email service, saw dramatic increases in new subscribers as users fled from American-based Gmail.  With the growing groundswell of suspicion, the economic impact could be staggering.  Some research analysts estimate that the American technology industry could lose over $180 billion with the decrease in website hosting, cloud computing and other web-based services.

While the potential economic impacts to US companies are frightening, I also worry about the educational impact.  Will we start seeing similar impacts in our classrooms?  Will foreign students stop coming to American institutions of higher education because they fear for their privacy?  Will foreign students no longer choose online classes from American schools because they worry that their personal information and communication are not secure?  While most of the focus has been on the personal and economic impacts of the surveillance programs, I wonder whether the suspicions and negative perceptions being felt by American-based technology firms will carry over to American colleges and universities.  While I worry about a potential decline in our foreign population on campus, I also worry that American students and institutions aren’t more concerned for their privacy and security.  Shouldn’t they be asking where their data lives?  Shouldn’t we all?

Blended, Online, Flipped? Oh my!

This weekend, I was discussing with a colleague the differences between the slew of terms that are used to describe some of the e-learning options becoming prevalent in higher education.  In our discussion, it was clear that there is a great deal of confusion as to what constitutes a blended course vs. a flipped classroom vs. a hybrid class.  In this week’s post, I thought I’d try to clarify my conceptualizations of these terms and include some of the foundational documents that have formed my understanding of the differences.  Besides adding some clarity to the discussion, my hope is that this post also fosters a bigger conversation about the pedagogical structure of these instructional methods and how they benefit student learning.

Traditional classes:  In my conceptualization, a traditional course is one that meets on a regular basis in a physical classroom environment with all of the instruction occurring through teacher/student, face-to-face interaction.  Some researchers, however, present a little different picture of what constitutes a “traditional course.”  In their recent comprehensive analysis entitled Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States, Allen and Seaman use a very narrow definition of “traditional classes” by describing them as courses “where no online technology is used, the content is delivered in writing or orally.”  I find this definition to be a little limiting.  What if an instructor uploaded her syllabus to a learning management system (LMS)?  Or if another instructor posts copies of an assignment online? To describe these courses, Allen & Seaman introduce another critical term in the e-learning landscape.

Web facilitated:  Allen & Seaman would argue that traditional courses that post syllabi or assignments online should be considered as “web facilitated” because web-based technology is used to deliver 1-29% of the content in a mainly face-to-face course.   In my view, however, the term “web facilitated” should be designated for face-to-face courses that require significant student activity online to support in-class instruction. In a web-facilitated class, for example, students could use discussion forums to discuss topics with their peers or submit assignments through the LMS.  And that’s the major difference as I see it between Allen and Seaman’s conceptualization and my own.  Allen and Seaman focus on where the content delivery happens (online vs. face-to-face).  I choose to focus on student activity and class time.  A course that does not significantly reduce face-to-face class time but requires some significant online student activity, in my mind, should be considered “web-facilitated.”

Blended (or hybrid):  Like Allen and Seaman, I use these terms synonymously.  Allen and Seaman use a range of 30 – 79% of “content delivered online” as the defining factors for blended and hybrid classrooms.  Locally, my institution uses the term “blended” to describe classes that meet no more than 20% in a face-to-face classroom environment.  I view a blended or hybrid class as any course that reduces face-to-face class time significantly (more than 25%) but supports that instruction through thoughtful, student-centered online activities and lessons.  In a blended course, the face-to-face classes and online interactions should be complementary and coherent and should support student learning.

Online:  For online classes, Allen and Seaman defines online classes as those courses where 80+% of the course content is delivered online.  Here, I take a stricter stance.    Students who take an online class have the expectation that there will be NO face-to-face meetings in a physical classroom.  How would a student enrolling in an online course from another country be expected to show up for one or two face-to-face classes on campus?  They shouldn’t be.  I view any class that is delivered and mediated completely through web-based technologies as an online class.  I would also argue that online classes that do not involve significant student/student or student/instructor interaction are more “independent studies” than true online classes, but that may be a distinction better saved for another post.

Flipped:  Flipping creates some confusion since a change in student activity is central to its structure.  With its tradition steeped in K-12 classrooms (see Bermann & Sams, 2012), “flipped classrooms” do not reduce the amount of time that students actually meet face-to-face.  Flipping is about changing the way that classroom time is used.  In a flipped classroom, students learn concepts outside of class by interacting with online videos or texts and then apply the concepts in class through differentiated activities and active learning strategies.  The Flipped Learning Network (FLN) goes one step further and distinguishes between a “flipped classroom” and “flipped learning.”  For “flipped learning” to occur, the FLN argues that the learning environment must be built upon four critical pillars which describe the way that students and teachers interact to form a larger culture of learning.  None of the pillars, however, relate to instruction mediated through web-based technologies or to how much class time is reduced.

Apps for Learning to Code

After talking with the kids at East Vincent Elementary School a few weeks ago, my head has been in the coding world.  I’ve been playing around with different coding websites and apps to see what’s available to help kids and adults learn to code.  To be honest, I was blown away by the number of apps, tutorials and sites for coding and gaming.  This week, I thought I’d share a bunch of them.

Gamestar Mechanic: Gamestar Mechanic follows the apprenticeship of a new game designer, Addison who learns despite the presence of a rogue programmer who attempts to take over the world.  Presented as a comic book adventure where students can play as a male or female Addison, Gamestar Mechanic slowly scaffolds players through basic game design and functionality.  My seven-year-old son LOVES it.  He gets to play a few games that teach new game functions and then gets to fix games that were sabotaged by the rogue programmer. Gamestar Mechanic is free at the onset but parents will have to pay after the first 5 levels.  The cost ($20) isn’t too prohibitive when you place it alongside XBox games which typically run $50 or more.

Lightbot:  Lightbot is another favorite at our house.  In this game, players learn how to write programs by solving puzzles where a small robot walks around and lights up squares on a maze.  The controls are simple to use but teach some pretty complicated stuff.  My son is currently working through a level on subroutines but later stages will have him learning about loops and conditions. The Lite version is available for free online but the full version was only $2.99.

Hopscotch:  Hopscotch is a little more open-ended than Lightbot, but no less powerful.  Users get a series of commands that they can use to program cartoon avatars on a screen.  The commands can collect input information or run a simple script that changes the size, position and appearance of the avatar.  The Hopscotch community is what makes this app so powerful.  Individual designers can share their programs with the community which allows students to learn from one another’s creations.  Hopscotch is free in the App Store.

Kodable: Designed for younger programmers, Kodable introduces primary grade students to functions, loops, logic and sequencing.  Children write short programs to direct fuzzballs through mazes and collect coins.  With age-appropriate music and narration, younger students will love Kodable, which is available for free on the App Store.  If you’re working with younger students, you may also want to consider Move the Turtle, Daisy the Dinosaur or Cargo-Bot.

Tynker:  Tynker is a web-based app that bills itself as “a complete learning system with online courses that teach programming and computational thinking to kids of all ages, whether or not they have prior experience.”  The site offers leveled instruction so students at any grade level can participate.  Basic accounts are free for schools and premium accounts are available with the cost dependent on the size of institution.

Scratch:  Scratch was developed at the MIT Media Lab to teach younger students to code.  Offered through a visual programming interface, students design programs and games by connecting blocks that control the motion, position and interaction of sprites.  Scratch is similar in some ways to Hopscotch and Tynker, but offers a lot more functionality.  While the app used to be a free download, Scratch now offers an online editor that can be used through Internet browsers.  There’s also an offline version available for free.  While the site could be used by students of all ages, Scratch is probably best suited for students in middle level grades or older.

GamePress:  This free app offers a powerful game creation platform where users can mix sound effects, images and interactive components to build games from their own imaginations and creativity.  The site offers a quick tutorial to get you started and then you’re off building your own games.  After you’re done, you can share your finished games with others on the GamePress Arcade.


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