Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Dust Bowl... by Wikipedia

     This week my Grade 11/12 Agriculture class has been putting the finishing touches on their Dust Bowl "mini-museum displays". My students were responsible for finding some type of media (photo or video), creating some type of artifact and completing a written report. Here is how their project was set up.

The Greatest Dust Bowl

Witnessing the Dust Bowl


Dust Bowl Citizen Trading Card

From the Dust Bowl,
With Love

Agricultural Causes & Effects of the Dust Bowl

Row 1 = media
Row 2 = artifacts
Row 3 = written report
Students had their choice of two options in Row 1 and their choice of three options in Row 2, but Row 3 was mandatory.

     Last night as I sat marking some of the projects I noticed that one of the written reports was clearly not student-created work. I quickly went to Google and, sure enough, a Wikipedia article popped up with the same sentences as the report I had in my hand. Was I mad? Yes. After giving a week's worth of in-class time to work on this project, why would you need to go to Wikipedia and copy your information? Was I disappointed? Yes. My students were given a very clear rubric of the information that was required and all of this information was available in their notes; there was no need for further internet research. The report I had in my hand was not only plagiarized, but it didn't even complete the requirements stated in the rubric!

     I sat down and thought about how to approach my student in class the next day. Do they get a zero? Do I ask them to redo it? Do I phone their parents? Do I send them to the office? To me, if a student is plagiarizing their work to the extent where they are not even looking at the assignment to see if they are completing what is asked, then something else is obviously going on. 

     When class started this morning I called the student up to my desk and asked them to pull up a seat. I didn't mention their project or the fact that it was plagiarized. What I did was pull out the rubric for the assignment and slowly ask them to explain their understanding of each of the points.
- What type of weathering occurred during the Dust Bowl?
- Can you explain that weathering process to me?
- What would be a specific example of this type of weathering?
- What part of the soil profile was specifically affected by this event?
- Why is that soil horizon important?
- Etc

     I did this for each of the points on the rubric and wrote down their answers as I went along. As soon as they were finished I quickly tallied up their mark and said, "Thank you sharing that information with me, now I have a good sense of your understanding. Your paper, however, wasn't able to show me that. Next time you find yourself stuck and wanting to head towards the copy/paste button just say, 'Miss L, I want to have a conversation with you about what I know.' That will be a better option, ok?". I could literally see my student's emotions change from confusion, to embarrassment, to appreciation within a minute.

     Would I do this with any of my students? Like anything, it would depend on the specific situation and their personal history but the purpose of the assignment was not, "Can the student write a written report," it was, "Can the student understand the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl," which could be demonstrated many different ways. If a student is openly choosing to plagiarize their work I'm going to think that maybe something else is going on.
- Lack of understanding on the subject
- Need another way to demonstrate their knowledge
- Situations at home
- Etc

     How do you deal with these type of situations in your classroom(s)?

1 comment:

  1. I think you used an awesome and creative way of dealing with this issue! KUDOS!

    I hope the student uses it it as a real learning experience (You may need to do some follow up!), and treats other, future instructors the same way. (I also like the way you did it privately, without making a huge scene in front of the class.)

    Hopefully you can find some time to expose this student and the others to the ramifications of what happens when one plagiarizes. There have been several famous examples in the last few years in the news. Some magazine reporters, the Oprah Book club Thing, and so forth. Looking up such scandalous things is not hard....

    Bear in mind, that the maturity level of the student AND the grade level, of the student both affect their attitudes and understanding of such matters... So one has to suit the lesson to the audience.

    You see, today, everything is free on the internet, so why should we students learn anything? Who needs to know anything? We can just look it up if we ever need it! So we do not need to learn or memorize anything anymore, right, teacher? And naturally, since the stuff is already there, already written, why why should we not recycle it? We're just taking an innocent shortcut. These ideas are very prevalent today. Moreover, the age of the student has nothing to do with the idea. Such ideas can hit a 6 year old, a 16 year old, or a 26 year old... And age is no barrier to being able to "find things online", either....

    Bear in mind, that the writer is 57, but once was a student. And that while not a formal teacher, I have "seen an awful lot of stuff" in my day.

    In fact, in high-school, I was nearly expelled on a plagiarism case. But someone had plagiarized from me. Perhaps, my rage might have been expressed more "diplomatically" than through the words I used. Mind you, I got off lucky. The plagiarizer, a local bully, wanted to murder me. Was the feeling mutual. Yes, to some extent. The "administration's" first main worry had been that I had sold my work. But my reaction, (Yes, it was a bit overboard.) killed that theory. But matters ended up being resolved in the end.

    I am hoping you might find a way to post some of the better projects (or at least some excerpts) , in some "student anonymous" kind of way. For one thing, it would give the students a bit if a thirll, most likely. "Look dad! My project is on the net!"

    Take care.


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