Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Wrote This Post Myself

I was at a conference in New York on Monday, all about putting museum collections online. Lots of swanky museum types (that’s how they were listed in the program, Next up, a panel of swanky museum types pontificating) talking about their fabulous online resources. To be fair the online resources were truly fabulous. Not particularly helpful to me specifically, but bound to be digital gold for avid researchers of almost any topic.

Here’s the part that got me. One of the semi-swanky types (although a professor, she just wasn’t as swishy as the others) told us that she sometimes assigns her students research projects in which they are forbidden to use the internet as a resource. According to her, this will teach the students how to use primary sources and how to navigate libraries and archives, etc. Perhaps. An attendee at the conference pointed out that teaching students to use the internet with the same critical thinking skills they are expected to use on tangible primary sources is another good way to teach a similar lesson. And the semi-swanky woman replied, “Actually I forbid them to use the internet as much to prevent them from plagiarizing as anything else.”

Um. Okay. That seems a trifle odd to me. I understand that plagiarizing has been causing all sorts of problems in the worlds of journalism and academe, but shouldn’t we perhaps address the problem rather than fence it off? If today’s students are so befuddled by the plethora of online resources that they simply can’t tell the difference between something they’ve written themselves and something they cut-and-pasted from an online document, then perhaps we are facing a larger problem than learning how to research a subject thoroughly and properly. If the risk of plagiarism is just that high, maybe we should be teaching the differences between simply quoting an author’s work and writing your own analysis of it. This seems like a basic concept that should be addressed before we fine-tune a student’s ability to conduct independent research, whether online or otherwise.

I don’t know. Call me crazy.

PS – Totally different subject: The night before the conference I was at an ice cream place on the Lower East Side with friends and we saw Parker Posey. She’s taller than I thought. Of course, I was sitting down. Maybe I was just shorter than usual. Anyway. That was my Manhattan Famous Person sighting for this trip.

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