Conferences, Ethics, Pedagogy, School Libraries

Shooting the messenger

One of the programs I attended at ALA was a joint panel sponsored by ACRL and AASL on K-20 information literacy. The first speaker, David Loertscher, has been speaking on the topic of “information commons” for quite some time now, and I’ve heard his spiel at three different conference. I’ve also heard (and edited an article by) Valerie Diggs on the IC at her school, Chemlsford.

This is a worthy idea, and one that I’m trying to implement in my library.

The problem was the presentation that David gave: he talked about getting away from the old lecturer/lecturee model, yet that’s exactly what he delivered. With a PowerPoint, no less. There’s a perfect example of cognitive dissonance (aka “don’t do as I do, do as I say to do”). Even worse was that one of his examples was the idea that entering data contributing to a class wiki or Google Doc spreadsheet was somehow new, radical, different.

It isn’t – people have had similar projects for quite some time. Perhaps the data doesn’t live in the cloud, editable in real-time, but these types of collaborations have been around before. I remember doing similar projects in the pre-computer era I call high school. So does the fact that it’s live editing/cloud computer magically change the assignment? I think not.

His claim that when you do this type of work, “plagiarism doesn’t matter” because students are forced to think about the essential questions being asked also struck a nerve. You know the one: the one the dentist hits when he’s poking around trying to find the perfect pain-filled spot? I really, truly hope that he misspoke, or that I (and several others) misheard, because any time you ask students to “write” you run the risk of plagiarism. It’s about the question, not the product, and unless the question is constructed in such a way as to not be plagiarizable (ok, that’s not a word but tough), any student can plagiarise. Adding a new technology doesn’t make the fact of plagiarism go away.

Here’s an example. Our 9th grade history class covers the Early Modern Era, and looks at people, places and events through the prism of PERSIA. We’ve been considering creating a wiki for students to be able to add examples of each as they come across them in their research/classwork, so that by the end of class they’ll have a grid showing the political side of the Glorious Revolution, Cortes v. Aztecs, etc. and the religious side and the artistic side, and so on. GoogleDocs or a class-editable LibGuide would be another way to go, and I’m sure that there are still others I haven’t thought about. Anyway, what’s to stop students from cutting/pasting information from the web into this document? Nothing.

So while I’m in agreement with the idea of a blended setting where students can learn and create and analyze and evaluate, I’m not in agreement with the idea that simply changing the format or adding 2.0 tools to the process changes anything in terms of real student learning. It’s our job – as librarians, technologists and teachers – to collaborate and create projects that lead to better understanding of the subject and ways to internalize and present that information, as well as to increase students respect for others’ intellectual property.

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