End Plagiarism Now: Let’s Ctrl-X the Essay

I read an Annie’s Mailbox advice column featuring a parent’s letter complaining about plagiarism charges leveled against her student:

The teacher ran the paper through one of the commercially available online programs designed to catch plagiarism, and part of one sentence popped up. She insists he copied the sentence from some book published in the 1950s and expects him to cite his source.

The parent argues that she walked the student through every step of the essay writing process and that no plagiarism occurred – that it’s mere coincidence that part of one sentence just happened to match the 1950s book.

Annie’s response:

[Y]ou need to be practical. If teachers use these online programs to check for plagiarized phrases, it makes sense for students to double-check their papers the same way.

Annie gave some solid advice: use the same tool as your teacher to make sure you don’t get pegged for plagiarism.

There’s gotta be a better way!

Clearly college students have a culture all of their own, and educators aren’t going to be able to change that without student buy-in.

But why can’t we be more creative in the assignments we give students?

Students copy and paste for two reasons, in my unscientific opinion: First, because it’s easy, and by pre-emptively running it through something like Turnitin.com, they can get away with it. Second, they plagiarize because their creative online activities generally center on re-using or re-appropriating someone else’s content – and fresh content is extremely accessible. They’re spending their free time connected to the internet and they’re doing amazing and hilarious things (just see Tumblr f0r good [and bad] evidence of this. But when it’s good, it’s gooooood).

I think the current education system enables plagiarism by continuing to emphasize essays as the default demonstration of content mastery. This is an assignment format that is extremely susceptible to becoming copy-and-paste masterpieces. Students have always plagiarized – it’s just much easier now. So let’s let students put their online creative urges to academic use by coming up with new ways of assessing their mastery of course content.

How about more presentations – but NOT with PowerPoint? Have you tried Glogs or VoiceThread? How about more group work with deliverables that mirrors what they’ll have to do in professional jobs? How about letting students come up with their own ways to show you they understand the course, without rigidly forcing them to produce 1000 words on the subject?

Let’s make assignments more interactive and more reflective of the culture that students and professional workers actually live in. Good writing skills are very important. But so is getting students engaged in the material they’re supposed to be studying. I bet, like me, you do your best work on subjects and mediums that are most engaging for you.

What do you think? Got any creative ideas for tackling the culture of plagiarism?

The Humble Dust Jacket

Dust jackets: what are they good for? Some libraries cover them with plastic and use them as extra protection. Some discard them entirely.

But what about your personal collection? What do YOU do with dust jackets?

Reader Michelle Dean over at Flavorwire posted a full-on rant disparaging the humble dust jacket. She says that: dust jackets do not, in fact, repel dust; are no harder or easier to clean than fabric hardcovers; and are generally a pain-in-the-you-know and a scourge against reader-kind.

Who knew book lovers could be driven to displays of great passion over the humble dust jacket?

I, for-one, can’t stand them either! If I end up with a hardcover with a jacket, I throw it away as soon as I get home. I can’t stand the thought of having to be careful with it, lest it rips or wrinkles, and my minimalism tendencies demand an instant discard.

The Times Literary Supplement, however, argues that dust jackets do have an important function.

The Victoria and Albert Museum gives a History of the Dust Jacket.

Dust jackets can be quite beautiful; works of art unto themselves. The New York Public Library has an online collection of vintage dust jackets.

Finally, check out this poll of devoted readers over at GoodReads. One GoodReads user calls them “a crime against humanity.” The sheer variety of impassioned opinions is incredible!

Make the Most of your Monday!

It’s Monday! Are you ready to start the week with a bang? Right now you’ve got the unique chance (only happens once a week ; ) to chart your course for the next five days. What should you accomplish this week to make yourself proud come Friday afternoon?


The unclutterer blog suggests starting your Monday with a planning session to map out your week for max productivity.

The PassiveProductive blog asks you to consider turning Monday into elimination day – clean up your workspace (physical and digital) to make your work more efficient.

Career Cafe tells you how to beat the Monday Morning Blues

Inc.com gives you 14 Simple Ways to Get Considerably More Done.

MITSloan reminds you that multitasking actually makes you LESS productive.

Finally, The Minimalists offer a study on being busy – but not focused. Something to think about!

Have a great week!


“So You Have Blue Hair”: On looks and working in a library

Say the candidate walks into the interview with blue hair and piercings. Maybe she’s also wearing bright pink boots along with her slacks and blazer. What do you think?

Katy Perry does well for herself, right?

Public library employee Elinor Crosby, of Nova Scotia, says that she stays true to herself by maintaining a professional look but also incorporating her personality, which includes all of the above:

The librarian who convinced me to go and do my MLIS insisted that librarians didn’t care what you looked like as long as you could do the job, and I have found this to be true.

In my limited library experience, I haven’t met any library employees with hair color that doesn’t occur naturally, or with uncommon facial piercings, but I’ve definitely met people that are proud to show off their personal style with their work attire. Yet, we don’t seem to have much of a dress code at my library at Arizona State, and I think most people here dress however they feel most comfortable.

What do you think? Does physical appearance of a potential employee affect whether or not you’d be interesting in hiring her, professional skills aside?

See the entire post over at INALJ: So You Have Blue Hair

End of the e-textbook? Publishers offer Blackboard content integration

Publisher McGraw-Hill is partnering with Blackboard to provide more than just a course e-book. The publisher now offers course textbooks, assignments, and assessments that can be fully integrated into an existing LMS.


I spotted this article, McGraw-Hill and Blackboard: Partnering to Create the Learning Experience of the Future (via iLibrarian), and immediately wondered what the implications might be here for online learning and academic libraries.

While this post reads more like a corporate press release extolling the virtues of such a partnership, an immediate concern that comes to mind is whether this might turn into a corporate monopoly. That is, could an instructor individually partner with McGraw-Hill to integrate content for one course, but not another? Or would this have to be settled at the institution level, with a publisher requiring that it have exclusive rights to provide content for all of the school’s classes?

McGraw-Hill is proud to offer “pre-packaged” courses:

“With vetted and peer-reviewed content available, faculty [members] don’t need to spend as much time building core content; instead they can focus on how to add to their course based on an incident that happened in the class or a current event. Instructors can easily adapt to student needs,” says Fontenot.

This immediacy also increases an online course’s scalability. “Using pre-packaged content helps an instructor go from teaching 50 to 300 students without the time commitment of creating another course shell,” she says.

In the growing push towards growing online academic offerings, “pre-packaged” content like this will have a certain appeal. But just as Amazon only licenses e-books and doesn’t sell them, occasionally a book will be deleted from users’ Kindle should Amazon deem it necessary. No explanation required. If a single provider provides all course content, and retains licensing rights, does this put students at risk should content be pulled mid-semester? What rights would an institution retain if it doesn’t own its courses’ content?

This isn’t to say that this type of content integration is a wholly bad idea. I think that incorporating textbook content into an online course will improve the user experience. Academic libraries, though, already have a lot of funds invested in academic databases and e-content. I wonder if content could be incorporated from sources that an institution is already paying for, rather than paying more for potentially duplicate content.

What are the implications here for online learning? And how can libraries better serve students in online classes?

The first item on the Beloit Mindset List 2014

For the incoming college class of 2014, the first item on the list of its annual mindset list is “Few in the class know how to write in cursive.”  This caught my eye because I’d had a conversation last year about this potential disconnect in the classroom with one of our English Department faculty.  She’d told me that one of her students wasn’t  making specific improvements to his writing assignments that she’d noted on his papers and when she talked to him she’d found out he couldn’t read cursive writing.

This had never occurred to her, nor had it occurred to me.  I mentioned it to other faculty and they hadn’t really thought about it either.  Most of us are U.S. educated and of an age where we were taught and regularly used cursive for at least a couple of decades. One faculty explained that most of what he does in terms of student feedback is done electronically and he is not writing remarks with a pen or pencil. In some discussions with K-12 teachers in AZ, and some librarians on email listservs, I found out that yes, many U.S. schools are not teaching cursive. 

Today, I forwarded the Beloit Mindset link to a Director on campus in charge of faculty teaching development and asked if this was a potential disconnect in the classroom. Besides her role in faculty development, she is also a longtime ESL instructor.  She responded that she knew that she couldn’t write in cursive in the ESL classroom because our students educated in Mexico are not taught cursive, but it had not occurred to her that the broader faculty might not know this. She now planned to bring it up at New Faculty Orientation later today. Cool, so I’m not coming out of left field.

I think this is a potential disconnect in the classroom that may not have occurred to many of us librarians who stand in a classroom doing library instruction and write on the white boards. Or for that matter, some of us are doing instruction to distance sites on interactive television or through web conferencing systems, and using whiteboards. Note to self: Stop the cursive writing. Somehow, I know it will take me awhile.

Have any of you out there encountered this?

Tina Sibley is the Distance Education Librarian at Arizona Western College

Contemplating a Certificate in Instructional Design

Tina Sibley is the Distance Education Librarian at Arizona Western College and in this post she recaps some information she has gathered on certificate programs in instructional design.

I do a lot of library instruction sessions both face-to-face and online, and over the past 18 months I’ve been mulling over the possibility of completing a certificate program in instructional design for e-learning.  Since I’m located in Yuma, I’d need a web-based program and that’s what I focused on in my investigation.  Also, I’ll mention that I’ve already had a small amount of exposure to ID, while working as a corporate training manager prior to my library career, so that influenced my research and how I viewed what each program offered for my needs.

ACRL has a variety of web-based classes, including one specifically about instructional design.  Instructional Design for Online Teaching and Learning.  Additionally they also offer a class focused on learning objects, Learning “To Go”: Using the Learning Object Model to Develop Online Instruction.  Both of these are about a month long and look like useful introductions.

Looking at certificate programs, I came across university offerings which varied from several months to about a year and a half. Some result in a certificate with CEUs and others earn graduate units. Some also let you apply the graduate units to a Masters program if you decide to pursue that.

The University of Washington’s Professional & Continuing Studies department offers a Certificate in E-Learning Design and Development.  There are 4 courses to complete and the program takes 9 months to complete.  This certificate earns 17 CEUs.  One thing that caught my eye as I looked at this program was that there is a librarian on the advisory board.  This program does includes some perspective on managing e-learning programs which may not be something most librarians get involved with, but I personally could see a benefit to having had some insight to the big picture decision making process as the librarian engages with the rest of e-learning community on campus.

At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, they offer a five course certificate in E-Learning and Online Teaching which takes 10-19 months, depending upon whether you take one or two classes at a time. The certificate earns 15 graduate credits and they can be applied to the Masters program. This program is fully focused on teaching in the online environment. They also offer an Instructional Design certificate which is not focused on e-learning environments.

Through the University of Colorado- Denver you can complete a certificate of Designing eLearning Environments . This program is focused on instructional design incorporating multimedia and social-networking tools. There are three courses to complete over 18 months.  These graduate units can also be applied to their MA in eLearning Design and Implementation.

At California State University- East Bay, they offer through their Continuing Education department a certificate in Online Teaching and Learning. This is focused on the pedagogy of online teaching and learning. There are 4 courses and each one is 5 weeks long.  The certificate takes a minimum of 4 months to complete and the classes also satisfy the initial course requirements for their M.S. in Education with an Option in Online Teaching and Learning.

Another possibilities for learning about instructional design is to take a two-day workshop  marketed towards corporate trainers. See this certificate program listed on the web site of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD).
These are just a few avenues to gain some understanding of and skill in instructional design.

Have you taken a class or seminar recently? Write up a summary and send it to culd@gmail.