Sunday, 19 February 2017

Teachers: How important is academic honesty? Essential for digital literacy.

Teachers, do you use information ethically when creating resources for teaching? Do you know when it is ok to take pictures from the internet? Do you know if you are breaking copyright laws? Copyright is a complex subject and here is a guide to what you can and can't do within a school setting. Just because it is ok to use resources for educational purposes, it is an individuals right not a shared right of the school and it is time to understand that as teachers you should be demonstrating best practice at all times. Do you reference all your sources whenever you produce something for school? If not where can this lead and why is this a problem? 

Primary and secondary school students do not create original work. Writing it in their own words is not original.  

Many teachers talk to their students about the importance of giving credit for where they find their information but never expect a reference list. This is a real lack of understanding about information and where is comes from. The information we find has been written by someone else and is not original. This is especially true if you are expecting your students to find the answer to a question or to write a piece of research. This is what research is. Finding the answer and referencing where you got it from. No student is going to write something original when researching because this is not what you are asking them to do. Part of the learning process is understanding that we must give credit for what we find. 

If we don't expect a reference how can you, as teachers, work out where the information is coming from? Why do we need to worry about this? As a teacher if you know they have found the correct answer does it matter where they got it from? Yes it does! Most students go to one website. They may very well get the right answer each time without thinking about the source they are using because they want their homework done quickly. Fake News is huge at the moment and without asking for a reference how do you know if they have chosen a good source?  At least if they had a list of sources teachers would be able to have a conversation about the websites used. Teachers are currently working blind and seem to be happy as long as the right answer is given. It is not something that is a concern but it should be. 

Sharing students work beyond school without references.

In todays world it is common to share students work on our school websites or on social media.  If nothing is referenced we are breaking copyright laws and here is where the problems lie. 

Imagine this. One of your students has produced a wonderful piece of work and you want to use it as a wonderful example of learning outcomes. It is well written, got some great pictures and all the information is correct. You decide to share it on the school newsletter and on twitter as an example of best practice. If none of it is referenced then this is not best practice this is embedding that it is alright to break copyright laws.

Research skills are really important in todays world. It's not just about finding the right information but also about making sure it is true, if there is a bias and knowing who wrote it. If teachers insist on allowing their students to use Google as a research tool they must understand the importance of ensuring that their students give credit for what they find and use. Academic honesty and teaching for integrity is going to become more important with the advancement of digital literacies and teachers need to understand their role in ensuring that our students are taught this correctly. 

It is not alright to take pictures and information and not say where they got it from just because their work is only going to hang on the wall of the classroom. there are so many tools today that make this easy. Free pictures like the ones on this blog are available from places like so there is no need to just take from Google images. It is a case of teaching it the right way. Just as it would not be alright for anyone of your students to steal someone's sweets, just because no-one will find out does not make it right. As digital competencies become part of the curriculum it is essential that teachers understand why this is important and know how to teach it. We are giving our students skills for life not just for one assignment. It is important that our students learn about the subject that is being taught but it is just as important to make sure they are given the skills and understand the ethical way to do this too. Many people are writing about this, however, I recently read a blog post by Alison Miller on Developing digital learners which also talks about the importance of digital competencies and gives some great idea of how to use it in the classroom which is worth reading. 

Are you confident about teaching referencing? Your school librarian can help.

The excuses that this takes too long or that it will spoil the enjoyment,  just do not add up. Maybe teachers are not confident at teaching or checking references or maybe they are remembering when they had to reference when they were at university and it did take forever. This is just not the case now. Both Word and Google doc have a built in reference generator which is easy and simple to use. 

Your school librarian will be happy to help teach this but here is an easy guide to how it works on Google docs:-

  • Find the Easybib add on. 

  • Click on EasyBib Bibliography Creator and this box will appear to the right of you document.

  • As you find sources you add them to the generator to the right and it creates the Bibliography. From books to websites they are all there. Once the document is finished click on the red box 'add bibliography to doc and it appears at the bottom of the page. 

This does not take long to learn and is essential for our students to understand academic honesty and teachers need to expect it. It should not make any difference whether our headteachers or policy makers are not asking for this. We all know what is right, this is simple to do and teach and teachers should be leading by example.

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