Monday, 12 June 2017

Talking referencing and plagiarism with teachers. From school and beyond.

Talk to teachers about plagiarism and referencing and they begin to glaze over. Talk to them about the cut and paste culture or about taking photos from the internet and you begin to have a conversation.

Photo taken by Elizabeth Hutchinson
The photo above is one I took about a month ago and put it on Instagram. Am I proud of it? Yes, Do I want others to see it? yes. Does that mean that I would be happy for someone to take and use it without my permission? No. A teacher said to me recently that if anyone chose to share a picture online then they should not be surprised or upset if it was taken and used by someone else. This created a really interesting conversation but also highlighted that there is a problem. As teachers encourage their students to share more online the need for them to truly understand the issues of copyright and the need to reference becomes clearer.

Teachers get extremely frustrated when they know a child has not done the research for their project and just cut and pasted from one of the top three websites found on Google.  I then explain how I can help.
  • I  support and co-teach in their classroom. 
  • I demonstrate tools to up-skill themselves and their students.
  •  I save them time by finding quality resources for their students to use. 
This is when the conversation begins to get easier and interesting. Referencing is an essential building block to this which begins with quality resources.  Once your students have the right building blocks in place good quality research is then produced.

Collaborating with the school librarian enables you to start this journey. 

Teachers and librarians working together to make a difference 

School librarians can collaborate with teachers to enhanse research skills through :-

  1. Using the library catalogue to teach keyword searching. This is an important skill which will help students find good books and websites that have been curated by the librarian. (teachers do not need to spend hours looking for quality websites) 
  2. Demonstrating how to find the academic sources such as Britannica and History Reference Centre.
  3. Teaching how to give credit and reference using tools such as Easybib which is attached to Google Docs. 
  4. Teaching copyright and helping students find pictures that they can legally use for assignments. 

How does referencing help?

Teachers want good quality research from their students but unless they teach referencing they will never be able to check where the information comes from. Just having the right information regurgitated is not research and children as young as 5 can be taught to copy and paste so where is the skill in that.

One of the easiest skills to teach is knowing where to find the best sources quickly. This is an important part of independent learning skills. Just because they know where to go to find the information does not make them less independent it makes them more! Students need to be guided to choosing academic sources by being taught how to find and access them. Using the school library as a source of information is a great start too.

In order to encourage students to reference properly teachers need to learn the tricks to help make this quick and easy.

How do teachers ensure that their students are using these academic sources?
  • By learning the tools to make referencing quicker e.g. Easy Bib, and tools in Word,
  • By demonstrating best practice through citing their own sources when producing handouts or presentations.
  • By making sure that students know how to find good resources by working with the school librarian.
  • By making sure students know how to evaluate websites and use appropriate search engines. Take a look of this list of academic search engines to make research easier and faster.
  • By making sure students know how to reference - the school librarian can help here too. 
  • Checking references and awarding marks for good referencing. 
If students are never asked to reference anything how does the teacher know where the information came from?  I've had a teacher state that as they know the answer and their students have got it correct it doesn't matter where the information came from! My message to this teachers is that it's not your job to pass on the knowledge but the skills as well. Students need to understand that finding the information from a quality resource is important to the teacher too. If not why would they bother?

Another said - it takes too long to get students to reference and it spoils the fun of research! My response is this - What if this student produces a piece of work that you are so proud of that you want to share it as an example across the internet?  You are only showing your inability to teach and understand the importance of referencing. Nothing should be shared by your students without referencing, why, because it is illegal and you as a teacher are condoning it.

Beyond school, whether it is onto university or to work referencing is important.

Universities are beginning to notice the lack of ability of students coming from schools, especially those doing A'levels, realising that there is a real lack of research and information literacy skills.  Some universities, like Birmingham, are even running outreach programmes to teach these skills to students before they arrive at university. Although it is good that universities are trying to do something about this it does make me think that if teachers were working with school librarians these skills could and should be taught in school.

Even at work good research is important. Only the other day I was talking to a man who worked in IT support. He told me "my job is not knowing how to fix everything but knowing how to find the answer through research". This is where the world of work is going and we need to send our students out into the world with the right tools not just exam results.

Finally, if you really like my photo and you have read this far you may share it. With credit of course :)