Trials and Tribulations of Ethically Taking from the Internet

Hey everyone! Welcome to my webzone!

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this week’s topic (according to my class schedule, it’s “Ethical Stances of Technology Integration”), I figured I’d start off with a few details about myself:

  • I’m currently studying secondary education (emphasis on 7th-12th grade English) and English (emphasis on British Literature) at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
  • I’m a heavy internet user. I have been on the internet since I was eight years old, and as a result, I feel like the internet is an inseparable part of my daily life (for better or worse). Nowadays, I’m more interested in the connecting power of the internet, especially when it means creating and participating in otherwise fractured communities.
  • I’m an avid reader! I almost always have a book or two on me. (You can also track what I’m reading on Goodreads)
  • I’m the cofounder and co-managing editor of New Bile, an online literary journal. We publish loads of local (and non-local) writers and host readings around Omaha and Lincoln.

So now that I got the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to business!

As a product of the “Internet Generation” (also known as someone who has grown up with the internet for most of my life), I have witnessed the shifting stances when it comes to fair use and copyright law online firsthand. I’ve seen websites flourish and fall as a result of gleeful disrespect for ‘other people’s property.’ Even for myself, I think my stances have changed since I was a wee netkid, from someone who did not care about copyright, lawyers, fair use, etc. to a person with a more nuanced view on how we should use the internet ethically.

The first article I read for class was “The Statistical Probability of Accidental Plagiarism” from the blog Readers in Wonderland. In the article, Alise spoke to a common concern that a lot of young writers (including myself) have about plagiarism, mainly what happens if we accidentally plagiarize? For Alise, she blames some plagiarism on the way our brain processes information, and a process known as cryptomnesia. According to Wikipedia (the prime source for young plagiarists), cryptomnesia is defined as “when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original.” Given the mysterious nature of a lot of our brain processes, I agree with Alise in thinking that our creative processes do unintentionally cause us to plagiarize and take without citing our sources. In my opinion, a lot of the anxiety around accidentally cheating can be a destructive force to our creative processes, as it forces students to focus on the micro-concerns (avoiding plagiarism) rather than the bigger picture of creating materials that shows that a student has engaged with the taught material. Not to mention, citations’ ability for you to relay another person’s information in a magically ‘acceptable’ way is kind of ridiculous (but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms I won’t elaborate on right now C:). While I certainly recognize how damaging plagiarism can be, I think the emphasis placed on plagiarism distracts from the larger learning objectives.

My perspective on plagiarism is certainly a result of my upbringing in the larger internet ‘culture,’ which many academics would certainly bristle at. However, this drastic difference in culture is a reality that many older educators need to come to terms with. In Barry Gilmore’s article “Write From Wrong”, he notes how there is a proven gap in thinking about plagiarism, where students and teachers define plagiarism very differently. In one case, Gilmore relates that “Almost all [students] are surprised that turning in the same paper to two different classes without informing the teacher might be considered a form of plagiarism.” Further, one study found that 35% of students felt as if “copying a few sentences without citation a ‘serious offense,’” which is certainly a sentiment that I can relate to as a former high school student. I can imagine my superiors in schools shouting at me about “how you don’t take plagiarism seriously” and “how could you expect academic integrity in a classroom like this?” but ultimately, these cultural gaps aren’t going to stitch themselves back together through extreme discipline and vague threats alone.

In my opinion, I think that the only way to solve the plagiarism ‘problem’ is through education. Gilmore notes that, “Such discrepancies in understanding [plagiarism] underscore the need for students, teachers, and administrators to discuss issues of academic honesty openly before they happen,” thus explicitly defining the need for educators to talk about what plagiarism looks like, rather than expecting students to know what it looks like already. Further, Gilmore argues that teachers who openly discuss academic dishonesty can shape the perceptions of students about plagiarism, in interest of creating more ethical researchers. But ultimately, I think that a lot of debate around plagiarism also speaks to students lacking a particular skill set, namely the ability to properly cite sources.

In my classroom, I would rather focus on teaching students to cite sources before delving into discussions about academic dishonesty. In my experience in high schools, as a student and a future educator, students are not properly prepared to produce professional in-text citations or bibliographies. For me, I didn’t fully understand how to create proper MLA citations until I was a sophomore in college, and I regularly encounter peers who still don’t know how to make citations, despite being in college for 3+ years. As a result, by punishing students harshly for not being able to do something they were not taught how to do, educators are greatly inhibiting learning and turning off students from writing and research. Rather than creating an authoritarian, stifling environment for students, shouldn’t we be more concerned with making a positive space for students to safely make and learn from mistakes?

So what do you think? Do you think that current responses to plagiarism are appropriate? What would you do to prevent plagiarism in your classroom, if anything? Is the prevalence of ‘internet culture’ harmful to learning environments? Are you terrified of millennials like me possibly teaching your kids to plunder the libraries without abandon? (jk ;^) ) Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,


2 thoughts on “Trials and Tribulations of Ethically Taking from the Internet

  1. I would like to start out by saying how excited I am that you went along the same line of thinking as I did in my blog. It is fun to read someone’s blog who has a similar topic and see different points of views or other topics that I didn’t see or approach. For example, when you discuss “The Statistical Probability of Accidental Plagiarism” I never thought of how the worry would make a person lose some of their creative potential. However, looking back now I see that after reading that article I was a little freaked out. I mean, what If I unknowingly just plagiarized part of my blog from an article which sole purpose was to discuss plagiarism. I could be kicked out of school and become the poster child for the dangers of (ironic) plagiarizing. While these thoughts were short lived, I can see how they could stunt a person’s creative growth with fear.
    Continuing with your blog, I really enjoyed how you touched on the fear instilled on high school students about plagiarism, and how it was a huge offence to copy a few lines. I too remember this from high school as it was taught to us from day one freshman year, and preached every time we had a paper due until the last day on senior graduation. However, that was the only measure that they took to stop students from plagiarizing. They told us that it was bad and all the bad things that would happen to us, but they never told us what in more detail what plagiarism is. This is why I like your idea of teaching students to cite sources before talking to them about plagiarism. I feel that giving them the tools to do the right thing is superior to a warning of a beating if they don’t.
    Over all I enjoyed reading your paper, you had several ideas that I agreed with and many more that I never would have thought of. Your blog is well written and it shows that you put allot of thought into it.
    Jacob Grabowski #TLDEUNO


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