Plagiarismo

Nick Carbone sent a note to
techrhet
subscribers last night that the news about Canadian student Jesse Rosenfeld’s
refusal to submit his work to turnitin.com surfaced in the mainstream via

CNN and Court TV
. I’d been following this issue with interest since I
first read about it over at
Jerz’s
Literacy Weblog
and
Kairosnews
.

As I see it, turnitin.org is challenged by an image problem; its name (more importantly than its utility) implicates guilt among students mandated to use it. I guess that’s the root objection felt by Rosenfeld. In a sense, the system is subjecting him to a damaging, a priori criminalization. Guilty until proven innocent. And plagiarism sifters generally work that way. But
plagiarized essays don’t merit serious consideration for the fulfillment of
academic calls. Plagiarism is rather like a sucker punch to the integrity
of higher education, and the Internet is enabling rapidly recurrent, heavy
blows. We should be able to agree that cheats should be given the old
heave-ho before any instructor pours carefully, but unwittingly, over the
text. Right? But there’s always more to it. Turnitin.com could start
by trying on a new name, such as surveillanceworks.net.

One-draft submissions have necessarily given way to processes with proposals, exploratory
drafts, brief annotated bibliographies and so on. In other words, many of
the essay mills don’t market comprehensive process packages (such as we might
find in an all-included, end-of-term portfolio with untidy pieces and so on). The market, however, is smartening to composition’s deeper processes (http://www.essayrelief.com/,
for example, advertises “research work” included with the order, but I haven’t
tried it, so I don’t have any sense of how messy it is. Convincingly
messy?). Devisers of assignments, then, must stay one step ahead of the
services available for circumventing the rules of decorum (articulated wherever
they may be!). And, yet, plagiarism will continue to leak into the
academy, will linger as a vile, troubling matter.

At places with little or no WAC initiative, I’d wager that much of the
proliferation of plagiarism comes about from oft-used, timeless prompts or
single-submission assignments (oh, right, and the plagiarist-student is to
blame, as well). I wasn’t trying to parade a holier-than platitude, but I
made the mistake of saying this aloud recently and got in return: “I
agree with your point in principle. However, when one teaches a 300 level class,
one just does not expect to deal with issues like draft and rewrite.” More
discussion followed, healthy discussion about new understandings of the
information and services from which students can take unattributed work, greater urgency about making writing processes visible (which can be tough since our best habits are considerably varied), and institution-wide dissonance on how best to address the issue.

I’m still learning where all of this fits into my teaching. I don’t
prefer to wear the plagairism-police badge, and I see a greater need to treat
some instances of plagiarism as an opportunity for working toward an understanding of intellectual
property. Lately, I’ve taken to using
EveII for sifting offenders,
usually after I read a suspicious essay, but sometimes before I read any essay
in a set that has arrived in my inbox. Google’s exact match search is also widely used and effective for cuing exact strings. It seems more and more to be an inevitable part of teaching writing, and, as such, seems like something we
should continue conversations about (along with lots of other stuff), especially
as long as the latest technologies reconfigure the scene.

Excuse me, I just storied myself

To make ready for class today, I went through a few invention exercises.
I wanted to mix it up, vary the approaches to show a range of possibilities for
essay one: A Tech Autobiographical Sketch. The assignment serves a few purposes,
not the least of which are a writing sample and a portrait of students’ tech
backgrounds, which influence my aims and design for the next several weeks.

The assignment asks students to tell their technological becoming.
It’s a narrative essay about gadgetry and mechanisms, from old, block-style
Legos to one-buttoned joysticks, from coin-op school supply dispensers to
cordless phones with auto redial. And my favorite: hand-held football
games with red, LED players on both teams, no matter whether it was the Patriots and Panthers or the Lions and Browns (my imagined, dream Superbowl). Red blips on both sides of the ball; a fresh 9-volt battery and a 45 minute school bus ride, one-way; those were the days.

My models for the class, for the essay, included a graphic organizer, a messy map of sorts that starts with a blank sheet of paper and a will to scribble
without inhibition, loose clusters of ideas. The second model, even more
spontaneous than the first because of its disregard of coherence, was a list of
50. A fit of associations with the perpetual present guided by impulse and
only the faint beckoning of the writing prompt. My list (for the tech
autobiographical sketch) looked like this:

Boeing 757 to Seattle, Supersonics shirt, Mount St. Helens, Pong with
paddles, Frogger, black and white television, Galaga at Pizza Hut, camcorder,
C64 programs in basic, [friends who] pirated software, welding and your eyes,
Tetris, first broadcast warfare, statistical reports, digital photography,
surveillance cameras, exercise equipment, rocket launches, stopwatch, camping
with cords, Popular Science, helicopter bike, northern lights, fishing
sonar, radar detectors, Sault locks, fax machines, Mouse Trap, Operation w/
glue, Walkman, audio books, Lance Haffner Final Four, Adam computer, tape drive soccer, Rambo knife w/ compass, Tecmo Bowl, breakaway rims, car stereo wiring, magnet games, batteries, race track motors, vibrating football board, UHF/VHF antennae, TV adjust with pliers

I stopped at 44. The inventive scope had me reeling. Could have
gone longer, but I had to get on with the third model: a formal outline.
Less stimulating, in my view, but important to show, to talk about what purpose
it might serve, its relative structured-ness. So I dummied one up on the
evolution of photography in my days: slide-projector shows, Polaroids, a
costly/priceless Dimage7i, up to Kodak’s abandonment of film camera’s in Western markets last week.

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Hide it under a bushel, no!

I’ve been thinking about the blogging and the public sphere this weekend. Didn’t find time to post yesterday, was at the gym with the boys in the morning, doing more course prep in the middle of the day before sulking back to work last night–fifth event in seven days. Another one tomorrow.

The idea that blogs enable a publicly-projected self, one controlled through discursive constructions (well, er, everything’s rhetoric), intrigues me whilst filling me with caution. The traffic spikes over the last two days are contributing to my wonder. Casual readers are checking out this site; since I haven’t neatly defined Earth Wide Moth, typecasting it into a particular blogging genre, I’m having trouble imagining what brings people here, whether it’s interesting or disappointing, whether it’s too personal to be of any value to somebody else, and so on.

The clogged drain entry provoked an email from my dad. And here the NYT magazine feature last week was concerned with teens and their blog-reading parents. Adult-children who blog have plenty to be concerned with, too, turns out. I had no idea my mishandling of the drainage had the power to shame my dad. He taught me well, and yet I couldn’t clear the drain myself!

Here are a few bits of his advice (which was broadcast to other family members who would’ve had no inkling that this blog was planted here lately):

1. Only use the garbage disposal for small stuff.
2. Periodically use a bio-enzyme at all sink, tub and shower locations (small drain pipes).
3. Participating in family plumbing adventures helps socialize us all into becoming better plumbing people. For example, when children become old enough to clean out drains, allow them the fun and excitement of digging out the hair and gunk. When they grow up, they will thank you for having given them this experience.

There was more. No need to make this into a full blown plumbing guide. But item three brought me back; reminded me of my childhood–those Sunday afternoon plumbing projects that I never really understood, although I clearly remember standing at the sink with my brother, eyes agog at the size of the gunk-wad responsible for the slow seep of water, the lecture about not allowing stray, nonfluidstuff in the sink. We were being humanized.

So maybe the traffic spikes are from a wary and watchful clan dispersed far and wide who are (following my dad’s email alert) bracing for unkind or uncareful depictions: about hairpieces and beer bellies, about indiscretions and excess, about you-know-who’s bad habits, and so on. Never been much of a town crier. A critic, sure. But most often self-critical, since dad did such a fine job of proving to me that the unflowing blockages, impediments and hardships–in the sink and in life–are largely of our own doing.

A Perfect Cement

Friday started with two certain plans: open the door for the plumber
scheduled to arrive at the house at eight and leaf through the thicker-than-usual
Atlantic Monthly
issue.  Thick with stuff I won’t read about “The State
of the Union;” I thinned it by pulling out all of the subscription
postcards.

The boss at the plumbing company called at eight to say they’d be 35 minutes late. An employee was out of gas, stuck on I29, waiting for a ride in the
light rain.  The blocked sink drain would still be there. No hurry.
It’d been there since Wednesday evening, a perfect kernel of gunk cementing the drain pipes. I’ll spare you the details, but I should defend my
resourcefulness. I tried to plumb the line; I pulled apart the pea
traps and drain extensions, splashed murky water everywhere, even sliced my
thumb twisting the hand auger a few stubborn feet into the netherworld of the
inner wall. Went to Kmart at 9:45 for an extra plunger and a jug of acid stuff
made for loosing gunk. No luck.

So when the plumbing boss called I had more time to wait, but not enough time (or interest, really) to undertake an engaged reading of the full-length features. I leafed through, turning pages, then this: “The
Other Gender Gap
.” A short article on the shortcomings of popular
education in America for boys. I had no idea.

I was almost at the end of the short article when I read this:

But boys’ educational stagnation has long-term
economic implications. Not even half the boys in the country are taking
advantage of the opportunity to go to college, which has become almost a
prerequisite for a middle-class lifestyle. And languishing academic attainment
among a large portion of our population spells trouble for the prospects of
continued economic growth. Unless more boys begin attending college, the
nation may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.

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noticehowhismouthnevermoves.almost

I passed a sizable chunk of the day jockeying with .htaccess setups. After class this morning, a 10:30 meeting, a thermos of coffee, I wracked my brain for quite some time over my own clunky setup of protected access directories. For what? It’s embarrassing that I wasted so much time puzzling through something untested, unproven as a boon to my teaching. But there comes a buzz (or, better put, a mesmerizing intrigue) with the problem-solving process in technical matters. And I’m hooked. 

I got it working. Finally set up the .htaccess and .htpassword files with a logout route to trick browsers into “forgetting” the user’s password. Never knew how that worked until today. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it cracked.
And I’m almost certain that its value to my students is slight. Which is why I needed to
re-center my teaching on questions about what I’m doing it for. For re-centering, I often return to this bit from Roxanne Mountford’s essay, “Let Them Experiment:
Accommodating Diverse Discourse Practices in Large-Scale Writing Assessment.” 

Shirley Brice Heath, citing the philosopher Michel Foucault, writes: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” That is, as teachers and evaluators we often act without considering how our actions affect those we evaluate.

I’ve taken this out of a rich context on the challenges of inherent biases in large-scale writing assessment; and, while I appreciate Mountford’s full essay, an essay I first read a few years ago in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project summer invitational workshop, I find myself returning to this bit because it refreshes me, returns me to trail of wondering what what I do does. Especially after a day of scratching my head over file
extensions, permissions, passwords and browser trickery.

Twixt Gunnite Walls

Location update: Our basement-of-the-science hall class has officially relocated to the Academic Underground (a real place!). Sliding swivel chairs, detached from workstations. Pop-up desk/monitors. Networked. Dry erase _only_. LED projection equipment. Granted, it is, essentially, a cave–classroom space carved out of mined limestone caves with gunnite-sprayed walls, painted white, dimpled with texture. No, there are no bats in there, none that I’ve ever seen anyway. The new room is just a short meander (first-timers get lost down there quite easily) from the mail room, library, computer labs, study rooms, bookstore. Oh, and coffee shop. Good news since that means all the work I did over break whipping together a mixed-mode curriculim won’t go like scraps to hungry dogs. I landed the zippiest tech-enabled place on campus, just by asking. Fancy that.

Now off to coach my kid’s basketball game. Got seventeen seventh graders playing on two teams. Nobody told me that March Madness starts in January for twelve and thirteen-year-olds (pre-pubescent stir renders the Roman calendar obsolete, I’d say). And that explains where the bats are. In my head.

Out of Water

SC05. Basement of the science hall. Yep. That’s where I met with 14 students enrolled in EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research this morning. My single request when I (somewhat reluctantly) signed on to teach this class this semester is that it be scheduled in a tech-enabled classroom.

Of course, the light switches are technology, the fluorescent bulbs (who knows how those work?), the pencil sharpener, the roll-retracting maps used to teach Modern Geography (which follows stampedishly soon after my section of comp). There’s an old color TV and an overhead projector. Notably, the overhead projector requires wet erase markers, but the white board at the front of the classroom needs dry erase markers. The slate on the side of the room: chalk. Dizzying. I wanted to project the course web site, dazzle ’em with pixels on this, our first day together.

So I marched over to the registrar’s office after class. Surely we can do better than this. Hell, last time I taught EN106, I was slotted in the basement of the chapel, but that space has been upgraded, overhauled, remade into a clean, well-lighted space which smells of nothing. I’m sure they’re not hosting comp sections there any more. And now I fear that I’m sounding snide. The long, long line at the registrar’s office delayed my inquiry–my quest for an alternative, suitably wired space. So I called instead. Left a message. More anon.

About the technologies surrounding us: light, language, radiators, markers, chalk, and so on: I wrote my name on the dry eraser board with the wrong kind of marker. A wet-erase marker. As the modern geographers stormed the room, my name was fixed, immovable in the middle of the white board covering the south wall. And my first name was underlined. It’s the basement of the science hall. Shouldn’t they have beakers of solvent lying around just for such crises? Good Christ! what a morning.

My So-Called Teacherly Space

Emily Nussbaum’s story in today’s NYT magazine, “My
So-Called Blog,”
sizes up the social significance of blogs for
teenagers. Reactions have already posted here
and here; I agree with craniac
at Kariosnews that the article has a few good bits. One of those bits, in
my reading of the story, involves the allure of cheaply controlling an
extrabodily image of oneself, one’s space, even devising ideological signposts
to create a meaning-filled site.

At heart, an online journal is like a hyperflexible adolescent body — but better, because in real life, it takes money and physical effort to add a piercing, or to switch from zip-jacketed mod to Abercrombie prepster. A LiveJournal or Blurty offers a creative outlet with a hundred moving parts. And unlike a real journal, with a blog, your friends are all around, invisible voyeurs — at least until they chime in with a comment.

Since my teenage years have passed and I have no need for new piercings
(although a haircut would be nice, maybe later today), this aspect of Nussbaum’s feature has me thinking about the implications of inexpensive control and image management in teaching. I have been working on a blog for a class I’m teaching this semester, the second in our FY composition sequence, so notions of switching up, of designing an “outlet with a hundred moving parts”
resonate the utility of blogs in higher ed. This is especially true for
many institutions where room assignments change from semester to semester or where adjunct faculty share plain offices with one phone line, if they have any
office space at all. The class blog–with its dialogic nature, design and
content–extends the course beyond the sanitized, often neutral meeting place of
the classroom by enabling it with a sustainable, personalized ideological
decor. What’s more, the decor is, by and large, participatory–shaped by
all members of the class. Through design and use, the blog can affect the identity crises that encroach on our work-space and status in higher ed, esp. in cases where work-space and status are, at times, unfair, ill-conceived and subject to gross fluctuation. It doesn’t fully absolve these issues, but, as it did
for the subjects in Nussbaum’s story, blogging can provide relief. Cheaply.

Emergency Management | When Uneasiness Visits

While I was catching up on reading and responding to student introductions in
my online section of HU211 (Intro to Humanities) thisA sign: this guest has been frequenting our back porch since late December.
morning, our guest visited the back porch and set out with his ritual morning
mewl. Through the crying, which, without any change in pitch or volume,
seemed to escalate into a blaring feline yawp over time, I read about one
student who is mid-way through his USMC career and just two courses from a BA in
Emergency Management. His introduction (a brief, paragraph-or-so sketch)
was comparatively candid when read alongside those of peers. He mentioned
living in an inherited house in a sluggish Pennsylvania town, while waiting for
FEMA to start hiring again.

When teaching online courses, I find that early term interactions
significantly condition the level of engagement throughout the accelerated eight
week term. No surprising discovery here. I’ve been at it for two
years now, experimenting with my role in these courses, and when I jump in early
with frequent and substantive posts–as instructor–the course reflects the
stimulus and the threaded discussions are considerably more vibrant. In
comparable f2f courses, I have found the class benefits from a solid starts, but
it’s possible for the course take off even if I moderate my presence, my role as
“teacher,” into something less visible, less assertively
authoritative. This has me thinking about the relation of physicality and body
language to teaching presence in f2f courses and how those issues compare for
online courses (where the teaching is variously present through photos,
biographical blurbs, threaded interactions, and rigid curricular content).
In other words, where is the teacher’s “body” in online education; is
it an imagined corpus extending from the factors listed here? Stamped by
the discipline or the institution?

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You Provide The Mortar

[R.E.M. Green in the headphones.]

Yesterday, at lunch, Andy said this about my new blog (without having read
it): "You probably want to avoid building a general blog. The day of the
all-knowing pundit who trails off on this and that is passing. Themed blogs
are probably more successful at attracting and keeping an audience." Okay,
so I didn’t keep notes, but he said something close to this.

And this: "You should add a subtitle explaining Earth Wide Moth."

To wit, I’ve been thinking about genre and audience. I know, I know, others
have thought about it more than me and many good folks at CCCC and C&W will
complicate matters with their presentations on this subject. But it’s with me
now because I’m devising this new blog–without an explicit plan.

The other blog, the one for EN106 this spring, is more clearly in-line with
a purpose I can articulate: pedagogical utility. I understand its aims and ambitions.
I know how it will be used to fray the boundaries of the course, to disarm the
usual restrictions on space and time in f2f courses, and to get students to
write. Audience? Initially, that’s easy. Initially, it will be the students
in the course and me, followed by something more, maybe.

I took time out this morning to read the rant of a
blog-hating student at Indiana State
. Mike posted the link at vitia.org.
It’s not easy to understand why the ISU student is so angry about blogging.
I’ve visited blogs that I didn’t find inviting or interesting, but it didn’t
make me mad. It’s kind of like being invited to dinner in a house with brown
shag carpeting…on the walls. As a guest, it’s not decorous to spout off about
the host’s poor taste. Could be that the medium convolutes manners, as in shared
senses of decency.

Gotta get to work. Course-prepping and other admin stuff. Ack!