Innovative ideas are built upon earlier ideas that have developed in an iterative process to generate new perspectives. What we call original thinking is often inspired by connectivity with others and builds on what has come before. For example:
- The epigraph quoted above is ascribed to Sir Isaac Newton. The underlying idea, however, traces back to Bernard of Chartres—a 12th Century monk—and arguably goes back even farther. Newton’s popular stature drew the attention of wider audiences when scholars found that quote in his letters.
- Contemporary authors and artists leverage the elements rooted in ancient cultural cornerstones like the Hebrew Tanakh, Christian Bible, and Islamic Qu’ran; the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer; the Mahabharata and Ramayana; the works of Confucius; and the Icelandic Sagas to tell new stories that resonate with readers.
- The research results from the Hubble Space Telescope informed the questions scientists want to learn from the new James Webb Space Telescope. Considering science more broadly, a practice common to variations of the scientific method is publishing results so that others can both verify and then use the findings to further build human knowledge.
Original thinking is at the heart of human progress. In addition to making contributions to literature, art, science, and technology, original thinking is also core to modern business. Employers want to hire original thinkers to solve problems and create new products and solutions. Using what has come before to develop something new is at the heart of successful innovation and a valuable skill in the workforce.
The Myth of the Lone Genius
There is a popular myth that major discoveries are made by a lone genius or solitary inventor. If this myth were true, there would be no need to teach students how to research, collaborate, and document their findings appropriately. In fact, this process includes skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and communication, that are extremely valuable for college and workforce readiness.
Some famous examples of reputed lone geniuses whose original contributions were built upon the prior work of others include:
- Steve Jobs and the early Apple team drew concepts for the Macintosh computer from XEROX PARC, Stanford Research Institute, and researchers like Alan Kay, Adele Goldberg, and Douglas Englebart.
- Thomas Edison was a prodigious inventor and entrepreneur, but he rarely created something out of nothing. His talent was taking pre-existing ideas — like the light bulb — and modifying them to work better or serve a new purpose.
- William Shakespeare based many of his history plays on Holinshed’s Chronicles, first published in 1577, and drew further inspiration from theater traditions like commedia dell’arte.
The fact that these geniuses collaborated with others or interacted with the ideas of others does not mean they’re not geniuses. Building on the work of others, they created something original and new.
When educators explore with students how original thinking really happens and teach them to cite sources appropriately, we cultivate academic integrity and empower students to do their best original work.
Citations are a visible means of recognizing and acknowledging academic integrity. When we as educators strive to instill a love of learning, it’s impossible to ignore that our voices are part of a continuum. We encourage student writers to fill in those gaps where we see missed opportunities, but if we are honest, sometimes someone else has already said it so well that anything other than an acknowledgement of their contribution is essentially theft.
The Value of Academic Integrity
When the words and ideas of others are used without recognizing connections and giving proper credit, it’s plagiarism. When you incorporate the ideas of others with proper citation into something new, you’re innovating and thinking originally. Using citations appropriately makes student writing stronger and contributes to research methods in a way that strengthens the research community. The International Center for Academic Integrity defines academic integrity as commitment to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. High school students learn these values through practice and teacher guidance.
Educators want to use tools that nurture self-directed learning and original thinking so students can embrace new learning opportunities. Turnitin Draft Coach™ is a digital tool that encourages students to improve their academic writing and research skills by providing instant feedback and guidance when they are writing and creating original work. Draft Coach, a feature of Turnitin Feedback Studio™, helps students find missing sources and citations that improves their writing before submission—upgrading their writing skills for academic and career success.
Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built upon a collection of existing parts.
Turnitin is a global company dedicated to ensuring the integrity of education and meaningfully improving learning outcomes. For more than 20 years, Turnitin has partnered with educational institutions to promote honesty, consistency, and fairness across all subject areas and assessment types. Turnitin products are used by educational institutions and certification and licensing programs to uphold integrity and increase learning performance, and by students and professionals to do their best, original work: www.turnitin.com
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