Classroom Technology Opinion

Throwback Thursday: Plagiarism vs. Integrity

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 31, 2014 4 min read
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Once the photocopy machine was introduced into schools, it opened doors to a bigger world. Photocopying was clean and fast; it didn’t take as much preparation time. So, teachers quickly found themselves photocopying part of a book, a poem, a map, a piece of music or a math worksheet. Licensing agreements with publishers, the statements in the beginning of each book, and copyright laws and fair use guidelines often were not on the radar of those eager educators photocopying the work of others. The potential for plagiarism increased.

The advent of the Internet as a resource for research and information took us further down the path in which now, students as well as their teachers, can easily and unintentionally copy information belonging to another. The remarkable resource of “cut and paste” began the next wave of unintended plagiarism. Although software that can detect plagiarism now abounds in the marketplace, it should not stand alone as the protector against plagiarism. Knowledge and ethical decisions should be our first defense. Prevention is key.

Educating About What Is “Yours” and What Is “Mine” Begins in Kindergarten...
...and so should the education about copyright laws. How much professional development has been offered to our teachers on copyright law? Often left to the pervue of the librarian, this information, as all else in our schools, needs to come out of its silo and be integrated into all of our classrooms. Understanding copyright and fair use is something that arises when we write but has relevance in so many other aspects of our lives. Students, teachers, and building and district leaders should be alert about these issues. It is a matter of character.

Plagiarism’s Potential For Harm
A recent article in the NY Times reported that Senator John Walsh, reported that a “decorated veteran of the Iraq war and former adjutant general of his state’s National Guard” had plagiarized part of his master’s thesis. From the article:

An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

Later in the article they report about others who may have plagiarized. Senator Rand Paul “was found last year to have presented the work of others as his own in a newspaper opinion article, a book and speeches.” And Vice President Joseph Biden “had used language similar to that of the British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock in campaign speeches without attribution.”

Being #tbt, we looked back into the EdWeek archives and found that in 1982:

Pennsylvania Commissioner of Basic Education Ronald Lewis, who declined a cabinet post in New Jersey after being accused of plagiarism, resigned under fire last week. New allegations that Mr. Lewis also copied without attribution an article that appeared under his byline in a federal-government publication in April, apparently prompted Mr. Lewis’s decision.

Plagiarism Is Certainly Not a New Phenomenon
We wonder if these were acts of deliberate plagiarism, or are unfortunate cases of a lack of knowledge about or lack of respect for copyright laws. More likely the latter (at least we hope so). In our schools, we have a responsibility to elevate the value of copyright and fair use, and align it with our value for integrity and respect for ownership.

Copyright and fair use guidelines are clear and quite accessible on the Internet. Technology & Learning offers a two page guide that is clear and can be posted in classrooms, libraries and above all photocopying machines. EducationWorld.com offers a five part series, giving even more detail. Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) the umbrella under which Education Week resides, as other online and print publications do, has their copyright policy clearly posted online. Author and educator Joyce Valenza’s blog post entitled Fair Use in Libraries: The Infographic even offers a poster for libraries. Educational Technology expert Kathy Schrock developed a guide filled with resources that can be used to guide teachers and leaders through the process. And, there are many more that can be found with a simple Google search.

An Important Decision Point Rests Here
We have the freedom to use the work of others in our own work, as long as the appropriate attributions are given. Not doing so is the equivalent of stealing. Rules for attribution and reasons for their existence are rooted in honesty, integrity, and respect for others. We need to demonstrate our understanding of copyright in everything we present in classrooms, memos, and letters as an act of integrity. We have the opportunity to lead of honestly and with integrity by teaching these values, from the very beginning in Kindergarten. Then, perhaps we will not be in the position in which students have received photocopies and the work of others, without attribution, while being taught that their doing so is a punishable act. There is no integrity in that.

On this #tbt, we take a look back and a look forward. This issue isn’t new...nor do we believe it will ever become an archaic consideration. Technology is making the work of others increasingly available. How we model and teach copyright and fair use rules matters. Integrated implementation of teaching these values provides the underpinning for everything else we do.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.