Friday, June 8, 2012

Plagiarism - how much of an issue is it in post-secondary institutions?

When we talk about plagiarism in post-secondary institutions, we're usually talking about students plagiarising: quoting without attribution, "lifting" sections of text from online publications, textbooks, or other materials, or simply referencing materials incorrectly. We can fix that with education. But what if the instructor or subject matter expert (SME) plagiarises? What can we do about that? 

I think it's more than a matter of ethics - in many cases, I don't believe that SMEs realize that information found on the web can't be copied into their lesson plans without attribution - even if no copyright notice is visible. 

The familiar © symbol means that all rights are reserved by the author, but for many of us, that restriction is too harsh (we want to share our creations!). Enter the Creative Commons. With a Creative Commons licence, we can determine how our works are used and distributed. Licences range from the least restrictive CC BY - which allows users to pretty much do as they wish with our works - so long as they cite us as the original author, to the most restrictive CC BY NC ND, which means users can download and share our work but not modify it.

Back to our dilemma with the SMEs. When instructors and SMEs worked only in brick and mortar classrooms, they commonly shared articles, newspapers and such with their classes. In a digital world, where such items have to be scanned or copied and posted to an online site, copyright concerns are far more visible. And it's not just text. Images and video may also be copy protected. Locating them through an online search does not guarantee that the items are 'free' for you to use. You have to ensure that every resource you find is correctly attributed and that the original owner has granted permission for you to use it. 

A final thought: Many instructors use Youtube or TED videos to illustrate a point, or construct slide shows with lots of cool images, quotes and the like. Before you show that video remember to check that the author has given her permission and that you give proper credit. I recently saw a note in an online forum - students were chuckling about the fact that their instructor had just shown them a video about plagiarism; a video, it turns out, that the instructors didn't properly source or credit...

No comments: