Feedback on Student Writing and Using Mimesis to Teach Plagiarism

thumbs upInstructors, especially those who do not teach writing as a subject, often struggle when it comes to making suggestions to students about what they need to do to improve their writing. I saw a survey done by Turnitin.com of 2400 students in bachelor or graduate programs that asked what types of feedback they felt were most effective and what types of feedback they received most regularly.

The results can either be seen as encouraging or inconclusive. All types of feedback were seen by over half of the students as being either very or extremely effective. Even the lowest response, for general praise or encouragement, got a 56% positive response. 

The responses to the types of feedback were more interesting. 68% said that they received general comments regularly while only 36% said they received examples regularly. Suggestions for improvement, the type of feedback rated most effective by students, was only seen regularly by 58% of students.

It is also interesting that across every category students rated feedback as being more effective than educators rated it. That lack of belief in feedback is certainly connected to the students in the majority saying that they didn’t regularly receive any feedback at all.

So the concern here for teachers is not as much what type of feedback they give, but whether they are giving enough feedback.

During the years that I directed a writing program, it was made clear to me that, just like teachers in all the lower grades, professors dreaded having to decide and deal with writing that you believe it is plagiarized. Of course, that is why Turnitin.com has become a successful company.They suggested in a blog post a very unusual approach to teaching about plagiarism. Have students copy. Intentionally. 

copying the masters

Mimesis refers to the ability to copy. Mimicry is the practice of imitating. We often encourage students to mimic as a way of learning. We discourage students from copying. We should make the distinction clear to students.

I spent a few years on an academic integrity committee at a university. One of the most sensitive issues that came up in those meetings was about the perceived cultural differences when it came to imitating or copying by students. 

The university has large numbers of international students, most in STEM fields, and many of them have their greatest academic difficulties with academic writing. The Turnitin.com post says that "To many educators, there’s a belief that students in eastern countries learn through rote memorization and copying while those in western countries focus more or original work and creative thought. Though the stereotype is obviously not the complete truth, there are cultural differences between educational approaches in countries with an eastern cultural background and those with a western approach."

They point to research by Anita Lundberg who teaches for Australia's James Cook University at a satellite school in Singapore. Lundberg, a cultural anthropologist studying ethnography, the study of customs and cultures, says that the biggest lesson learned is that copying and imitation is a key part of the learning experience in all cultures and in nearly all areas. Mimesis can be found in all fields including writing and art, where great masters often start mimicking the works of those who came before.

With writing, it is a good idea to give students model papers for the students to work from and even mimic. Separate mimesis from plagiarism. Teach referencing and citation skills.


Back to School at Khan Academy

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If you are a K-12 teacher planning for back-to-school, it would be worth looking at Khan Academy. It has become more than just a place to send students to watch tutorial videos - though that is still a good application. Since they have set up dashboards and made it easier for you to enroll your students in a virtual "class" on their site, the use of the tutorials is far easier to control and monitor.

For example, combat the summer slump by having your students refresh their math skills with rigorous math practice on Khan Academy. Setting up a class is quite easy.

Go to https://www.khanacademy.org to sign up or login to set up your class.


Making More Makers



I suppose I was a "do-it-yourselfer" and a "maker" in some ways long before those terms took on new meanings. But the Maker Movement is a subculture that is a lot less "sub-" than it was a few years ago.

Back in the 1970s, when the big computers became available as personal computers (PC), it started a subculture of DIY types who were building their own computers and writing their own software. The maker movement definitely has roots in that and the hacker (in the good guy, white hat, sense of the word) movement.

In 2005, Dale Dougherty launched Make magazine to serve a community that was growing and the following year they launched Maker Faire.

Though makerspaces have varying names attached to them, they attract those DIYers who want to build something rather than just buy it. While hacker culture which is focused on software rather than the physical objects,both groups share an interest in building new creations as well as hacking at existing ones and making them something new.

A makerspace in a school setting may have a more obvious educational purposes and intentions, but all of these spaces foster an informal way of using and learning practical skills and applying them to design. 

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Two events that I am involved in this month use the maker approach to informal learning.

 

New Jersey Makers Day runs two days this year - March 18 and 19 - so that it can be marked both in schools (on Friday) and have a school audience in community spaces such as libraries on Saturday. There are many activities planned across that state in schools, libraries and other makerspaces. Last year, there were over 15,000 individual attendees at 150 participating sites, including libraries, museums, schools, commercial makerspaces, and AC Moore stores that were spread across all 21 counties of New Jersey. There is probably something similar going on where you live.

As this movement grows, companies and makers selling their creations has become a commercial segment that is also growing. This includes big companies that sell hardware like 3D printers and supplies to the individual selling custom items on a much smaller scale. Both are "shaping the future of our economy."



The NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase on March 23, 2016 at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ is focusing on STEAM - that's STEM with the needed addition of the Arts, including language arts and the digital humanities.

I am doing one of the presentations along with Emily Witkowski (Maplewood Public Library) and Danielle Mirliss (Seton Hall University) titled "The Maker Movement Connects STEAM Across New Jersey." The maker movement really fits well with the STEAM (and STEM) approach to learning. 



Maker Movement Infographic