Critical Thinking and Preventing Student Copying


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  • Dr. McGregor spent several months observing each of two groups of eleventh grade students, from both the United States and Canada, doing research and writing papers. She also conducted interviews with these students, questioning them on their motivations, understanding and process for conducting research. She believed “Unintentional Plagiarism” occurred because students did not understand how to paraphrase or did not realize that they were truly plagiarizing. In the first set of students, a great deal of plagiarism occurred, but in the second set the amount of plagiarism was significantly reduced. Although plagiarism was decreased, it was unclear whether the overall outcome was good or bad for the students involved. Plagiarism decreased as a result of numerous changes to the assignment. However, some of these changes increased the students’ frustration and reduced their enjoyment with the library research project. Changes included requiring the students to copy all material from their sources word-for-word onto note cards (this was required so students would know their teachers would see their primary sources as well). Moreover, students were told they must complete the assignment by following a very rigidly structured outline. And students were frustrated by long wait times for help from teachers and the media specialist, and a lack of computer lab resources to write their final reports. The reduction in enjoyment may also coincide with a decrease in process-orientation (which is related to intrinsic satisfaction with doing the project itself). Therefore, over time it is even possible that these methods may lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation for the learning process and student process-orientation. This decrease in process orientation (since process orientation tends to reduce plagiarism) could actually offset the initial drop in plagiarism.
  • The nine-year-old children in this study were asked to write reports on African animals. Because of their young age, many students had no knowledge of the animals about which they were writing. For one student struggling with mathematics, an attempt to paraphrase an elephant’s pregnancy lasting 21 months was expressed as, “Elephant babies are in their mothers stomach for 4 whole years.” Despite their lack of prior knowledge, the third graders in this study showed a strong process orientation, which introduces two very important concepts used heavily in Dr. McGregor’s research. The children in this study showed a process orientation when they expressed enjoyment from working in groups, using computers and reading books and magazines about African animals. Evidence of the pupils’ process orientation also came from their general disinterest in whether or how the project would be graded, and also in little outright plagiarism occurring (the majority of finished reports contained less than 15% copied material). Most of the papers were also written entirely in the children’s own words, showing that they’d written from their own understandings of what they had read. In comparison to Dr. McGregor’s previous study of eleventh grade students, the younger children in the Washington State school were notably more process-oriented and less product-oriented than the eleventh graders. However, the older students did use citations, which were entirely absent from the younger children’s papers. This lack of citations is a good example of “unintentional plagiarism.” And although they more frequently copied, when the older students did paraphrase, they did so with more sophisticated methods than the younger children could. Students’ responses to questions like “What is a research project?” were also surprisingly very similar whether answered by third or eleventh graders.
  • Current research on student plagarism has studied both how plagarism can be avoided and its consequences to student learning. The link between critical thinking, school policies that promote critical thinking (such as flexible library schedules), and plagarism is continually examined by her work. Plagarism both undermines critical thinking and is propagated by a lack of critical thinking. If critical thinking is more likely from a process-orientation than a product-orientation, then those students who think critically about an assignment are less likely to plaigiarize. Alternatively, students who plagiarize are less likely to think critically about their papers. Although research has not been able to demonstrate such a clear mathematical formula, for descriptive purposes only, it is possible to explain the phenomenon as: Critical Thinking [is inversely proportional to] Occurance of Plagarism . More research into Dr. McGregor’s theories would be necessary to definitively show the following conclusions, though they are certainly implied by her work. If collaboration between the school librarian and teachers in promoting process orientation for assignments is added to the descriptive equation, then, it is possible to say that Effective School Media Specialist collaboration with teachers [is proportional to] Process Orientation in Students And if Process Orientation [is proportional to] Critical Thinking in Students Then the conclusion could be drawn that Effective School Media Specialist collaboration with teachers [is inversely proportional to] Student Plagiarism (and therefore, also a similar increase in critical thinking when such collaboration occurs). While these formulas are far from proven quantitatively, they describe an important relationship between critical thinking and plagiarism, espoused and supported by Dr. McGregor’s research.
  • The Smart Information Use project studied four Australian secondary schools: an all-girls Catholic school, a coeducational government school, and two other independent non-government schools (one boys-only and the other coeducational). Students’ perspectives on plagiarism, as well as finding and using information were examined. The project yielded both qualitative as well as limited but highly significant quantitative results. Analyzing the most extreme levels of plagiarism found, students who plagiarized the vast majority of their papers (over 80%) were found to possess highly product-oriented attitudes toward their research projects. Students who plagiarized the least (less than 3% of their paper not cited or paraphrased) were found to have highly process-oriented perspectives on their research. Moreover, students who largely plagiarized their papers had very little retention of the material in their paper. One of two students discussed only remembered a very prominent visual image used in her paper, while another did not remember anything about his topic. Although the sample size was small and more quantitative evidence would be needed to support this relationship between critical thinking, retention and plagiarism, the results do demonstrate Dr. McGregor’s theories.
  • Of the students who plagiarized, none of the students understood how to cite references within their papers ( McGregor & Williamson, 2005). Students were also questioned about the credibility of their sources. One stated, which I found rather funny, “I think there's a thing that shows you down the bottom of the website whether it's a locked website or whether someone can tamper with the information or something like that.” Most students, however, believed that they would know if a website were untruthful, even though they had no idea how to evaluate them. They also felt they could trust government resources and nonfiction books without question.
  • If retention almost entirely does not occur when plagiarizing, and if process-orientation is needed for critical thinking to occur, then it is essential for students’ learning that students cannot easily use sites such as these to fulfill their research assignments. It is likely impossible for any single teacher to scrutinize all possible sources from which a student can plagiarize a typical research assignment. Therefore, it is now necessary for teachers to be even more creative, in light of these new technologies and websites, and to change their assignments on a regular basis. Plagiarism has moved from copying the Encyclopedia Britannica to a process much more sophisticated and perhaps difficult to manage or identify. From Dr. McGregor’s article, “Can we prevent copying? Transforming Scribes into Thinkers, “ she lists a series of “Model Paper” websites, where students can find papers on topics frequently used by teachers in various disciplines. I expected the first website on Dr. McGregor’s list, School Sucks , to be a crude and subversive website. I was surprised to find otherwise. While it is subversive to its core, subtitled “Download Your Workload,” it is surprisingly technologically sound. It is also very professionally and conservatively designed. It boasts over 100,000 essays and a search engine that can scan each for keywords in title and text. It allows students not only to upload essays but even to simply copy and paste them into their sophisticated interface. Perhaps most surprising, and in my opinion ironic, is that School Sucks offers a “scholarship” worth $300, and runners up are awarded certificates for “best essay” on the site. I find the idea rather funny of winning high school students listing the “School Sucks Scholarship” or the “Best Submission to School Sucks Award” on a college application. The façade of legitimacy likely offers hesitant students more comfort in plagiarizing their papers using this site. When looking for second website on Dr. McGregor’s list, The Paper Store , I first accidentally typed, and found an actual online store that sells paper. is far less a sophisticated or professionally designed site. When I tried viewing their FAQ’s, my home virusscanning software identified the page as a Phishing site and blocked it for security threats posed by it. This site does not offer a free service like School Sucks , but provides a pay service for students interested in buying term papers from a professional company. With The Paper Store , the student may not actually be copying a paper already written but could purchase (at a premium rate) an original paper written on demand to satisfy a course requirement. A-1 Term Paper Academic and Business Research Source is very similar to The Paper Store in its purpose. The Paper Store, however, offers pre-written papers for a fee and custom papers at a premium. A-1 Term Paper Academic and Business Research Source only offers custom-written papers. It appears that a custom-written paper, though costly for a student to purchase, would be much more difficult for a teacher to identify as a cheat. Absolutely Free Online Essays was thankfully no longer online. It appears the bad guys fail sometimes after all. However, The Evil House of Cheat was alive and prospering. The Evil House of Cheat offers a monthly access fee, which entitles the user to search and download their over 100,000 essays. However, the The Evil House of Cheat does provide a disclaimer to discourage cheating. I found this quite interesting, especially given that the site’s name is The Evil House of Cheat, after all: “ About cheating: If you cheat, you are on your own. We will not help you, nor will we say that the essay you used, was yours. Sorry. What we do hope , is that you will use the essays to get inspired, and if you find an essay which is perfect, then use it. Quote it as a source - this is completely acceptable, and there is no way you can get in trouble for it. Consider this a library as any other.”
  • By placing the “cheating” websites and the “critical thinking” sites side-by-side, it is easy to see the how the Internet can be simultaneously a great aid to the educational system and also a hindrance for student learning. It is important for educators to stay current with these websites and technologies, so that their classes are always utilizing the best and avoiding the worst that the Internet has to offer. Sadly, the “cheating” websites have all become even more popular and successful since Dr. McGregor published her article, and the critical thinking websites have largely gone either without updates or have gone offline. While this is unfortunate, it explains the challenge that teachers and librarians have in maintaining interest in media literacy and critical thinking skills. In the above list, the first two sites are from Dr. McGregor’s original list and have appeared to have some degree of staying power (McGregor, 1997) . The last two (New Tools Workshop and Media Literacy Clearinghouse), I have added as examples of newer resources that have arrived on the web to replace Dr. McGregor’s former choices. The Just Think foundation creates and provides in-school, after-school and online programs for kids to learn about media literacy. Their programs, since 1995, have focused on children and teenagers ages 8-18 in under-resourced and low-income communities. Their curricula and the Youtube videos they have produced are available through their website. Jamie McKenzie’s website offers his personally created lesson plans and materials for implementing technology and media literacy in the classroom. He instructs both parents and teachers how media should be understood and taught to youth. The Center for Media Literacy The New Tools Workshop, from Dr. Joyce Valencia, provides an enormity of resources for students and teachers to both understand and take advantage of new media for learning. And Media Literacy Clearinghouse has been called "a great starting point for K-12 educators" by School Library Journal in August 2004. There, Frank W. Baker provides a wealth of information about all kinds of media literacy, from understanding Facebook to Art History.
  • Critical Thinking and Preventing Student Copying

    1. 1. Student Research Projects, Critical Thinking, & the Prevention of Copying Presented by: David Eisenberg
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>This presentation will discuss research on critical thinking, research projects, and the prevention of student copying in schools. </li></ul><ul><li>It will demonstrate the application to today’s school systems and how her theories interact with modern Internet technology. </li></ul><ul><li>Implications of her research for guided inquiry and student research projects will then be discussed. </li></ul>
    3. 3. Student Research: Productive or Counterproductive? <ul><li>Dr. McGregor led two studies with high school students to answer the following questions ( McGregor, 1996). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are student research assignments as productive as we hope? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are there elements of the assignment that might be counterproductive, achieving results that we never intended? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Students show Product Orientation when their goals in research are to produce the end product and obtain a grade. A product orientation is, therefore, a very extrinsic goal in performing research and in learning. </li></ul><ul><li>A Process Orientation , on the other hand, occurs when a student wishes to learn material and gains intrinsic satisfaction simply from that learning process. </li></ul>Dr. McGregor developed the term “unintentional plagiarism” during the analysis of these studies, to describe when her students would copy from sources but without any intention of cheating.
    4. 4. Treasure Hunt or Torture <ul><li>In January 1999, researchers conducted a study of 26 third grade students in Washington State, which sought answers to the following questions ( Streitenberger & McGregor, 1999): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What do young children learn from a research assignment? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What thinking skills do students use during each phase of a research project? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Does plagiarism occur when students are process-oriented, or only when they are product-oriented? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Will young students be process-oriented or product-oriented? </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Plagarism <ul><li>Do children who plagarize actually learn from their copied assignments? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the difference between product-orientation and process-orientation when students work on research projects? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we prevent plagarism? </li></ul>
    6. 6. Smart Information Use: The Link between Good Practice & the Avoidance of Plagarism <ul><li>A multiple-school study of students’ understandings of plagarism demonstrated the consequences of plagiarism to critical thinking, and teaching methods to avoid plagiarism ( Williamson et al., 2007) </li></ul>
    7. 7. Qualitative Results <ul><li>As students in Smart Information Use project were interviewed, their responses were consistently eye-opening and enlightening. Their understandings of the research process and of plagarism gives insight into the development of critical thinking and information literacy. </li></ul><ul><li>Students’ information seeking preferences were examined alongside their abilities and likelihood to plagiarize. </li></ul><ul><li>Students who plagiarized generally stated that they either did not believe citation was necessary or did not understand how to properly paraphrase or cite ( McGregor & Williamson, 2005) </li></ul>
    8. 8. “ Model Paper “ Websites Sample &quot;Model&quot; Paper Sites ( McGregor, 1999)  School Sucks The Paper Store A-1 Term Paper Academic and Business Research Source Absolutely Free Online Essays The Evil House of Cheat
    9. 9. The Internet: Its effect on Critical Thinking (McGregor, 1997) <ul><li>While Internet media has the potential for providing suspect information to young student researchers, Internet research also provides a great opportunity for students to learn critical thinking skills. </li></ul><ul><li>The very act of evaluating websites effectively for reliability and credibility requires and teaches critical thinking skills. </li></ul>
    10. 10. Websites to help improve critical thinking: Critical Thinking Websites Just Think Foundation From Now On http:// / New Tools Workshop Media Literacy Clearinghouse
    11. 11. Conclusions <ul><li>Research has demonstrated an inverse relationship between critical thinking and plagiarism . </li></ul><ul><li>Critical thinking has become even more important in light of new Internet technologies that require evaluation and new media literacies. </li></ul><ul><li>Plagiarism has become faster and easier for students to find online. Research shows that when students plagiarize, they are less likely to learn the material they have copied. </li></ul>
    12. 12. References <ul><li>A-1 Term Paper Academic and Business Research Source (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, F. Media Literacy Clearinghouse. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from http:// </li></ul><ul><li>Hopkins, D. M., & Zweizig, D. L. (1999). The united states national library power school program: Research evaluation and implications for professional development and library education. 10. </li></ul><ul><li>Just Think Foundation. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. (1999).  Can we prevent copying? Transforming scribes into thinkers.  ISIS’99 Virtual Conference, Charles Sturt University, July, 1999.  </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. (2006) Flexible Scheduling: Implementing an Innovation.  School Library Media Research  9. [Available at ] </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. (2007). Joy McGregor. Retrieved 11/03, 2009, from http:// . </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. (1996). Student research: Productive or counter-productive? ERIC, ED414906. </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. (1997). The Internet: Boon or bane to critical thinking. ITEC Virtual Conference, Australian School Library Association, April, 1997. Available at, http:// </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. & Hay, L. (2006). Research in teacher librarianship: Proceedings from the Centre for Studies in Teacher Librarianship Research Conference, Canberra, Australia 9-10 April 2005. Available at http:// . McGregor, J. (1999). Teaching the research process: Helping students become lifelong learners. NASSP Bulletin, 83 (605), 27-34. </li></ul><ul><li>McGregor, J. H., & Williamson, K. (2005). Appropriate use of information at the secondary school level: Understanding and avoiding plagiarism. Library & Information Science Research (07408188), 27 (4), 496-512. </li></ul><ul><li>McKenzie, J. From Now On. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from http:// / </li></ul><ul><li>Streitenberger, D., & McGregor, J. (1999). Treasure hunt or torture: Student's perspectives on research projects. 11. </li></ul><ul><li>School Sucks. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from http:// </li></ul><ul><li>The Evil House of Cheat (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from </li></ul><ul><li>The Paper Store. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from </li></ul><ul><li>Valencia, J. New Tools Workshop. (2009). Retrieved 11/10, 2009, from http:// </li></ul><ul><li>Williamson, K., & McGregor, J. (2006). Information seeking in context (ISIC) conference, university of technology sydney, 19-21 july 2006 Australian Library & Information Association. </li></ul><ul><li>Williamson, K., & McGregor, J. (2006). Reviews. Library & Information Science Research (07408188), 28 (3), 467-468. </li></ul><ul><li>Williamson, K., McGregor, J., Archibald, A., & Sullivan, J. (2007). Information seeking and use by secondary students: The link between good practice and the avoidance of plagiarism. School Library Media Research, 10, 26. </li></ul>