Saturday, October 19, 2019

Preventing Plagiarism and Thanking Past-Rachel

This week has been a bit more exciting than expected. It was a shortened week for classes because we had a faculty assessment workday on Tuesday. Though, of course, that didn't mean the week was shortened for actual work for faculty (since we had a full day of meetings and assigned work). Personally, I also had a few surprise tasks added to my list this week and one of those was, unfortunately, a multi-student case (cases) of plagiarism.


Plagiarism monitoring is tough in an online class. On the one hand, almost everything they submit is written and I rarely get to have a live conversation with students. I can't call on them in class and I can't make them write their responses when I'm around. So it is difficult to know if they are working together or getting help with their writing (or borrowing it wholesale from somewhere else).

...and when I go to attribute this meme I realize it came from Pinterest where it is nearly impossible to reliably find sources!

On the other hand, the content is new to them and they naturally must read or watch content from the textbook, videos, my lessons, or other sources before formulating their responses. They must use source information at some level to prepare their answers. Hopefully they read and understand the content some time before taking the quizzes and tests, but that isn't always the case.

Add to this the fact that I usually have lots of students who are relatively new to college and/or to online classes. They don't always know or understand why I am asking for answers "in your own words" and why I don't want them to search for the answers as they go. In fact, I am aware of classes where the tests are open-book and lack a time limit, apparently for the purpose of allowing students to research answers as they progress through the test.

Why they Plagiarize

This week's plagiarism issue in my class covers several overlapping issues: content knowledge, confidence, laziness, writing experience, reading and understanding the directions, time constraints, and probably other issues I haven't considered. Most of the examples of plagiarism happened in tests and quizzes where I clearly direct the students to write answers in their own words. These same students have a paper due next week, so it's possible I will see plagiarism issues there, too. However, I have some scaffolding assignments that are designed to give them practice using source information correctly in formal writing. They also are required to use and cite sources in this paper.

Intentional Academic Dishonesty

In the quizzes and tests, I think I've been fairly clear that quoting or paraphrasing from a source is not allowed. Some of the instances of quiz plagiarism have been where the student copied several sequential sentences from Wikipedia or a similar source and plopped it into the answer field with little regard to whether it actually answers the question. This situation is fairly easy to assess, even if it makes me mad. I get annoyed because, not only have they copied from a source, which I have expressly forbidden, but they haven't even copied something that answers the question! They somehow managed to miss the point twice in one question.

Recognizing Accidental or Unintentional Plagiarism

Another plagiarism issue is a lot more difficult to address. This is the situation where a student has answered the question in just one or two sentences, but something about the phrasing catches my attention and I go looking for the source. Usually when this happens a student has copied a fairly straightforward sentence or has interspersed several distinctive phrases with their own writing. Student also sometimes will copy an entire sentence, but will substitute in synonyms in an attempt to make it their own.

I generally think these students don't intent to plagiarize. In fact, they will often tell me that they didn't. The problem here, assuming I take them at their word, is that intentional or not, they have presented someone else words and phrasing as their own. Do they deserve to be punished, penalized or reprimanded or do they need to be educated?

When I catch this "unintentional plagiarism," it's often because they've either maintained some unusual or distinctive phrasing or the word or phrase they've substituted doesn't quite fit the original sentence. With some regularity, I check their phrasing by copy/pasting their answer into Google. Google generally does the work for me and up pops a source with that same phrasing. Sometimes I check a student's writing and Google gives me nothing, leading me to assume that the unusual phrasing is just an idiosyncrasy of the student's "voice."  Once the quarter is underway, I often get a feel for how the students write and if any of them are likely to be outliers in their word choice or phrasing.

My approach isn't infallible and certainly leaves out students who use sources I can't quickly Google or students who rely on using someone else to write for them. (Is that actually a thing? I hear rumors about it, but I'm not convinced it works for every type of class.)

Addressing Plagiarism

The trouble with the second type of plagiarism, from a grading perspective, is that I tend to assume it is unintentional, so I want my response to focus more on educating the students on why it's a problem and how to avoid it in the future, rather than on catching and reprimanding the students who have done it. I say this education is a problem, simply because it takes more work to address the issue if I think it has resulted from a genuine lack of understanding.

image comes from:

I generally try to explain to students why plagiarism is a problem. They sometimes think that if they didn't "mean it" then it shouldn't be a problem. I try to explain that the reason I have them take quizzes or submit writing is so that they can demonstrate what they understand. If the entire class were assessed based on multiple choice questions, grading would be much easier, but I'd also have much less confidence that students were actually learning the content.

Live vs Online Assessments

In a live class, I generally have fewer formal assessments (quizzes and tests), but that's because in a live class there are lots of informal assessments. In a live class I can call on students, ask students to present information in groups, and ask students to work together or alone to write or draw or illustrate a concept.  I can also ask them to write their answers to a question right then in class. They get a bit of time, then we discuss the question and answers as a group. In this case, I might not grade or collect individual answers, but peer pressure and the classroom atmosphere generally guarantees that everyone does write an answer and everyone does find out the correct answer.

Because the informal assessments are done in class with books closed, students cannot plagiarize. They won't have memorized the phrasing from a source. They won't have read the source seconds before attempting to write an answer. But online students sometimes do just this. They read the question in the quiz, open up another window or tab and ask the internet for help. They can also have their book open (something I discourage but can't prevent in unproctored quizzes), but I encounter instances of book plagiarism much less often than internet plagiarism.

How Unintentional Plagiarism Happens

When the students look for the answer online, they might simply copy/paste the answer from the source. This is the easiest plagiarism to discover since the source is generally not answering the exactly question I've asked. But, if I believe my students (and I generally do), they think they are actually putting the answer into their own words.

The trouble is, I believe, that the students read the source, understand that the source has explained the issue well, and then immediately try to put it in their own words. Unsurprisingly, a student's "own words" sound less authoritative and less correct (to the student) than the words and phrasing used by the source. So they change a few words, but basically use the same language as the source.

I believe that these students may honestly think they are phrasing their answer, but the source's phrasing is still fresh in their minds and it comes out their fingertips onto the keyboard. If the student had read the answer yesterday and understood it then, the content would have stayed in their minds, but the phrasing wouldn't have. Just like we can remember the plot of a movie, but generally don't memorize the lines the first time we see it, the students the next day will have retained the content, but not the language.

Addressing Plagiarism in Class

I try to explain this distinction to students. I also try to make them understand how serious the issue is. Plagiarism means that you are presenting someone else's writing as your own. Whether you do this intentionally or not, you've still done something that is not allowed. The balance between educating them and making it clear that this is not okay is a tricky one to manage, especially because I can't necessarily tell from my office if a student understands the issue and chooses to copy/paste an answer or if a student genuinely doesn't understand what they've done wrong.

This week, because there has been a rash of these plagiarism issues, I have turned the notes and reminders and reprimands to some students into a quiz question for all students. Next week, one of their quizzes will contain a question that asks them to identify the one real paraphrase in a group that contains a legal quote, an illegal unacknowledged quote (copy/paste), and a hybrid of language copied from a source with synonyms and student phrasing mixed in.

I like to utilize the automatic feedback in the quizzes, so this one has lots of explanation that pops up for the correct and incorrect answers. I am hopeful that students will really read it with a mind to understanding the issue. Some students will be seeing this kind of explanation for the second or third or fourth time.

Next Time

This quarter has been unusual in the plagiarism front. I've had more instances of plagiarism this week than I usually have in a whole class. But I can't quite tell if there is something going on or if this is just a coincidence. I am fairly sure (though not positive) that some of the plagiarism is the result of an intent to deceive. I am also fairly sure that some of it is unintentional and those students will benefit from education and feedback.

I teach this class or a similar class every quarter, so I plan to integrate the work I've done this week to create a quiz question, examples, and feedback into the class earlier next quarter. Hopefully this will both benefit the students and prevent this trouble in future classes.

Thanks Past-Rachel

The other tasks I alluded to at the start of this long post have taken me away from my office and my online class this week much more than usual. This week's plagiarism stuff has added to that pull away from normal duties. I anticipated that this year would be like that because I have taken on the Union presidency in addition to my full time teaching duties. Though the plagiarism kerfuffle was not how I anticipated being pulled away, I am very thankful that I planned for this.

I keep thinking of a My Little Pony episode that involved time travel. Spike the dragon was eating too much ice cream and indicated that the tummy ache would be future-Spike's problem. Then eventually Spike is future-Spike and he's not too happy with past-Spike.

Past-Rachel spent the past summer updating ALL the due date for her three online classes and cleaning up the structure of the classes so that most things would function fairly automatically. Knowing I wouldn't have lots of time during the year to update the classes (like I normally do), I chose to tackle the dates and assignment structure as a huge project in the summer.

I am now very thankful, unlike Spike the dragon, that past-Rachel spent her time on this project so that current-Rachel doesn't have to spend her evening and weekends catching up. Maybe future-Rachel will get to eat lots of ice cream.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Somebody's Getting A "New" Studio!

My home studio and wheel after Sean took out basically every other object.

My home studio was seriously weird. It had been since the day we first looked at the house. When someone came to visit the house for the first time, I liked to bring them back so they could laugh at the carpet on the walls, the carpet on all three doors, the carpet on the exterior of one door, the carpet on the cabinets doors, and the carpet on every exterior vertical surface of the wheeled shelving unit/counter, including the doors and back. Two different patterns of carpet at that!

The studio after he took out the carpet and walls, too.

But soon the studio itself will no longer be bizarrely attired. Since I can't get in the studio until next summer anyway, I asked my husband if he would rip out all the carpet for me. And that's exactly what he did. And now he's spent the last two and a half weeks ripping out carpet, insulation, windows, and glue, and updating wiring. He started the entire project last year, when he ripped the carpet off the main door. He restored the second door in the spring, and the last one was done over the summer.

Two of the studio doors after the carpet had been removed this summer.

The first big task was to empty the space. I usually have a lot of tools, work, pieces in progress, clay, packing materials and just "stuff" in that space. The space is both where I make work and where I store work related stuff. When I first moved into the room (in 2007) I used my art fair booth furniture as the studio furniture. Since then I've added a wheel, stool, and wedging table, but I've mostly kept the portable art fair furniture and the furniture that came with the room.

The open carpeted door is visible on the far right side of this image.

Under the tables and on top of the shelves I've stored boxes, bubble wrap, etc for packing and shipping work. Since ceramics generally needs to be double boxed for shipping, I've been reluctant to get rid of any boxes, though my husband thinks this is ridiculous. As I've made more and more work, I've stored some of it in the house and some in the studio. Generally, though, the studio stuff is mostly work in progress, something I want to fix or change, or something I want to remind myself of next time I'm working in the studio.

Under the table storage for packing materials and boxes and my daughter's pedestal/table in the foreground.

Over the years, my daughter has taken over more space in the room, too. A low pedestal is basically her work space and she has annexed progressively larger storage spaces in my room for paint, clay projects, and other "art" stuff. In summer the room also tends to collect balls, frisbees, jump ropes and water toys. In the fall it collects leaves, mostly, but in the winter it collects a variety of detritus, including sculpture back from shows that I don't want to put away because it is too cold in the studio.

What the studio sometimes looks like after the winter--I can see boxes that weren't quite unpacked after work came home from a show, a broken prototype gift, a broken child's water toy, and some kid's paints.

Once my husband indicated he really would take on this project, I moved most of the ceramic objects out of the room on my own. I spent a few hours on a Wednesday evening moving stuff, then took a break. I was very surprised, when I came home from work the next day, to find that Sean has moved nearly all the rest of the stuff out of the studio himself. All those bookshelves and books and chairs and clay and tools and sculptures in progress and other stuff is currently jam packed into a couple of basement rooms and cupboard spaces, and other nooks and crannies around the stairway and downstairs. He did decided unilaterally that I didn't need all the boxes and packing materials.

My husband partway through cleaning out the space.

The tables, pedestals, wedging table, and some shelves are now in the trailer (our portable storage shed), or stacked in the back patio. The large beast of a rolling cupboard/cabinet/countertop thing has found a new home in someone else's life. It was useful in that it was sturdy and had drawers and other storage space as well as an easy to clean countertop, but the entire thing was covered in carpet all the way around. 

The backside of the strange carpeted counter/cabinet.
The things is on wheels, though it is so large I can't imagine rolling it around regularly. For a while I thought it was built-in, since the carpet and countertop match the wall and doors and the other built-in countertop. When we pulled it away from the wall, we discovered that even the whole back of this monster is carpeted. The carpeting wraps snugly around the top, bottom, and sides of each of the doors and drawers, evidencing the attention to detail, but strange taste of the previous owner.

The carpeted cabinet was too heavy to take out of the studio without help.

The carpeting is snugly glued over all these surfaces. At first Sean was going to remove the carpet, but as soon as he realized how much work that would entail, we both agreed that it wasn't worth keeping. The thing is a tank, though, solid and quite heavy. It's a decent, if ugly, pieces of furniture. Someone bought it and hopefully whoever has it now appreciates its bizarre utility. 

The walls and carpet after removal.

Basically every step of the process has unearthed more trouble, as, I think, home projects are wont to do. The carpet was glued snugly to both the walls and the cement floor, so the walls themselves had to be ripped out down to the framing. There had been some water damage from the roof years ago, so some of the insulation was moldy. Sean removed all the insulation and is working on the molded area. Both large windows had sealant that had leaked down the inside of the glass, so we removed the windows. The floor glue also had to be removed.

The gluey floor after carpet removal;

Sean spent two days grinding the glue off the floor last weekend. Unfortunately we didn't realized until he'd been going for a while that dust was coming into the house from under the door. By the time we realized, there was a fine layer of dust on every surface in the laundry room, basement hall, kitchen, and dining room and a bit in the living room. I rushed myself and my daughter out of the house, since we weren't wearing respirators, and the next day I washed the entire kitchen and dining room floor on my hands and knees because I didn't trust the vacuum (airborne dust) and the mop didn't clean well.

The freshly cleaned cement floor.

As strange as the two different carpets and the carpeted walls, etc was, this project isn't primarily about looks. Carpet isn't really recommended for a clay studio as the primary safety hazard is clay dust. Clay that ends up on the floor needs to be washed away or it ends up becoming airborne silica dust that can be inhaled and cause lung damage. The irony here is that in trying to make the clay studio safety, we temporarily made the house less safe.

Testing the wiring--and there's a lot of it.

The insulation guy is coming this week, but the wiring has proven to be more of a problem than Sean initially realized. It's another one of those jobs that starts as one thing and then grows and grows. The first thing was moving the outlets from floor level to a more accessible height and switching out old two prong outlets for grounded ones (and usb outlets). This was fairly straightforward and will make the space a lot nicer. It also made us realize how much we'd like more outlets in other parts of the house.

USB outlets because this is the 21st century

The next step was trying to update the porch light to a timer, something Sean been meaning to do. In doing so, he discovered some wiring that needed to be updated and decided to replace the odd low voltage wiring with regular wiring for that room. Overall, the end result is that things are safer and more reasonable in that room. The wiring is safer, the dust prevention will be better, and new windows and insulation will keep the space warmer in winter (maybe I'll actually put away work that comes back from a show).

The old low voltage switches.

We've ordered windows and flooring and are waiting for both to arrive. The room has been semi-open then, for quite a while while, other stuff is being worked on. The open windows are probably good news as far as ventilation goes, and we have what is essentially an exterior locking door between the house and the clay studio, so security isn't really an issue, but the recent cold weather has made it pretty chilly.  The cats, though, think it is great fun to jump through the windows right now.

New outlets and no windows, plus my daughter helping.

We had been thinking of various options for the walls, but I think we're going to end up with painted drywall because it is relatively cheap and simple. Sean suggested that I needed to spend some time thinking about how I wanted to arrange things in the space. I didn't understand what he meant at first, other than that we had sold the carpeted cabinet monster. After he pointed out that my furniture in there was mostly designed to be easy to pack up from an art fair, I realized that, having not done an art fair in years, that's probably not the most important feature of my studio furniture anymore.

The view from the other side of the room, with the fan/light down.

Over the next few weeks, as the room comes back together, I'll have to think about what I'd actually choose to have in the brand new space. I hadn't thought that way in quite a while. As of right now, the only things that have a guaranteed spot in the new space are my wheel and my wedging table and I've got a while before the space will be ready anyway.

Let's take a moment to remember this gorgeous pattern and color.