from Brent Staples in the New York Times:
If we look closely at plagiarism as practiced by youngsters, we can see that they have a different relationship to the printed word than did the generations before them. When many young people think of writing, they don’t think of fashioning original sentences into a sustained thought. They think of making something like a collage of found passages and ideas from the Internet.
They become like rap musicians who construct what they describe as new works by “sampling” (which is to say, cutting and pasting) beats and refrains from the works of others.
The editorial raises issues dear to our heart here at Imaginary Boundaries. We agree that something needs to be done about the plagiarism and cutting and pasting that is common in college and high school classrooms. As shown in Part III of the If I Was a Master Thief Series, the burden is on teachers to come up with better, more innovative, plagiarism-proof assignments instead of relying on the old standbys (which are often just copies of textbook or other teachers’ assignments themselves, all based upon the same old readings from the same old anthologies, or, if the teacher is more innovative, cut and paste remixes of such assignments). And we agree with Jason Johnson who was quoted in that piece that some of these remix skills students exhibit are useful and can be incorporated into teaching methods and in assignment reinvention.
Here is Lawrence Lessig on the value of remix as a skill and as a prompt for learning (which we wrote about for an upcoming article in Montague Street):
It takes extraordinary knowledge about a culture to remix it well. The artist or student training to do it well learns far more about his past than one committed to this (in my view hopelessly naïve) view about “original creativity.” And perhaps more important, the audience is constantly looking for more as the audience reads what the remixer has written. Knowing that the song is a mix that could draw upon all that went before, each second is an invitation to understand the links that were drawn––their meaning, the reason they were included. The form makes demands on the audience; they return the demands in kind.
Lessig shows that remix is far more complex than mere copying and can be a tremendous tool for learning that requires a high level of innovation from teachers and from students. First, we need to stop bemoaning the fact that things just aren’t the way they used to be. Then we can take advantage of these new and exciting opportunities for teaching and learning. Yes, a high incidence of cheating is a kind of canary in the coal mine, but people may be misreading the warnings. In our view, if there is a lot of plagiarism and cheating in the classroom, then it’s the teaching that deserves higher scrutiny. It’s possible to make cheating rare to nearly impossible, and there are many teachers who have accomplished this not with detection software or surveillance, but through innovative teaching methods and with creative assignment design.
Full editorial: “Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)”