The Future Redundancy of Plagiarism

April 6, 2007 at 2:31 pm | Posted in Microlearning, Plagiarism | Leave a comment
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Before I leave I wanted to raise your interest in the already mentioned Microlearning Conference in Innsbruck towards the end of June this year. Maybe we can meet there! And I thought that one possible way of raising your interest could be by presenting bits and pieces of my paper – the conclusion (sorry, Greg, it still has one quote in it that you recommended me to get rid of, and I can see now why, but I couldn’t let go…). This also explains how the Phaedrus quote fits in:

I have argued above that the emergence of microplagiarism and of the increase of plagiarism in student assignments in general have to be assigned to the contradictions between the rules of the academic and the digital world. If the promise of the Semantic Web comes true, as was suggested in the original article from 2001, it will “better [enable] computers and people to work in cooperation.”

The benefits this holds for the world of academia are indeed alluring: Individuals doing research online could harvest all metadata associated with a document using Semantic Web browsers. This information – and for our purpose: in particular bibliographic information, such as provided by Dublin Core – could be reused to generate references and reference lists.

Anybody who copies from a Semantic Web compliant website would not merely copy words, but automatically import all the information and meaning that she or he – in order to avoid plagiarism – was required to extract manually in the past. Writing essays and articles that meet the requirements of different style guides would be an easy task for everyone. If this scenario were to come true, the mere possibility of plagiarism would cease to exist.

Of course this would change the customs and traditions of the academic world fundamentally and would not be embraced by everyone. Certainly for a transitional period, and probably much longer, some educators might insist that students continue to write the reference lists manually, just as there are some today that insist that students refrain from using calculators.

The propensity of media technology to serve as an extension to human cognitive abilities has always been greeted with skepticism. One can find a great deal of the criticism that some students’ use of web resources attracts, preempted in Plato’s Phaedrus’ conclusion about writing, one of the first media technologies to fundamentally transform human knowledge and discourse:

Once any account has been written down, you find it all over the place, hobnob-bing with completely inappropriate people no less than with those who under-stand it, and completely failing to know who it should and shouldn’t talk to.

The opportunities for the circulation of content and for informal learning have never been greater than now, in the web-supported knowledge society. Microplagiarism draws our attention to the ‘Dark Side of the Force’ of microlearning, to the flip side of a socio-technological constellation in which the pragmatic opportunities for copying, using and editing someone else’s work are greater than ever.

The problem of microplagiarism will only cease to exist, if we manage to close the gap between the technological and the academic sphere and their diverging rules for the circulation and continuation of information. If ‘copy and paste‘ technically meant to not only copy alphanumeric characters, but also the semantic relations of a particular item of microcontent, then we would know that the gap has been closed.

The Semantic Web, the first stirrings of which are already visible in the development of ontologies and Semantic Browser extensions like Piggy-Bank, will be able to solve this problem and bridge the gap between human knowledge and computer data. Admittedly, the Semantic Web solution does not address the problem of learning and effective learning strategies, but it can help to raise student awareness of plagiarism and of ways to avoid it.

For the time being, the best strategy for dealing with the situation seems to be in setting students tasks that rule out or reduce the possibility of plagiarism in general.

P.S. I’ve got piggy bank on my browser now, it only works with Firefox, but I think it’s kinda neat. Wasn’t able to put it to any use yet, but hope to be able to do so in the future. Continuing to drop coins. Clickety-Clank, Clickety-Clank, your data go into my piggy bank.

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