Friday, March 30, 2007

The Term paper IS Dead

How many term papers have I written outside of academic settings in my life - ZERO!!! How many times have I taken multiple sources of information and synthesized a report, briefing, or presentation - I've lost count. So - should i be getting my learners to write single subject term papers or should I be helping them develop the skills that they will have to use in industry - to be able to find, verify, assimilate and produce work from multiple information sources and types? Hmmm...

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the subject that has prompted this blog rant. The article, "Cut and Paste Is A Skill Too" by Jason Johnson, makes the point that while plagiarism is on the increase and many institutions and educators have instituted systems to hunt down the plagiarists, "it is important for learners to be able to synthesize content from multiple sources, put structure around it and edit it into a coherent, single-voiced whole.

Students who are able to create convincing amalgamations have gained a valuable business skill. Unfortunately, most schools fail to recognize that any skills have been used at all, and an entire paper can be discarded because of a few lines repeated from another source without quotation marks."

(In fact I just cut and pasted most of the previous two paragraphs from the article - so did I plagiarize it - or do the quotation marks save me? Hmmm...)

Learners today are exposed to instantaneous information from multiple simultaneous electronic and other sources, not to mention the "traditional" sources of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, etc. (assuming any of them read paper-based words anymore). They are swamped by the sheer volume of data they they are exposed to and asked to make sense of most of it on the fly. One essential skill required by our learners is the ability not to just source information, but to determine its veracity. These pressures can lead to the "easy way out" of cutting and pasting information that they find, most times without citation or attribution.

So what are we as educators to do? We need to do what is suggested by Jason - "acknowledge what the paper is today: more of a work product that tests very particular skills -- the ability to synthesize and properly cite the work of others -- and not students' knowledge, originality and overall ability." Let's get creative and have learners engage in activities that do reflect their knowledge originality and overall ability. Stress the applied learning, not the theoretical.

Show me what you can do, not what you know (oh and make sure that you do give attribution, credit, and due acknowledgment to the sources of your information - it's the right thing to do) - demonstrate your competencies and learn to learn - that will prove what you know better than any term paper ever will.

I rest my case.

(Photo from everdred)

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