Posing the Right Questions: doing meaningful research

10 Sep

googleGoogle provides almost limitless access to information, but not to understanding. We increasingly need to be able to search and access information quickly, and apply what we find to problems facing us, on the fly, so to speak. In classrooms across the globe students are increasingly called upon to do research for assignments, and no-one would argue that this is not a necessary part of what constitutes good practice. And yet the ability to find a fact does not indicate an ability to incorporate it within our knowledge structures, and research increasingly points to this gap in our students’ understandings.

One of the major problems involved in any research task is how to avoid the cut & paste trap. Given half a chance any self-respecting student will use the cut & paste function to their advantage. It is madness to think that anyone would do otherwise. Simply asking for correct citation does not help, nor does threatening to use Turnitin or other plagiarism checkers. I’m not saying that students should not be providing citations and bibliographies for their assignments, but it is not a bulwark against plagiarism. The key really lies in the question behind the assignment you have set.

Ask a class to write an essay comparing marriage practices in different cultures, and you are inviting a patchwork quilt of cut & paste. But with a little thought, OK maybe a lot of thought, it is possible to pose questions which will discourage, or at the very least not advantage plagiarism. The question should ask for students to research, but not to reproduce that research directly. For example, if you asked a class to write an essay explaining, if they had complete free choice, which culture they would prefer to be married in, their responses would need to interpret and process any research done rather than simply regurgitate it.

To my mind if you pose a question that invites plagiarism, you have nobody but yourself to blame when you get it, and you are doing your students a disservice by not exposing them to questions which invite interpretation and evaluation rather than reproduction.

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Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Critical thinking, Google, Plagiarism


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