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Ethical Use of Information

“The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” -Zig Ziglar

The Internet makes access to information as easy and common as breathing. As adults, and Educators, we have a strong sense of intellectual property, and the ethics of what is appropriate use and inappropriate use of the information we collect. Students do not possess this understanding innately. We must model and instruct our students in these areas.

Certainly this topic includes the issues around plagiarism and proper citation, but it also encompasses copyright and evaluation of resources for bias and appropriateness.

While we as Educators work under a veil of “fair use” protection in our face-to-face interactions with students, it is imperative that we model and instruct students on copyright related issues. This includes imparting of the understanding that the person who creates something new (writing, photographs, music, art, etc.) is the owner of that intellectual property and can decide how others are allowed to use it.

In our current “digital age” where access to student access to powerful tools is prevalent, this is a two way street where students are both the consumers of products created by others, and increasingly the producers of new objects covered by copyright in their own right. When the idea of copyright as it applies to work THEY create is first presented to students, this abstract concept of intellectual property and Copyright becomes much more concrete and able to be internalized. An understanding of Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/about/what-is-cc) is valuable, and an appropriate avenue for opening this dialogue with students.

Once there is a general understanding that the words of others are “owned” by others, a discussion on plagiarism is made real for them. Even then, when copy/paste is so quick and easy, students often do not feel that taking someone else’s words is “theft” or “fraud.” It is our role as educators to assist them in this understanding (http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_what_is_plagiarism.html)

To ensure that plagiarism is a non-issue in your room you can actively cultivate a climate where the skill of locating and evaluating relevant information and attributing it properly is valued. Another appropriate idea is to design assignments that make plagiarism less possible. For other tips on combating plagiarism you might find this link interesting (http://virtualsalt.com/antiplag.htm).

The ethical use of information begins with evaluation of the source materials. A significant amount of this process is covered under the subject of “media literacy.” Determining the credibility of information on the internet is one of a larger set of modern medial literacies. If you are interested in learning more you might appreciate the work of Howard Rhiengold (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/detail?entry_id=42805).

Kathy Schrock maintains a good list of links and worksheets for the classroom teacher dealing with issues of critical evaluation (http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/eval.html) though you will find many other examples of these services online.(http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-credibility/assessing-credibility-online-sources.shtml)

Evaluation of the skills of students in the area of ethical use of information is generally behavioral. Did they plagiarize on their report? Did they properly cite the photographer who took the image they used in their presentation? Did they evaluate the primary sources they found online using any form of critical tools?

Posted in My Thoughts.


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