Friday, 10 May 2013

There was no "internet"

when I began my teacher training. There was still no internet when I went to university. 
The teacher training establishment I attended had a small library housed in a "double unit" - a "temporary" wooden structure which was twice the size of the classrooms. It served about a thousand students.
I suspect most students never went to the library. Some students may not even have been sure where it was. It was possible to get through your course relying on textbooks, passed on from one year to the next, and chatting to fellow students to find out what should be said in your essays. 
Most of the chat was done over cups of tea and coffee in the canteen - another double unit. Small groups would get together with the question which had been set, decide how it was to be answered according to the lectures which had been given and then write it up. It did not seem to bother the staff that the answers they read were all almost the same and a regurgitation of the lecture material.
The students who did this were the "bonded" Education Department students who were being paid to attend. I was not one of those students. I was working my way through college - as a junior housemistress in a boarding school (which paid me by giving me board and lodging) and tutoring. I used the library. 
One of my English teachers in secondary school had taught me how to write a reference and the importance of acknowledging where I had got my information and ideas from. I think I puzzled the staff back then. They did try to get students to do a certain amount of that sort of thing but I know, from having talked to former students, that many of them never did it. They still passed and that was all that mattered to most of them. The best students (and those who could afford it) were at university. It was the sort of thing that was expected there - but not at the teacher training establishment. 
It seems extraordinary now that the library facilities were so limited and so underused. It seems extraordinary that just a handful of us used the library.
Later I used various university libraries to the full. It was essential. You do not do postgraduate work in my field without reading widely and acknowledging all your sources. Anyone in my position had to spend hours in libraries because there was no other means of accessing the information.
And now it seems that libraries are, once again, not being fully used while the biggest resource - the internet - is being abused. There is a front page complaint in today's paper about students using the internet to "cut and paste" for their essays. They apparently genuinely do not see this as plagiarism or cheating. It is what they were taught to do in primary school, continued to do in secondary school and now do at their tertiary establishments. 
I have also come across it when students have asked me to read their attempts before passing essays in. I frequently question the source of an idea and the words which are used. All too frequently I have to explain that, just because they have found something on the internet, that does not mean it is accurate or that they can use it as their own. It belongs to someone else and they have to acknowledge that.
The Whirlwind and her classmates are taught this at school. It is something her school is very concerned about. The girls are taught about copyright issues, about acknowledging their sources. They are encouraged to use a variety of resources appropriate to their age. It is not easy. Almost all the girls in her school go on to some form of post-secondary education, many of them to university. The school is considered "academic" but there is much more to it than that. The students have been taught from the start. 
I suspect that the front page story today would never have been there if teachers taught students to acknowledge their sources. That is not difficult. What is difficult is using them appropriately - and knowing the difference between using those resources and your own ideas. 


Jan said...

What you have written is very familiar to me. I did teacher training after three years at uni, so understood the need for referencing etc. I was once upset to see I had almost been accused of plagiarism in an English essay. I had written much the same as one book on the topic. It was the one I was never able to pick up in the library because of demand, so my ideas came from me, not the author.

I went to one of the top schools in this state, so logic, essay writing, argument etc were drummed into us from early in High School.

I then went on to do several other degrees and diplomas at tertiary level. I agree with you about regurgitating texts. Many students can barely write a cohesive sentence, let alone an argument or essay.

Internet sources should be acknowledged in much the same way as texts, including the date of visit to the source. Wikipedia by its very nature is not a reliable source and any opinions or facts should be double checked. I remember a friend remarking that the very day she had insisted to her students that wiki is not reliable, was the day the Australian government "edited" a wiki entry on WW II to reflect a more favourable position to an action. She was lecturing in a Pacific University, not a primary school.

Helen Devries said...

You should see modern law students...their so called research skills would make you weep.

catdownunder said...

Ah yes I have Helen - my nephew has just finished his law degree. Under my tuition he did the subject I did "Legal Writing and Research" - as an extra. He grumbled all the way through my insistence it was necessary - and then said it was the most useful subject he had done. The work of his fellow class mates nearly drove me mad at times. How they will get on in court I do not know! (The Bar here is not divided so any of them could end up appearing.)