Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

This weekend, I had the exhausting pleasure of attending Educon 2.3 at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  The first class that I was privileged to participate in was “Crafting Character” led by Karen Blumberg and Meredith Stewart.  Here, the conversation focused on educating students about acceptable behavior online and the implications that mistakes can have in the future.  As a librarian, this issue is certainly not a new one.  We have revised our Acceptable Use Policy with an awareness of the impact of a student’s behavior online, although postings take place after school hours.  We have dealt with the issue by including any derogatory postings about our students, faculty, or school online as falling under the “harassment” section of our disciplinary policy.  I think our AUP has become a fluid document, that is revised and revisted as situations occur.  With this document, and a library curriculum that taught students about protecting themselves online, acceptable behavior, and future consequences of improper behavior, I thought that I was preparing them for the future.

But, as the discussion progressed, it took a turn I had blindly not foreseen.  We discussed taking a more proactive stance by helping students craft a positive digital footprint.  Someone suggested flooding online sources with positive information about oneself in order to subordinate the inappropriate or unflattering information that may already exist in searches.   I had not considered attacking the issue from the other side, from a more upbeat action-oriented way, giving the students the power to take charge of their online persona.  While concentrating on “don’t do this,”  I missed “do that.”  Thanks to all the participants in the class who helped me open my eyes and see that thinking forward  is much better than looking backward.

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Last week, during a discussion of Acceptable Use with fifth graders, students became focused on the issue of plagiarism, and questions began to multiply.  It began with the students trying to quantify just how much copying constituted plagiarism.  A paragraph?  A sentence or two?  A phrase?  What if you copied something by mistake?  What if it was similar to something you never read?  All these are legitimate questions, and deserved clarification.  But then the pragmatist raised his hand — “How is anyone going to know?  The author of that encyclopedia article will never read my report.  You said it’s illegal, but nothing’s really going to happen, right?”   That’s when it hit me.  I wasn’t dealing with naive students eager to listen, learn, and please the teacher.  These were not rule followers.  They were rule analyzers.  Right and wrong for some of these students was all about the odds getting caught.  While I’m trying to teach them ethical behavior for ethics sake, there are students missing the message entirely. Instead of being appalled by the plagiarism – theft analogy, they’re trying to figure out the odds of beating the system.  They’re weighing their chances: what’s the probability that my teacher is going to find my source?   Or, can she prove I plagiarized?  The depressing truth is, their chances of beating the system are pretty good.  And that’s when the epiphany came: I can teach them about acceptable behaviors and ethical use of information, but those will always be my rules, not theirs.  They have to determine the behaviors that they are willing to engage in, and the consequences they’re willing to accept.  The responsibility’s all theirs.  Let’s just hope they make the right decision.

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