Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I had already planned to write a post about turnitin.com when I first came up with this assignment, so it was helpful that we discussed the issue of the site in class yesterday. A lot of my fellow classmates had the same thoughts as me, and we were able to discuss why we don’t like the service, and why it shouldn’t be used in schools.
Most university and college students are aware of the website turnitin.com and that it’s used for catching those students who take their essays directly from sources on the Internet. I’m assuming that most students first encountered Turnitin in first year, when most of us had no idea what was really going on and we were just going with the flow trying to survive this wild and crazy thing called university. I know that when I was asked to submit my first essay to Turnitin I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until about second or third year that I realized that it is a ridiculous and almost insulting thing to ask students.
When we’re in first year, and sometimes still even in high school, the fear of plagiarism is instilled in us. We could fail the assignment, fail the class, get kicked out of the class, and even get thrown out of school. No one wants that, and most students are so scared that they don’t dare try plagiarising anything (which is really what we should all be doing anyways, but that’s beside the point). Once I realized that so many essays and assignments were submitted through turnitin.com I got to thinking about how many essays have been written on the same thing and if there are really that many different ways to say the same thing. I thought that most students would be given the benefit of the doubt, but as I learned in class yesterday, one of my classmates did receive a zero on an assignment because hers was similar to another student’s.
I’d like to know when the students became the bad guys. As one article that we read in class said, “They treat all students as through they are presumed guilty until they’re proven innocent.” By asking students to submit their essays to turnitin.com, professors are assuming that some, if not most, of us are going to cheat in some way. How ridiculous is that? We are, for the most part, good students, and good people, but Turnitin is making us out to be criminals. Just think about what the actual name of the company is – Turn It In, like turning in a felon. Great. Just the confidence boost we students need when we’re working our butts off on assignments and essays. I sometimes actually get offended when I’m asked to use the site, especially now that I’m in fourth year. I had a third year class last semester and we were required to submit our essays. I was actually surprised that we were being asked to do this in an upper year class because I figured by now we should have gained the trust of our professors – after all, we are all still in school.
Another factor that some people may not think about, I know I didn’t until class yesterday, is that we are giving up our rights on those submitted papers. By doing so, turnitin.com is basically saying, “Oh don’t worry, you don’t need to worry about copyright issues because you’re never going to get published.” Again, thanks for the confidence. Glad to know you’re looking out for our best interests.
On Turnitin’s legal site, the first question asked is whether or not using this software is infringing upon student’s copyrights. This is their response:

“Determining whether a copyright exists in a particular work or is infringed by a particular use of the work is difficult. The analysis is so fact-specific that relatively minor variations between the facts of superficially similar cases often lead to diametrically different conclusions.
As such, casual analysis of these issues will not suffice, especially when the use in question is novel, as is the TURNITIN system for plagiarism detection. For that reason, iParadigms, the owner of the Turnitin system, and its sister site, plagiarism.org, sought expert legal advice before launching the TURNITIN system, and have continued to do so during its operation. Based on extensive analysis of all aspects of the TURNITIN system, we have concluded that its use does not pose a significant risk of infringement of any copyright in written works submitted to Turnitin for evaluation.”
Now I don’t know about you guys but I don’t consider that a very good explanation.
The document goes on to explain why the owners of turnitin.com are not the bad guys that the media and lawsuits have made them out to be. At least, it tries to explain. Skimming through the document led me to think that they are just trying to save themselves and prove why they should still be used in schools.
One of the other big things about Turnitin is that it assumes that cheating happens because of the Internet. The site can only check what is either from websites, or books that have been entered into the system. In other words, if it’s not online, Turnitin can’t check it. As my professor pointed out to us yesterday, this is making a social and cultural problem and turning into a technological one. We may be very technologically savvy students now, but that doesn’t mean technology has an iron grip on us and we are incapable of using other means to do schoolwork. Turnitin is a real life example of technological determinism. We are letting this technology decide how our society is run, and that is not a good thing, especially not in this case.
There is always the option of not submitting an assignment to turnitin.com, which my professor mentioned in yesterday’s class, citing a student from McGill, Jesse Rosenfeld, who refused to do so. When that was brought up however, my professor was met with “but he got a zero!” from pretty much everyone in the class. Wikipedia said that Rosenfeld eventually won his case, but will that have even affected turnitin.com? It’s doubtful. This example shows that we may be upset and irritated by the use of Turnitin, but for most of us it’s just not worth it to fight. Perhaps if more students were educated about the issues surrounding copyright and intellectual property then there may be more of a response to discontinuing the use of Turnitin. In the meantime, I hope that more professors realize that they should start out trusting their students and only resort to these sorts of measures if cheating is suspected. After all, we really are good people just paying way too much money to learn :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Death of the Library?

Essay time is upon us (in fact, it is right on top of us!) and it’s gotten me thinking about the process of writing essays. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I hate doing research. I don’t mind learning, don’t get me wrong, but what I don’t like is trying to find sources for five major essays which are all due at the same time. Going through the stacks takes so much time and, quite frankly, it can be confusing trying to find exactly what you’re looking for. I absolutely love books (have worked with them for way too many years at a library and then a bookstore) so you think I would enjoy going to the library more, but I don’t. I would think that it’s just because I need to find books for an essay that, for the most part, will not interest me in the slightest. There’s also the fact – and this is the big one – that sometimes I am just too lazy to go wander the stacks. This is where the beauty of the online library comes in. Students everywhere are rejoicing because they can sit at home on their couch or in bed and search for sources that are just as reputable as the books in the library. This is all well and good, and I am guilty of using the online library frequently, but what is that doing to our research skills?
I think that there are two sides to this idea, like any good argument. I believe that people who are against the use of online technology to find sources think that it is making students lazier than they (ok, we) already are. This is a valid point. If we are able to search for academic journals on various online databases, why bother going to the library to search through the hard copies? I’ve never done it because it’s much easier just to look at them at home. Then I can print them from my own computer without paying for photocopying.
I will often find books that I need are available at other schools so I’ll have to order them in. I think that is a combination of not wanting to try and find the books I need and the fact that our library is quite small in comparison to others and I can’t always get what I need at ours. I remember in my first couple years of university we would be able to order any book to be picked up at the circulation desk, even if it was available at ours. I thought that was great! I could just pick a book, get someone else to find it for me, and then go pick it up when it was ready (which I found out by email). To most people that would seem incredibly lazy – but when there are multiple essays to be written and a huge amount of sources to be found, students are going to take any easy way out they can. This is why we’ve adapted so well to the use of online libraries.
I think this is the positive side of the use of technology to do research. While the skills of actually going through books and doing research that way may be dulled, I don’t think they will completely disappear. Not in my age group anyways. I think we are learning new kinds of research skills. We have to learn what a good thing to search for is when we want to pull up a relevant academic journal article. There’s also the idea that we are actually expected to do more research because we have the knowledge of looking up sources in different ways. There have been many essays that I’ve had to write that ask me to have a mix of books and journal articles. This has forced me to learn how to look for articles in different ways, both at the library and online. We are embracing this new type of technology and learning to adapt and use it to our benefit.
Whether or not people believe that is a good thing for our education is another matter. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using online books and articles for essays as long as they are trustworthy. We still learn to figure out which sources are good and which are not, we just do so in a different way. I don’t think that physical libraries are going to suffer too much, as long as we don’t let it. We can’t overestimate the benefits of online sources. Sometimes we do have to go look through all the books and find something of help to us. There should be an equal balance between physical sources and online sources and students should make sure they are using both. Students have so much going on in their lives that we’re going to latch on to anything that makes our lives easier. If it’s easier to get a mix of books and online journal articles then we’re going to take advantage of it. Besides, who wants to carry ten books home from the library anyways?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Facebook: The New Reference Check?

Since I’m graduating this year I’ve started to wonder about the idea of employers checking out the Facebook pages of people they want to hire. Since when did social networking sites become a sort of reference check?
At first I wasn't even sure how much I should believe these stories. For one, how can people who are not your friends see your profile? I know sometimes it has to do with what network you’re in, but that it also depends on your privacy settings. I have changed the settings on my pictures to be see by only my friends but I’m not sure if I did that more because I’m worried about potential employers seeing them or because I don’t want some random friend of a friend creeping my pictures. It’s not that there’s anything crazy or obscene in my photos. I drink occasionally, but what university student doesn’t? It’s not like I’m pulling an Old School and have evidence of me streaking through the streets. I think if employees have a problem with me enjoying myself while having a few drinks, there’s probably no point in me looking into that company further because they wouldn’t end up knowing the real me, just because they judged me on my online personality. Students shouldn’t be discriminated against just because they go out drinking on weekends. Now, if there’s a picture of you doing a keg stand while wearing a miniskirt…well you have much bigger problems.
Photos probably aren’t the only things that are being checked out either. How about the people you’re friends with? You may not think there’s anything wrong with your buddy from elementary school but it could turn out that he has since been arrested for doing something Company X doesn’t approve of. They find out that the two of you are “friends” (even though you haven’t talked to him in about six years) and there goes your chance at being hired.
I found a few websites and blogs online that I thought helped me understand this phenomena a little bit more. According to one article, employers first got into Facebook because of market research. I think that makes sense – they want to find out what sorts of things their target demographic is interested in and they use Facebook so it follows that the company will adopt that practice as well.
Facebook isn’t the only thing that employers will use. There’s also a growing practice of employers using Google to check up on you. Do you know what comes up for your name when you Google it? Most likely it’s nothing serious, but you never know what they could find. The only thing that comes up when my name is Googled is my Facebook page and from there you can see what I’m a fan of (television shows, sports teams, bands, and so on) as well as some of my friends.
So, let’s say you want to clean up your profile in case it gets checked by potential employers. First you go through all your pictures, getting rid of any with you in compromising positions. Don’t forget to untag yourself in pictures that other people have posted. Take a look at your friend list as well. Anyone on there that you know has some sort of record and you really don’t care to be associated with? Delete them. Next, take a look at what you have listed as hobbies, quotes, religious beliefs, relationship status, favourite books, television shows, movies, and on and on and on. All these things are very telling about who you are, some things which are not normally given in an interview. Someone could have a particular bias against one religion or another and see that you belong to that religion and decide to not hire you. They’re very sneaky those employers. This is when the question of ethics should definitely come up. How ethical is it for employees to use their network connections on Facebook to check up on those who they want to hire? I’m not sure if I know the answer myself. I think right now it seems extremely underhanded on the part of the employers because a lot of young people aren’t thinking about how they are portrayed on the social networking sites that they belong to. Employers are just trying to see what kind of person they hire – which makes sense, but they shouldn’t use some of the more personal information (like someone’s religion or ethnicity) to make decisions about who to hire.
I don’t think we need to be scared by all these reports but I do think that it doesn’t hurt to take a serious look at what you’re displaying in your profile. Do you really want the whole world knowing everything about you? I sure don’t. Changing your privacy settings and deleting some information doesn’t make you paranoid – it’s just one more thing that these new forms of social media require us to think about.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adding on...

I just found this article that deals with the same sort of thing I was talking about in my last post and how the Internet and techology is affecting people's (especially children's) brains. It's worth a glance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Super Student!: The Art of Multitasking

On any given evening you will find me on my computer while watching television. I’m usually talking to friends on MSN while also working on online assignments. There’s also a good chance that I could be texting back and forth with either my sister or one of my best friends. The funny thing is that most of the time I don’t even realize how many different types of technology that I’m using.
If you watched the video “A Vision of Students Today” mentioned a couple of posts ago, you’ll know that that students don’t have enough time in one day to cram everything in that we’re supposed to do. This is why we have to multitask. It’s the only way we’ll come close to accomplishing everything. I want to be able to chat with my friends on MSN but I also have to find books for essays, write blog posts and comments, and type up assignments. I have to do all that, plus my favourite television show is on (I’m a rare breed of student since I still watch my television shows on an actual television).
Most students with laptops won’t bat an eyelash when they sit down to watch a movie and have their computer with them, either to do homework or to just surf online. Students become so accustomed to making sure that they get everything done that they (at least in my case) can’t quite slow down enough to just do one thing at a time.
There is the question, of course, of whether or not multitasking is actually beneficial. Some would say that trying to do four things at once will actually take more time than if you only focus on one thing at a time. Do students think about that? I didn’t really. I think that my belief seems to be that if I am using technology to do all these different things, than it must be faster and more efficient. I am probably completely wrong, especially is this article is to be believed. They say that doing many things at once actually slows us down. Once I read that I realized that when I try to do homework and watch a television show at the same time I am actually taking more time to do that than if I watched the show and then did my work afterwards. It definitely makes me feel more productive though if I have some sort of work with me when I’m watching television or a movie even though I am barely getting anything accomplished.
There’s also the question of students suffering from shorter attention spans because of the multitasking they frequently engage in. I don’t really think that’s the case, especially not for university students. We’re not working on a ton of different things because we just can’t concentrate; we’re multitasking because we have that much to do. I think part of it has to do with the way our lives are currently structured. We have five classes (usually) that we are supposed to keep up on while also trying to maintain some semblance of a life. Just trying to attend all of our classes and do all the work required means constantly shifting from one class mindset to another. Can anyone really blame us when we have so many things on the go at once?
I think technology definitely plays a part in how we multitask. Most people have cell phones or other devices that sometimes require constant attention. Laptops allow us to bring our work (or play) with us everywhere so we can access it when we need to. Once we’ve brought our laptop with us we can do work using several different programs, depending on your assignment, go online to play games, talk with friends, or do research, and we can play music on our computers as well. As great as all this technology is in assisting us with our work, I think there is something to be said about just doing one thing at a time and focusing our efforts.
Almost every single student is guilty of multitasking. I do it frequently. Right now I am finishing this post, talking on MSN and watching a rerun on television…what was I saying again…?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stay in Touch!

Since I have been away at school for over three years now, trying to keep in touch with my friends and family is a big part of my daily life. This is something that post secondary students have had to deal with for decades; the thing that has changed is how we stay connected to our loved ones.
When my mom was at college the only ways she could stay in touch with her family and friends was by snail mail or telephone calls. Things are completely different for my sister and I. The only time I might write a letter is around Christmas or to accompany a birthday present that needs to be mailed. I hardly ever use the phone – partly because it costs extra money to call long distance. The one person I will call to talk to is my mom. I stay in touch with all my other friends by various other means. I’m not a huge phone lover to begin with and neither is my boyfriend, so we use MSN to talk to each other every night. I know some people don’t use MSN as much as they used to these days, but that is how I stay connected to my boyfriend and my younger sister.
Facebook has become a huge part of my life as well, just like most ever student. I find Facebook to be the easy way out when it comes to keeping in touch with friends. I know I’ll use it to write quick wall posts to friends who I don’t see often, but want to let them know that I’m thinking of them. Sending an email is sometimes too time-consuming and sometimes even chatting on MSN requires more commitment than I’m interested in. Sporadic wall posts make me feel like I’m not a completely useless friend and that I’m at least trying to make an effort.
Texting has also become a way for a couple of my friends and I to keep each other updated on our lives. For one friend it is mostly because he doesn’t have the internet, and for the other it’s mostly an issue of time. We’re both ridiculously busy (she works and makes the daily drive too and from school and I also used to work as well) and it is rare for us to catch each other on MSN. Texts by their very nature can’t be too involved; they are kind of like Facebook status updates – just saying the headlines. Another part of the reason that friend and I would text back and forth is because she didn’t have Facebook for about a year and wouldn’t be on MSN which are the main types of technology I use.
I think my use of technology is fairly consistent with the majority of other post secondary students. The internet is definitely the main way for me to stay in touch with my friends and family, but other forms of technology, like cell phones, have come into play as well. Students everywhere can be thankful for the various forms of participatory and social media that are available to them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


…to the wonderful world of a post secondary student! I’m doing this blog as a final project for my fourth year communication studies seminar. My class is called Citizen Media and the Public Sphere so this blog here will be all about how citizen media fits into the lives of college and university students. Anyone who doesn’t really know about citizen media can check out my other blog, as well as my classmates’, which deal with various topics that have to do with citizen media.
I got the idea for this blog from a YouTube video we watched in the first day of class called “A Vision of Students Today” (found below). If you are in university and watch that clip you can totally identify with everything in the video. The thing that always strikes me the most is how much of our time is used up in a day – technically, more than a day. All students are pressed for time and we have to learn good time management skills right away. I think that this is part of the reason why students today use so many different types of technology, because we want to make things easier on ourselves. Whether or not technology actually helps us is another matter. I’m going to stop the intro here. Stay tuned to find out what happens in the crazy life of a university student!