Thursday, September 11, 2008

Student-generated glossaries and intellectual honesty

I'm experimenting with an online course management system this semester. (My college adopted the open-source system Moodle last year, and I'm still learning what it can do.) It's got lots of neat little ways I can make online assignments. For instance, tonight my students are doing an open-book quiz relating the minerals from this week's lab to the mineral groups we talked about in lecture. (I think they'll remember more when they've looked up the information themselves, and repeated the quiz until they got everything right, then they would from a rapid-fire list of mineral names during lecture.)

Because I'm using a textbook that doesn't have a glossary at the end of the book, I decided to have students make their own group glossary on Moodle. Every week, each student has to find one new word, enter it onto Moodle, and define it. I've got it set up so that students can read each other's definitions, but so I am the only person who can comment on all of them. (The students can edit their definitions as they go, as well.) After a week and a half of classes, I've been impressed by the terms and definitions that they've found.

In an exercise like this, I expect the students to use all kinds of different sources to understand their terms. The textbook, the lectures, the labs... and the internet. They're doing this online, they've got access to Google, and, well... if I ran across an unfamiliar term outside my field of expertise, I would probably start by Googling it or looking it up on Wikipedia.

As I read the definitions, though, I began to wonder whether any students had simply copied the definitions from other sites. And then I wondered whether it mattered in this situation. (The assignment is being graded based on participation, not on the quality of the definitions. I'm using it to encourage students to study in a particular way, not because I'm interested in their finished product. And, well, glossary entries can only be so original.) But I hear that many people don't think about intellectual property rights on the internet, and I want to encourage students to be honest and to respect and acknowledge the work that other people have done. (Even if those people are anonymous.)

So here's what I'm thinking of doing. I'm planning to go to class tomorrow and tell the students that I'm impressed with their definitions, and that I have an idea that might make them even more useful. I'm going to ask them to include links to any useful web sites that they find, for three reasons: 1) it will make it easier to find the site again; 2) it will point other students to useful web sites, and 3) on the internet, it's polite to link to sources and other related sites.

What do you all think? Linking seems like the polite thing to do these days, and I think it encourages students to acknowledge the ideas of other people. (And I do think that links would be useful for the students, as well. Some students are already adding them, and they're great additions to the definitions.)


Anonymous said...

I think it's a great idea.

Helena Mallonee said...

In addition to being honest, this also gives students a great excuse for poking around the geology section of wikipedia for hours. Which is always good fun.

Ron Schott said...

I agree. Linking is a useful form of citation - probably the most appropriate for this type of assignment.

Robert Grumbine said...

Both the glossary and linking to the sources used are good ideas. The glossary should encourage the habit of looking things up when the unfamiliar is encountered (amazing numbers don't do that, just hoping it won't show up on the test). The linking should spread the tools around for doing the looking up. Plus, a good habit to get in to for intellectual honesty or later source-duels.

In other words, next time I teach, I'll have to steal this idea. :-)

kurt said...

I agree that linking is a good idea.
They're going to be scientists.
They'll either be writing papers that get lost in scientific journals or reports in industry - in either case, documenting sources is essential.
Journals today are paper (and electronic journals are generally just pdf digital copies of paper papers), but I believe that this is likely to change in the future (i.e., hyperlinks directly to referenced sources, animated graphics in figures, etc.)
Students can learn to cite sources now in a friendly classroom setting, or they can learn later in a less forgiving world.

p.s., great job on your blog, Kim! Viva ore deposits!!!

Anonymous said...

Being great is being honest. Be honest!

Robert Grumbine said...

Kurt: They may not be on their way to being scientists. This is an intro class after all. But it doesn't matter. Being an honest, informed citizen involves knowing where you got information, knowing where to find new information, and working out how to decide how good it is. Scientist or no, these are good skills, worth passing on regardless of whether a student is going to be a scientist.

Kim said...

Penguindreams is right - at best, 5-10% of the students in this class will go on to be geology majors. (Other science majors generally don't take intro geology classes, because they've got plenty of other science to take.) Another 5% will be teachers, especially elementary school teachers - they're probably my most important audience. The rest, 85-90% of the class, will go on to do something else entirely.

(PS - great to see you, Kurt! GSA this year?)