Danielle Degelman

Twitter–The Difference Between “Cheating” and “Ingenuity”

Posted on: January 13, 2011

To show the difference between “cheating” and “ingenuity” when it comes to using Twitter, I will present the following two cases:

Case 1: Tomorrow, you have to write an in-class essay discussing two of the major themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Using Twitter, you ask others to help you identify and analyze the major themes in the book. You ‘copy and paste’ some of these responses onto Microsoft Word and memorize them exactly. Then, you write them word-for-word when you come to class the next day.

You just cheated…but how? You used somebody else’s work as your own. In a sense, you plagiarized. You copied EXACTLY what you saw online, and gave your resources absolutely no credit for their outstanding ideas. I am not criticizing the use of Twitter in any means, but I am considering your use of Twitter as irresponsible and wrong. Now consider the second case.

Case 2: Tomorrow, you have to write an in-class essay discussing two of the major themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Using Twitter, you ask others to help you identify and analyze the major themes in the book. You read many of the responses that you have just received, and resort back to the book for evidence. After an hour of research and re-reading, you gain a deeper and richer understanding of the book’s major themes. You type your new ideas in your own words and memorize what you had just written.

You just demonstrated ingenuity…but how? Unlike the previous scenario, you did not copy the results from Twitter word-for-word. Instead, you took the time to read many of the responses, search for evidence and insight in the book, and write a coherent essay demonstrating your own thoughts. Even though you also memorized what you had just written, your words are your own. Twitter is very useful when it comes to finding new resources and ideas, but do not thank Twitter. Thank yourself…because you solved your problem in a creative, collective, and FAIR manner.


5 Responses to "Twitter–The Difference Between “Cheating” and “Ingenuity”"

Thanks for taking our class conversation and really running with it. And, you actually demonstrate what you discuss. šŸ™‚

Excellent navigation through the distinction. Students presented with the two cases you outline will clearly get it. I like your example since it extends to any other resource, whether hardcopy or online. Nice job!

A couple questions here:

What is the point of the evaluation? If the point is to learn two of the themes of “Mockingbird” then both of the students in Case 1 and Case 2 would have effectively done that.

And let’s say that the student in Case 1 copied tweets from people word for word. Even if they got 10 tweets total (5 per theme), would a 700 character (5×140) analysis be adequate for any meaningful assessment?

And in case 2, what if the person did the extra research, but still retained the core structure of the arguments they were given via twitter? Despite their extra work, they would still be guilty of plagiarism, as they would be using a structure that they did not create.

These questions are partially rhetorical, but I ask them to frame a larger point: why give an assessment that’s easy to game? The whole question of “cheating vs ingenuity” only remains an issue if we create the artificial assumption that we shouldn’t use all the tools available to answer a question.

When I worked as a teacher, I consulted my colleagues constantly. Most knowledge workers work as part of a team where collaboration is a regular, expected part of the process. If we can have assessments that reflect these realities, we are helping students develop the analytical, research, and interpersonal skills they will use when they are working outside of school.

I was always a fan of open book tests on literature, as it allowed for more detailed questions with direct textual support. Additionally, it rewarded students who made the time to familiarize themselves with the text.

But really, the student in Case 1 should be cutting and pasting into LibreOffice šŸ™‚

In both these scenarios I would be concerned with the immediate reliance on others’ thoughts. While #2 included reflection on those thoughts, it appears secondary to the student tendering his/her opinions. I’m all for crowd sourcing, but I would like the student to tweet an idea, gather feedback through Twitter, compare/weigh those ideas– and write about how consulting others solidified or shifted his/her original position–and why? Was the student swayed by evidence, authority of tweeter, or unique/fresh perspective?

This is a really good point that you just made! Thanks!

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