Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Highest Apple

Just an apple tree, image originally uploaded to Flickr by kodama.

The prolific David Warlick made a recent Blog post requesting educationalists to Blog about their 'greatest challenge when teaching appropriate ethical use of web-based media to students'.

Here is my response:

There once was a little boy who lived in a farmhouse right in the middle of the countryside. He loved apples. He ate them all the time. Morning, noon and night. But one thing he didn't like was that he lived so far away from the nearest shop, so it was hard to buy enough apples to satisfy his need. So he wished and wished and wished for an unlimited supply of apples.

Then, one morning he awoke and looked out of his bedroom window. There in the middle of his garden was a tree that had never been there before. Not only that, it was covered with many, many apples. He jumped for joy and ran out out into the garden to pick some to eat for his breakfast. It was only then that the magnitude of his task became apparent to him for the tree stretched high, high into the sky. But looking around at the lower branches he thought to himself 'there are enough apples that I can reach'. So he picked a rather dull-looking one and took a bite. Yuck! He spat it out straight away - it had a worm in it! So he picked another dull apple and took a bite - it had a worm in it too. 'Hmmmmmmmmmmmm', he thought, 'so many apples but they are horrible'.

Then he noticed the apples a little higher were a slightly different colour and bigger, perhaps they'd be better. So he got a ladder and reached up to the higher branches, picked an apple and bit into it. Yuck again, no worm but this one tasted sour. So he went to his neighbour and borrowed a much larger ladder so he could reach higher. He took an apple from this higher level and sure enough it still didn't taste right, but it was much better than all the others he tried.

Next he called a building firm and got them to build a very high scaffold and that allowed to to almost reach the top of the tree. This apple tasted delicious but it wasn't as shiny as the one beautiful apple that was sitting at the very top of the tree. So he got out his climbing ropes and crampons and after an hour or so he reached the single rosy apple at the very top of the tree. He took a bite. It had the most exquisite taste of any any apple he had ever tasted before.

As soon as he took the apple he noticed that a few more took its place, this time they were not just at the top, but further down the tree too. He shinned down a little and ate another apple. More nice apples appeared on the tree. The more he ate the more shiny lovely apples appeared until the whole tree was covered with the nicest shiniest tastiest apples he had ever seen.

Story inspired byAn Ubhal As Airde (The Highest Apple) by Runrig. Which describes:

"The winds will blow
And the sun will shine
From generation to generation
Through the trees of the garden
But the day and the hour
Will surely come
To take the highest apple
From the knowledge tree"

I find that it is often the case that within my students there are many of them who want to use the Internet properly but they seek guidance and direction. It would be easy to just continue to allow them to copy work from the Internet verbatim and pass it off as their own, or to include work from invalid sources. It takes much more effort to educate young people that this approach is wrong, wrong, wrong. However, the benefits are that students realise that plagiarism is wrong and that they should cite their sources and the effort put into educating a few initally can quickly cascade to the others. Our Resource Centre Manager Lorna Cowburn has made it a major goal to educate young people as to the dangers and unfairness of plagiarism. Once they see it is wrong, they are less inclined to do so any more.

I used to spend a great deal of time to educate pupils about how to cite a source or how to use web sites for reverential reference not as resources to be plundered. A good illustration of this has recently taken place on a Devon beach where contents from the striken MSC Napoli recently washed ashore and 'beachcombers' came from all around to take the treasures they could find. They seemed to think this was okay, despite the police presence, until someone in Sweden realised it was their personal belongings that were being ravaged. It now appears that many of the people who took goods (some selling them on ebay) have realised rather late that they could face prosecution, or find the booty they took to be of no use to them, and they have left a shocking mess behind them. It has now occured to some of them, after the event, that perhaps the did wrong. To me this draws many parallels with copying someone else's work without attribution. The quaintly titled 'beachcombers' have now become 'scavengers'.

However, now I find I need to instruct my pupils less and less about this menace, as pupils have come to learn from themselves as to what is acceptable practice. That's not to say plagiarism et al is not still a problem. But I believe it is less of a problem in my school due to the time and effort spent addressing the issue rather than ignoring it or leaving it to solve itself.

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