A friend and fellow Ph.D. student just referred me to “‘legitimized’ plagiarism on Facebook,” an application called Facebook Docs. From the Facebook page:
Make next year easier… upload last year’s homework to Facebook Docs! […]
It may be summer, but before you delete all of your homework, you should upload it to FACEBOOK DOCS!
FACEBOOK DOCS is an application made by a company called SCRIBD.
SCRIBD : TEXT :: YOUTUBE : VIDEOS
Wouldn’t it be nice if next time you got stuck on a problem, you could just open up Facebook Docs and find the paper of a student from last year… not to cheat, but just to compare…
Everything you write is /your/ property. Thus, there’s no reason to not share off your mad writing skills and maybe help some poor soul down the road…
Its like getting a book with comments already in the margin!
PS… Cheating is wrong. but helping others is Christian.
Now, a few things.
The educator in me cringes a bit because it’s almost certain that this will be used to plagiarize. That’s why I added it to my own Facebook account, actually, figuring I might need to search it in the future when I read a paper that seems just a bit off. I did catch a plagiarist this way once, using Googleâ€”I suspected that undergraduates are unlikely to use womb metaphors when deconstructing film, and the first search hit confirmed this for me. Dealing with a plagiarist was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my graduate school experience, and the idea of online tools further enabling this is bound to tick a lot of us off. Even if this service is meant to be used for tutoring rather than plagiarism, the “make homework easier” mentality may be missing the point of homework, and the punctuation errors really aren’t helping.
On the other hand, these folks have done their homework (ha ha). They have a pretty reasonable argument that homework answers are students’ intellectual property, and arguably, exam-taking alone and without external references is not exactly representative of problem-solving outside a school context. The problem, of course, is that some teachers can’t or won’t make up all new testing materials each yearâ€”but why should that be the students’ problem?
Perhaps voicing this perspective seems unsympathetic to my teaching brethren and sistren, a function of my own need as a researcher of media and culture to update teaching materials frequently and rely more on papers than exams. I’m sorry, brothers and sisters, but I must say that I was swayed somewhat by today’s Featured Doc, “They Didn’t Study,” offering examples of amusing doodles and inane answers on exams. I haven’t really thought much before about how homework actually functions as a medium of communication, but this got me thinking about it.
I did this stupid stuff in high school, even in college a bit. (My calc test asked me to draw “Region R” and “Section S,” but I added “Mister T” as a free bonus.) Sure, this may have been picked as the Featured Doc to strengthen the argument that this service isn’t just about cheating, but come on: you know we “culture people” are suckers for evidence of “resistance.” If I try hard enough, I bet can envision a scenario in which doodling Batman or a Ninja Turtle in one of my own classes could result in bonus points.
For what it’s worth, when you google the company that makes this application, Scribd, the second link is a Scribd doc, “pictures of geek culture.” At first I thought this was just an odd coincidence, unrelated to my other comments about Facebook Docs, but now I wonder if it’s potentially relevant after all. Should we be reassured that the geeksâ€”perhaps those least likely to cheatâ€”are those most firmly associated with this service at present? Or, if this takes off, should we see Facebook Docs as a sign that the non-geeks are becoming media literate enough to conceptualize homework as intellectual property, to contribute to and learn from user-generated content online? I still expect to drop by for a search or two while grading some day, but I can’t write this off as nothing more than legitimated plagiarism just yet.
Postscript: A friend from Penn just walked in the room and I showed her this post and the Featured Docs. She said that she used to make similar doodles on her own tests, and then she suddenly exclaimed that she knows the person who drew this, who showed her the drawing in person. Also, I’m not sure why, but the Facebook Docs uploaded from Penn so far include an issue of the Annenberg newsletter. And, finally, apologies to the anonymous artists whose work appears here uncredited.