All the student learning outcomes and objectives for my History classes come down to this: the ability to create a historical thesis and defend it by using primary sources. Without these skills, students just aren’t doing history.
The past couple of years I have revamped my courses so they focus on these skills, practiced over and over. Students do it in a constructivist way in the forums, where they post their choice of primary sources and create theses from them each week. They are assessed both as a group and later as individuals on quiz essays.
Whenever I make a change in a course, I track it carefully over time. I have seen the problems I expected to see, and have made tutorials, FAQs and feedback (both group and individual) to answer the issues: using a primary source instead of the textbook, finding primary sources, translating the skill from discussion forum to quiz essay. Citing the sources seemed to be a particular problem last semester.
So all this semester I provided resources and feedback about how to cite a photo or other visual primary source. But this obstacle is proving much more difficult. On the final exams, even when they use primary sources, they don’t cite them properly.
No, before you get out those style sheets, it’s not a problem of MLA or parenthetical citations. The problem is that they are citing each other.
Whichever student posts a source in a forum becomes the origin of the source.
Here’s an example. Megan posts an image of Jane Addams with children at Hull House. The correct citation would be something like:
Photographer unknown, “Jane Addams with a group of immigrant children” (1889), State Historical Society of Wisconsin, found at http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/photos/html/1130.html.
Another student is writing a post or essay, and wants to use the photo. Instead of citing it correctly, he writes “Megan’s photo of Jane Addams” as the citation.
This isn’t an occasional thing. It’s been a consistent issue this whole year.
It happens even when they’re told not to do it, and shown many examples, and I model proper citation in my own posts. And I wonder whether it’s bigger than not following instructions.
Doesn’t social networking change the definition of a “source”? Your “friends” are now a source of information, and the trail by which they got it is often convoluted, and comes through other friends.
I think it’s because of how they share information that students won’t cite the photographer, artist, or author, or think it’s important to find out who it is. It’s easier to cite Jeff’s post, Jessica’s image, Joshua’s web site. And it makes more sense. After all, it was Jeff/Jessica/Joshua who went to all the trouble to find the source and post it for everyone to use. Why shouldn’t they get the credit?
Am I on to something? Or should I just be rounding up the usual suspects (not following instructions, being unprepared, not reading the feedback, etc)?