Why originality is crucial

I read last week that there was a lot of concern about plagiarism that followed the first few Coursera online courses. The report was that students who were assessing other students work noticed wholesale copying of sections of their own work or sections from published work such as Wikipedia.

The problem with all of this is that it reflects the culture that we have all grown up in in respect of education being about academic success in terms of grades and exam passes. I know because I have been guilty of plagiarism myself! When I look back at the essays that I had to do for my A Level History course for example I remember that I would look through the textbooks and take the relevant passages and then write them out piecemeal without any attribution or maybe (if I was feeling really creative) rewrite the words with essentially the same meaning.

I remember a number of times when my teachers said that they found it difficult to find out exactly what I thought. The reason for this was patently obvious…. there was nothing in my text that reflected what I thought and the real me… the me that is made up of the sum total of my experiences, my feelings, my opinions, my attitudes toward the world… was nowhere to be seen.

In writing the posts in this  blog I have occasionally taken sections from other people’s writing because I feel that they are significant and add to the message that I am trying to communicate. I always try to attribute the quotes and put them in speech marks. Which is why I was a bit concerned the other day when I received an e-mail from a source I used for one of my recent posts which asked me to give attribution to the original source of the information that formed the basis of the post. I had mentioned the website in the title and also in the text. I used their infographic but made sure that there was a link to the original article where the infographic appeared. In my opinion I could not have made greater attribution than this. I feel that I was pointing out to all who cared to read the post that I was not the originator of the material but was trying to report upon it and comment on its usefulness.

I am only too aware of how plagiarism can be seen as intellectual theft but feel that the biggest loss is that it holds students (and indeed the adults that they will become) from developing their own voice. It is their distinctive voice that readers want to see and hear… they can read a Wikipedia article on any subject whenever they want…. the importance is what do they want to say? What do they want to communicate? What is their opinion on the subject that they are writing?

I have had to make a journey in understanding the importance of originality in communication. I hope that my fellow lifelong students will take the same journey and realise that it is not about getting something done but about getting your distinctive voice heard. Only when you speak as yourself will you truly get a response from your audience. It may be hatred, derision, concern, disagreement but it is often approbation, agreement and allows you to influence the debate.

Those who know me and the way I think and talk will recognise these words as entirely my own (for good or for bad) and as such, this has been a successful post from my point of view….. no speech marks or attributions were required!


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