The Death of the Term Paper?

My long-time friend Jason Johnson had a strong opinion piece in the Washington Post a couple of days ago:

Cut-and-Paste Is a Skill, Too

Jason makes several strong points about the shared content pool concept in a workplace, which I think is important to reveal. We’ve discussed this in the past in the posts about “Corporate Self-Plagiarism,” and how students are given zero preparation for producing content in that type of environment. In academia, almost everything is “single combat warrior” when it comes to writing. Plagiarism is a morality issue at schools, but a productivity issue in the workplace.

I’ve talked about this issue with our English teachers at OES, and I was rather surprised by how unconcerned they were with copy and paste plagiarism. In effect, OES students may do as many as eight drafts of a paper, with feedback from the teachers at each stage, to the effect that the writing is so closely reviewed and revised that plagiarism would be difficult to “slip in,” simply because the students are so driven to revise their own writing. In Jason’s article, he writes mostly about term papers that are written with zero faculty involvement, which does occur, but not at all schools.

Jason notes that his earlier drafts of the article had more complete and rounded thoughts about what should replace the “term paper as assessment tool” approach. I would argue for a different type of writing assignment, which includes a different way to assess. The real value of a term paper (in terms of student expression and possibly shared pool amalgamations of content) is a process-based learning experience. Jason is right in that the type of term paper he describes should be dead, but students still need writing experiences that include both the personal and the concepts of the shared content. I’ve been away from teaching writing for too long– but I still feel that effectively organized collaborative group work could provide interesting experiences.

Anyway, it’s great to hear “wake up” ideas like Jason’s. Without them, flawed processes seem like they could roll on forever on their own inertia. He deserves a latte for his efforts, but I wonder where all his content came from… :)

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