October 2009

Studies estimate that between 50 and 80% of college students plagiarize at some point in their academic careers. Widespread plagiarism has helped spur the creation of services like Turnitin (currently subscribed to at St. John’s), which compares student papers with other student papers, web sites, and periodical articles, and highlights unoriginal material. St. John’s has subscribed to Turnitin since 2005.

While Turnitin can play an important role in a broader anti-plagiarism strategy, studies show that a large proportion of plagiarism is unintentional and results from inadequate knowledge rather than willful misconduct. To reduce unintentional (and probably the most common) forms of plagiarism, educators should therefore focus as much on educating students on how to avoid plagiarism as on imposing penalties after the fact.

One study in particular strongly suggests that plagiarism can be reduced through education. At the University of West Florida, Psychology Professor Ronald W. Belter and Communications Professor Athena du Pre developed an online module on academic integrity, which each student in the abnormal psychology course was required to complete with 100% accuracy prior to the first test of the semester. Belter and du Pré found that only 6.5% of students who completed the module committed plagiarism in the written assignment, compared with 25.8% among students who did not complete the module.

Clearly, education will not end all forms of plagiarism, especially among those who are determined not to play by the rules. Education is, however, a good means of keeping the honest student honest, especially when used in conjunction with services like Turnitin.

For helpful information about plagiarism that you can share with your students, and to set up a Turnitin account, go to http://stjohns.campusguides.com/citing.

Words and art have enjoyed a long, interesting, and fruitful relationship – calligraphy (Chinese , Japanese, Korean, and Islamic, among others) and concrete poetry are some examples. With the wonders of modern technology, though, we can all take a stab at rendering our own or others’ words (remember to use others’ work ethically) as a visual representation using a tool like Wordle. Just in time for Halloween, here’s how Wordle represents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving as a word cloud:

Word cloud from Wordle.net of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The St. John’s University English Department is pleased to announce these upcoming “Visiting Poets Series” events!

  • Poet Bernadette Mayer: Friday, October 30, 2009 in the Writing Center Conference Room (St. Augustine Hall) from 2:30 to 3:30 PM

  • Poet Keith Flynn: Wednesday, November 18, in the Honors Lounge (St. Augustine Hall, through the Academic Commons) from 2:30 to 3:30 PM

  • Student Poetry ReadingMonday, December 7, 2009, in the Writing Center Conference Room (St. Augustine Hall) from 2:30 to 3:30 PM

Additional “Visiting Poets” events will be scheduled for the spring semester and will be announced at a later date.

For further information, contact Dr. Lee Ann Brown at brownl@stjohns.edu


Generation X, Generation Y (now the Millenials), Generation Z, the MTV Generation (between X and Y), and Generation Next (between Y and Z) – the labels keep popping up, slicing generations into ever smaller groups. We seem to be in a rush to name generations and ascribe behaviors, attitudes, and character traits to them – but is that useful in higher education or primarily for advertisers and pop culture? In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (More than ‘Millenials’: Teachers Must Look Beyond Generational Stereotypes, Oct. 11, 2009), Mano Singham discusses how the accelerated naming of generations may be giving us a false sense that we know our students by learning the traits ascribed to their generation.

Fundamentally, when we stop to think of it we know that can’t be true. We’re stereotyping these groups based on their age, which is something of a shift that began with Generation X. The Baby Boomers were defined not by generalizing their character traits and behavior, but by significant demographic trends. Interestingly, Singham points out that while we’re generally very sensitive about racial and gender stereotypes, we rarely recognize generational stereotyping. So what does that mean for those of us in higher education?

It means that we’re doing a disservice to our students by assuming that we know what ‘Millenials’ think or how they will act. We should remember that students are individuals, not generalizations, and make the personal contacts with them that we – and they – will remember and appreciate into the next generation, whatever we call it.

At the “D is for Digitize” Conference at New York Law School on October 9, Pamela Samuelson of the University of California Law School debated Paul Courant, Dean of the University of Michigan Libraries, regarding the settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers against Google. The settlement creates a registry through which copyright owners of out-of-print books can submit claims to Google, and allows Google to sell digital versions of the books, giving 63% of revenues to copyright owners.

Samuelson and Courant agreed that large-scale digitization of books is a positive development. However, Samuelson argued that price gouging is a concern, given that Google is the only company providing such a product and service. She noted that most librarians she had spoken to would have preferred libraries had undertaken such a project themselves, and remarked that there is nothing to prevent Google from selling the corpus of digitized books to another company, which might not honor Google’s spirit of providing relatively open access.

Courant responded that laws were in place to protect the pubic against “egregious behavior” by Google, and that the settlement gave users free access to about 20% of each digitized book’s contents. Courant also pointed out that libraries like the University of Michigan would still maintain print copies of digitized material, and that Google Books would complement, not replace, print collections.

Update: On October 10, Google announced that more than 1,860 issues of LIFE magazine from 1936 to 1972 are available in full-text through Google Books.

The University Libraries is currently offering a trial of the database ISI Web of Knowledge (trial expires 12/31/09). Web of Knowledge is a multidisciplinary citation database of over 23,000 journals with more than 700 million cited references. Included in Web of Knowledge is Web of Science, covering thousands of  journals in the sciences, social sciences and arts & humanities, as well as international proceedings coverage for over 120,000 conferences.  Try Web of Knowledge, found on the University Libraries’ Trial Database page.

Please send any questions or comments regarding this database to our Database Evaluation Form.

gangsofnewyorkIn addition to hosting our Next Great Books Discussion Group meeting on Tuesday 11/10 (discussion of  Tobias Wolff’s “Smokers.” The topic is envy) ;  we are fortunate to have the Honors Commons hosting a a showing of Martin Scorcese’s THE GANGS OF NEW YORK tomorrow, Tuesday, at 4:00 p.m. in the (Room 112 of the Library).    Since the film is about 2.5 hours, the starting time is 4:00, (one  half hour prior to posted times in the original publicity for the Movie series).  Prof. Robert Forman compiled this CLASSICAL MYTH GOES HOLLYWOOD film series, and chose 10-Time Oscar Nominated “Gangs” because it has  “elements of the Odyssey in it, although it concerns the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 and is based on the novel by Herbert Asbury.”

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