We all know the university definition of plagiarism and the implications of not referencing work properly in an academic context. It’s the ever present thought when you are writing academically, no matter how thorough you are with your referencing: am I plagiarising this?!
Once you leave the academic context, plagiarism becomes less of a forethought – predominantly because life is full of instances where you mistake original thought for something that is somebody else’s idea. In education, we are constantly bombarded with different approaches to teaching, each coming from a new direction and with the rise of the internet and social media, it is becoming ever more difficult to effectively credit and reference the original creator…simply because it is so difficult to know who came up with the concept.
Whereas in academia, you tend to research using key words and then collate sources from publications like books, articles and research papers, in teaching, some of the most powerful concepts now come from Twitter, or blogs and websites of teachers. These mediums are much more informal and discussion based and as such, the lines are blurred somewhat when it comes to concrete examples of source. Education is fluid and approaches vary significantly from year to year (even term to term!) and an approach or idea quickly mutates from its original form, meaning crediting the original innovator can become tricky as the concept isn’t in its original form.
I suppose an example is live marking. I first wrote a published article on live marking and its benefits in 2015 – it was an approach I had been developing after having seen a very different live marking approach used by a colleague. At the time, people looked at me as if I was crazy, but now, live marking is a common practice in many classrooms. I’m in no way trying to claim that I created live marking (although a few years after my first article an Edu-celebrity did try to claim he had invented it…2 years after my first piece) but what I am trying to say is that even when I wrote about it, it wasn’t fully my idea.
Effective pedagogy is about sharing and adapting approaches to learning, and when we imprint our idiosyncrasies on approaches, they do become ours. When it comes to plagiarism of ideas in education, I think there only becomes an issue when somebody tries to profit from claiming ownership of an idea. We cannot claim ownership of an approach as you can a piece of research, it just isn’t possible…and in many ways isn’t necessary. What is important is that where possible, you credit those who you have learnt or picked up the approach from so that others can trace back and help themselves develop.
Blatant disregard for other teachers is something that we should avoid at all times. If you write content for magazines or write books, I think you have a duty to ensure that you champion those who use different approaches. Often, if you are in the privileged position to be able to disseminate your writing, people can mistake your writing of concepts to be your own thought. It is important that you don’t abuse your medium and imply that ideas you write about are yours, if in fact they are not.
The moral of the tale is simple: make sure you credit where credit is due. Not only does this mean that we are able to develop teaching more effectively, it also means that we encourage people to continue to share good practice and not hoard it through fear of “losing it.”