Right And Wrong In Cyberspace

EDUCAUSE ended with a lively session about ethical behavior in the digital world. It could have gone on for hours – and I would have listened to the four experts for that long. Clearly, we are in unknown territory, and the experts covered the spectrum from defending censorship and banning resources when it is for the greater good to allowing a free for all in cyberspace environment to allow for a “re-norming” of ethical behavior. While the discussions about the new nature of public information (we need to realize that so much of our lives is now publicly accessible – what’s on your web site?) and privacy/security of information were good, I think the most challenging issue for the panelists was their discussion of plagiarism. Clearly, cheating is never right, but the real issue debated was the use of detection software – there are many ethical issues here. As one speaker asked, “Why do we treat students as potential criminals?” Unfortunately, other than a comment from an audience member, little was said about plagiarism avoidance as a solution to the “countermeasure” war. The most salient point I heard was from the speaker who said that with respect to the ethical issues discussed, we have already lost the current generation (I assume he means millennials) – they are set in their ways. We could debate that but I think you know what he means. If they think it’s all right to plagiarize, illegally download, or practice other ethically questionable behavior, no faculty member or librarian will likely change their attitudes. He said we need to start educating the next generation, or at least have an educational system in place so that we can begin to create the necessary cultural change that will perhaps instill more ethical behavior in cyberspace. Hmmm, offer user education to create cultural change. That sounds like a familiar theme with respect to the changing culture of student research. Is it too late to reach the current generation with user education? I think not, and maybe that’s a debate for another day. The complete post is not there yet, but it appears someone will be blogging this session at the EDUCAUSE site – should you want more details.

One thought on “Right And Wrong In Cyberspace”

  1. Interesting – and in a way this relates to the conversation resulting from my last post. What some academics consider either criminal or lazy behavior – defined as unethical in either case – may actually be at least in part our students feeling out the boundaries of what “intellectual property” really means in a digital age. (Something we’re all doing whenever we have to decide whether to use a downloaded Web image in a powerpoint slide or hand out copies of an article out in a department meeting without first securing permission. Gee, am I breaking the law? Do I care enough to do the research and then secure the permission? Especially when the meeting starts in ten minutes? As the Bible says, the good man sins nine times a day. And violates copyright law at least a dozen.)

    I’ve often felt that the line in the IL Standards about “using information ethically and legally” glosses over the paradox that sometimes what is technically “illegal” is arguably ethical. And that civil disobedience may be in order if we’re going to retain research as a public good and a robust culture (or, for that matter, a definition of “fair use” that means something in practice).

    That aside, I have a pedagogical bone to pick with using software to “nail” students. The “Statement of Best Practices” from the Council of Writing Program Administrators does a particularly good job, I think, of laying out a healthy way to approach plagiarism.

    I’m frankly not one bit interested in training the next generation to tow the line laid out by CCC or the RIAA. That would, in my book, be highly unethical.

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