Moving away from a Fear of Plagiarism towards a Melting Pot of Creativity

Who owns your dreams?Recognition and Ownership

I was reading an excellent post (as always) by Scott Thornbury “O is for Ownership” and it was one of those posts that really made me stop and think. We all care a lot, in fact, about our ideas and, more to the point, recognition of ownership of our ideas. I can think of various occasions when my work has been “appropriated” and even “presented” in various different contexts as someone else’s. I have been described as naive because I still share the ideas I’m enthusiastic about, with almost anyone who is interested enough to listen, and I have been told in no uncertain terms not to give my worksheets, data etc. to other people at conferences etc. in case they “steal” them and pass them off as their own. I know what it feels like and I have felt hurt and betrayed by this type of behaviour, and I also know  that my career has probably suffered as a result.

In the long run, however, I have to say that my career is actually alive and well and, in a way, it is a backhanded compliment. After all, if people steal your ideas doesn’t it ultimately reflect worse on them, since it means that they cannot come up with their own! I may have a new idea tomorrow, and, whilst I’m sure that none of my ideas are completely my own, at least I know that I am developing my own work and not simply stealing someone else’s.

Plagiarism is live and well

Plagiarism is alive and kicking, perhaps more than ever before, since it is so easy these days to copy something from the Internet and paste it into a word processor then passing it off as your own. Generations of students are having to be taught about copyright and essays need to be processed by programmes that check for plagiarism, such as Grammarly. Despite all this I feel that plagiarism has always been around and is basically a sign of lack of ethics, fear (of not being good enough) or greed (when people copy someone else’s work for their own personal gain).

Let your thoughts fly off into the worldThe Picture is not all black

These three monsters: fear, greed and lack of ethics, who may well be dancing ghoulishly around in our lives (and unfortunately not only at Halloween) , are symptomatic of the times we are living in (or maybe simply of human nature itself) and will certainly not disappear overnight. On the other hand, however, it always amazes me how generous a whole range of my colleagues are and many writers and thinkers in the EFL world (Scott Thornbury is an excellent example of this) in that they are willing to share ideas, experience and resources, both by giving excelent presentations at conferences like Iatefl, as well as by contributing here in the blogosphere. So many people do this freely and altruistically by blogging and unfortunately I can’t include everyone here but three of my favourites are:

Chiew Pang’s blogs (he has more than one) aClilToClimb

Janet Bianchini’s blog: Janet’s Abruzzo Edublog

Sue Lyons Jones: The PLN Staff Lounge

In fact, all it takes is a visit to someone’s blogroll these days to see a whole wealth of altruistic individuals blogging away madly. This is the staff room I always dreamed of as a young teacher, where people, who were enthusiastic about what they were doing, couldn’t wait to share it with others. At times I have found that in the staff rooms I’ve been lucky enough to work in but never has there been so much creativity available as there is now.It seems to me that in this part of the world the monsters fear and greed don’t get much of a look in and the result is a real sharing of ideas and growth. So, it is possible, in fact to be naive and share your ideas with others. They will take them and like David Warr’s language plants, help them to bloom into something new. We can all learn from each other, in this way, and develop professionally.

We all need colour and funStay foolish and Stay naive

Of course, it is not always easy to say where our ideas come from and after an idea has been around for a while everyone talks about it and in a way it passes into the public domain. As Scott asked in his article: when do we have to stop citing Jerome Bruner when we talk about “scaffolding”? I know that a lot of my work, ideas, worksheets and activities are the result of the influence of lots of people that I have read over the years and then adapted to different contexts. I owe an enormous debt, for instance, to Mario Rinvolucri and Alan Mayley, and yet I would hope that I bring something of myself into my work too, in the same way that we all do. This is the growth and development aspect. One of the great resources I love at the moment is the #ELTCHAT meetings on Wednesdays on Twitter, and even though I am now working during the day I still try to get to the evening meetings. These are chats where people really share ideas, opinions and resources, and then blog about them afterwards. So the whole chat becomes a springboard to development. The summaries are an amazing resource too, that you can access whenever you want to see the sort of things people chatted about, on a whole range of elt related subjects. So in this online melting pot where we meet and “cook” our ideas together we are moving towards the opposite of this concern for ownership towards a concern for growth and development, and somehow when we let go of the fear there is a natural need to recognise other people’s work as a mark of respect, which comes naturally to those who are reasonable ethical and secure about themselves and their own work. So I’ve adapted the words from Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, which I find particularly inspirational and have been working on with my students for a week or so now, in which the words “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”, which he himself took from Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. My version is “Stay Naive” because I would not want to not feel the need to share my enthusiasm with others when lessons or ideas work well, and “Stay Foolish” because who wants to be serious and grey ;-).



16 thoughts on “Moving away from a Fear of Plagiarism towards a Melting Pot of Creativity

  1. Thanks for the mention, Sharon 🙂
    Most of the time, the only fee we ask is some credit, but sometimes, we don’t even get that. That’s the risk we take, shall I say, willingly. In any case, as you say, it’s a great big melting pot; someone dips in and it could just be yours that they clutch; you dip in, and it may be theirs. No sweat. There’s karma. I hope. 😉

  2. I’ve just been contemplating whether or not to add a watermark to the resources I make and put online. One colleague suggested I do it long ago when we saw some handouts I’d made years before turn up in a completely different context by teachers I didn’t know. My initial reaction to this was, why? I meant to share them when I first did and didn’t feel possessive about the credit for it always coming back to me. In the end, I didn’t reinvent the wheel, just perhaps made a shiny one. However, my opinion doesn’t take into account someone passing it off as their own material outright.

    With a more recent blog post, I put handouts online and really struggled with whether or not to watermark them. I struggled with whether or not to make them viewable but not downloadable. One little voice on my shoulder prompted me to do what I could to prevent plagiarism. The other hugged me and said to stick to my initial ideals of sharing.

    In the end, I did put a small 4C logo at the bottom of each page, not something difficult to cut off if so chosen, and put them on Scribd, downloading an option. I just couldn’t restrict people from using it–really, that’s the point in talking about it for me.

    1. Yes, I know exactly how you feel. There’s something very hurtful about seeing someone else claiming that your work is theirs. It’s that little inner voice that shouts “That’s not fair!” But, in the long run, there are probably more people out there who will respect you and give you recognition where it is due, and it would be a shame to spoil the sharing between so many because of the malpractice of a few.

      1. Very true words. I tend to believe that as long as someone doesn’t outright say “I made this” or something to the like, then I don’t care if anyone knows it originated with me. It’s meant to benefit students after all. Not until it’s a publisher that’s paying me to keep things copyrighted will I worry too much about that, if at all.

  3. Dear Sharon

    This is an excellent post and one which is very honestly written. Thank you so much for the mention here! It’s very kind of you. I feel that in these modern times, we are all “in it together” and sharing resources is something which gives pleasure. I agree seeing something which is clearly yours appear on the net without due attribution, is very hurtful and unfair. All it takes is a simple mention and that would be enough in most cases. I have sometimes been asked if I mind that presentations I have made appear on other blogs etc. My reply is that “I don’t mind because there are plenty more ideas where they came from!!” Also, the fact that I add them onto Slideshare is specifically so that they can be shared freely without necessarily having to tell me. It’s as you say, a stimulation to keep active and keep creative, so in the end that is an excellent thing.

    The open public global staff room we are living in is a very exciting place at the moment, and for me residing in the middle of nowhere, it is the most amazing experience. In the periods when I am not teaching face to face, I can keep up with what is happening in classrooms around the world on a daily basis without leaving my home.

    If teachers weren’t sharing their thoughts and lessons in such an open and free-spirited way, I wouldn’t have this access to so much knowledge, which ultimately helps me to be more aware of current trends, and hopefully leads me to be a better teacher. Life is always a circle……,… n’est pas?

    Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts on this very interesting subject 🙂

    Warm wishes


    1. Thank you Janet, for your kind words. Your posts are always inspirational and very well written, and reading your blog is sometimes like being invited into your world, and that’s one of the nice things about all our blogs too. I agree that we are living in exciting times with all the online sharing, and I know that it is one way in which my work is constantly being enrichened. 🙂

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