Tag: Patti Shank

Book Review: Write and Organize for Deeper Learning

Patti Shank’s latest book, Write and Organize for Deeper Learning, is a great read for anyone who writes to help people learn: instructional designers, trainers, professors, tech writers, etc. The book explains 28 tactics to improve your writing. Following these tactics will help your readers spend more mental effort on actual learning rather than wasting mental effort figuring out your meaning. Each tactic is clearly explained with a brief description of why it’s important. While all the tactics are supported by evidence (and references are provided at the end), it never gets bogged down with theory or overly stuffy descriptions of research. The book is squarely aimed at practitioners who want to start writing more effectively today without wading through any fluff.

Cover of Write and Organize for Deeper Learning
For experienced instructional designers and others who are already good writers, many of these tactics will confirm what you’re already doing. For example, you’re probably already determining your key points and using active voice. Those aren’t new tactics for me, and I expect some of this will be reinforcement for most readers rather than brand new content. I found the reminders helpful, and it will make me focus on some tactics I knew but hadn’t been using (like checking readability statistics).

I also find books like this helpful in justifying my decisions to clients. I will be pulling this book out again and referring to it the next time a client argues with me that their content is so serious that it must be written with a stiff, formal tone rather than a conversational, plain language style.

The book contains worksheets to help you remember and apply the tactics in your own work. In addition, the checklists and job aids make it easy to use.

This is the first book in a planned series called “Make It Learnable.” I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the series.

Online Learning Plagiarism Horror Stories

It’s a common complaint about online education that students plagiarize, but my horror stories aren’t about students. My horror stories are about developing online courses. (Some details changed to protect the not entirely innocent.)
Paste Copy Paste Copy

How NOT to Hide Your Tracks When Plagiarizing

I was reviewing a course from someone who had just left the company when I discovered some sentences that just didn’t fit quite right. The tone shifted drastically mid-paragraph—always a red flag. So I started to highlight some phrases so I could Google them…and suddenly realized there were links embedded in the text.

As it turned out, this course included extensive copying from other sources. One of the sources was a website that frequently linked to glossary terms. But the person who copied the content didn’t know how to remove the links after she pasted it in Word, so he just changed the blue text to black and removed the underline. As soon as I hovered my mouse over the offending passages, I could follow the links right back to the original source. At least he made it easy for me to find the source and prove the content was easy.

Oh, the Irony

I’ve seen a number of subject matter experts plagiarize content for courses, but my all-time favorite story isn’t from a course I worked on myself. Another instructional designer had a SME who, frankly, really wasn’t a great writer. She had been struggling for weeks to coach him on the writing style and content. Finally, she received a draft that was right on track. She was so happy that she was getting better quality work from him…until she did a routine plagiarism check on it. More than one entire paragraph had been copied from a website without any attempt to paraphrase or cite the original.

The topic of the copied and pasted content? Business ethics.

Plagiarism Resources

Patti Shank asked recently whether people plagiarize because they don’t know or don’t care. I think it’s a combination of the two. Many people really haven’t been taught what plagiarism is or how much paraphrasing is really required to make something your own. A lot of people don’t have a good system for keeping track of citations when they research, which makes it easy to lose track of which ideas came from which source. Especially in education, many people think that “fair use” covers any educational purpose, regardless of the amount of content or how much you share it. Most people couldn’t tell you the four factors for determining fair use. This Fair Use Evaluator helps walk you through all the factors and gives you a time stamped PDF to document your analysis.

Did I Plagiarize? is a great resource for explaining the types and severity of plagiarism. The same author also created a resource called Can I Use that Picture? which helps explain image copyright laws in the US. If your client says, “We don’t need a budget for images. Just go to Google Images; there’s lots of stuff there,” this might help explain why that isn’t a good plan.

Of course, educating people doesn’t help if they don’t care whether they plagiarize or not. Especially in higher education settings, where plagiarism can mean losing a job, I always tell SMEs at the start of a project that I’m sure it won’t be a problem but that I routinely check for plagiarism. I also explain that I expect everything to be cited, even if it’s paraphrased. Just setting the expectation helps reduce plagiarism.

More Resources:

Your Horror Stories

What about you? Do you have a great story about copied and pasted content finding its way into an online course, either as part of course development or as a student submission? What are your horror stories?

Image Credit: Paste Copy Paste Copy by wiredforlego