Colours in "The Great Gatsby" and the InternetHaving set a group project on this novel and given each group various colours and symbols to analyse and trace through the novel, I was naively...

Colours in "The Great Gatsby" and the Internet

Having set a group project on this novel and given each group various colours and symbols to analyse and trace through the novel, I was naively expecting them to work re-reading key passages and paying close attention to various sections of the novel. The very next period I was therefore somewhat irritated to see one of my Grade 11 students type into google, the great gatsby, colours, meaning, blue and then to find the answers with textual references in a matter of seconds. I am definitely no Luddite, but I wonder if we are creating a generation that is so internet-dependent that they are unable (or unwilling) to do any of the hard jobs of research themselves. How can we combat this?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Internet research is surely a two-edged sword. With a few clicks, students can access a wealth of information from sources around the world and from experts and analysts whose findings and opinions previously had been available to very few researchers. When I think of the "extensive" research I did in my high school library, public library, and university library, the contrast is stunning--and I was working hard.

The problems inherent in on line research are manifested in three ways, I think: students being unable to assess the validity of various sites; students plagiarizing from online sources; and students substituting someone else's internal research and critical thinking for their own.

Teaching students how to evaluate the legitimacy/value of on line sites must be the responsibility of every teacher who asks them to do on line research, and catching plagiarists really isn't that hard if you know your students and their writing. One of the first things I do in every class is to acquire some lengthy samples of their in-class writing to use later for comparison/contrast, if necessary. It's also quite revealing to ask students to define specific words that appear in a plagiarized paper; most usually they can't, which generally settles the issue.

When we ask them to do internal research and analysis, what we're really asking them to do is work with the text and think critically. Having them do this work in class is always the better way; it prevents their avoiding the tasks, and it makes it possible for them to get some immediate help, from us or their peers, as they practice their skills.

The point of internal research, really, is to require that they practice their skills in skim reading and literary analysis. Many times, I think, students avoid doing their own internal research because they haven't read the material, which is another good reason to make sure they don't wiggle out of the work. Breaking large research assignments into smaller ones, having students work in class with one or two partners, and requiring that they work from the text and take notes by hand are good ways to make sure they do the work.


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Commiseration to fellow teachers and agreement with all the above posts---

Here are a couple of ideas:

Giving students the assignment of comparing and contrasting two concepts, works, etc. often eliminates complete plagiarism, at least.  The difficulty here comes with the slower students who have trouble, but if the comparison/contrast is simplified for them, they can work with the assignment.

Our high school has a portable computer lab and each student can work on a laptop in the teacher's own classroom.  Therefore, close monitoring can be done by the teacher; in addition, the students seem to enjoy being on the computers in class.  Of course, similar results can come from monitoring them in the resource center.

When the assignment is a creative one based upon some research, there is also little room for plagiarized material.  Regarding the  excellent The Great Gatsby assignment, perhaps the teacher could have the students expand on Fitzgerald's use of colors by "revising" the passages to include the use of another appropriate color in sentences relative to the content of the page.  Or, perhaps they could write arguments on how effective this use of color is or how removing the color imagery would mitigate the literary effects intended.  Or, maybe they could provide another interpretation of the passage by using another medium such as music to reflect the same psychological suggestions as the color has. 

Usually, when students are allowed to be creative in the stultifying environment of public school, they really respond.  Surprisingly, many of the students who do not seem "to get it" in classes come up with some amazing things because they love music or art and/or their expertise in technology has been something they have been working on. 

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator
As post 2 suggested, in class activities are one answer to the problem. Even with an in class assignment, I would still have to make sure my students weren't using their phones either. I gave a lot of in class assignments when I wanted to make sure they were thinking for themselves. My out of class assignments were often things I had researched to make sure there wasn't much information on the web (or at least a question that was more difficult find). While I think it's wonderful that students have so much information easily available, I think it also causes some unwanted side effects. For instance, students want any and all information instantly; they don't want to (and don't know how to) analyze literature. My seniors hated writing research papers in my class because they had to use actual books as references. They were permitted one accredited internet source and the rest had to come from real, paper books. Most of my students didn't even know how to find information in an index. I actually had a kid ask me "so what do I do when I can't hit control f." I think students need to learn to use both technology and textual analysis. The best advice I can offer is to plan your assignments according to what you want the students to learn. If they need to learn textual anaylsis, that probably needs to be an in class assignment. If you just want them to understand the information, they can do that at home where they will, undoubtedly, use the internet.
bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the past 3 years we have been a 1-1 school, which means when students enter as freshmen, they are all issued a laptop courtesy of the district. To be blunt, it has been a nightmare both for classroom management and for cheating.

If I allow students to use them in class during research, they inevitably copy and paste, use invalid sites like Wikipedia, go onto sites where you can pay to have an essay written for you, or get all their information from a Google search (which they don't site). This generation has, indeed, become overly internet- dependant.

While sites are good for catching plagiarism, they don't do much to teach kids how to really dig into the text and learn something.

What has worked fairly well for me is to require something like evidence cards before a presentation where they have to at least hand write the topic, the piece of evidence, and the source one at a time on a card. That way I can check the source for validity, and they have to at least do more than copy and paste.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We need to find a middle ground. Assignments should push students to both use internet sources and think independently.

Insisting that students do not use resources at hand is like teaching people to hammer in screws instead of using a screwdriver. When there are ready tools, people should use them and be taught how to use them well. Organizing educational activities that handicap student's use of technology and other resources is not going to be beneficial for anyone in the long run.

However, I agree that students not only should be expected to think hard, think well, and think independently, I think we can say they need to be expected to do this. Restricting internet access is not the best way to meet these ends.

As teachers, we need to anticipate the internet's influence on an assignment and push ourselves to push our students beyond using the the web as a crutch so that they are forced to use it as a tool.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students will take the path of least resistance to complete work, and unfortunately, in this day and age, that includes our very best students.  While it has been frustrating to find myself forced to create only assignments and exams which require in-class writing and hyper-structured research, I remember taking the path of least resistance myself in school.  It's just that I had much less technology to aid me in slacking off.

I have a hard core zero tolerance policy towards plagiarism, and I find, in general, that students make little attempt to hide it, and are generally indignant when I call them on it.  It very quickly turns into an "us and them" situation - them trying to cheat, and us trying to catch them at it.  Education loses, in my opinion, somewhere in between that struggle.  So I have accepted, reluctantly, that they have to produce writing, thinking and examples in class, in front of me, in order for it to be authentic.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, the only way to really effectively make them do the research is by requiring them to do all of the work in class without the use of the internet.  I do not see any other way that you can expect to have them do the work themselves.

After all, it only makes sense for them to use the internet.  Human nature seems to be such that we almost always try to take the easy way out.  In a situation where the kids have work from all their other classes, where they have extracurriculars, where they may work an after school job, it makes sense for them to do things as quickly and easily as they can.

I think that we have to simply accept that and try to devise lessons that make it impossible to use the internet.  That's my only idea -- give them the question, require them to do it in class without use of the internet.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Independent thought among today's students seem to be diminishing quickly, doesn't it? I've had the same type of problems, with many students barely doing passing work in class but then turning in what appears to be magnificent work that is done at home. (In one case, I know it was the girl's mother who wrote her essays, but I never had evidence to so accuse her.) I now have IN-CLASS assignments which MUST be completed during the class period separated from others which can be finished at home: Two separate grade groupings for the two very different types of writing/research. Sadly, it's amazing how diverse the grades can be.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is the very reason why such programs as Turnitin and Moodle have been created to catch the student at his/her plagiarism game.  It is disturbing, at the least, and depressing at most.  I have always found the discovery of insights and the connections to one's every day world to be one of the best things about studying novels.  It's sad that today it's difficult at best to even get kids to read the book for themselves, much less work at understanding and mining for the gems hidden within and between lines and paragraphs.

Perhaps the best thing is to assign everything in-class, as post #2 has sagaciously suggested.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
There are two ways to combat this. One is to teach our kids the importance of thinking on our own. We need to explain to them that it is not about the answer, but the process. If they always run to the computer to find something out and never take the time to think on their own, they will not be able to think when they are unable to find the answer on the computer. Not every answer is out there. The other way is to only do activities like this in class and not allow computers or smartphones. You can couch it in a positive light, and make if a challenge. We are going to see if we can do this without google!
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