Guilty until proven innocent?


There was considerable time spent on my part on the release of this new feature that teachers can incorporate into their workflow if they are using Google Classroom.

It’s called “Originality reports” and it’s Google’s spin on checking for plagiarism in student work.

It’s not the only player in the field. Just do a search in your favourite internet search engine for “plagiarism checker” and check out the results. In Ontario, another product has been licensed by the Ministry of Education.

The genesis of that licensing happened about the same time that online learning became popular. The logic was that since you couldn’t see the student face to face working on a project, there was no way that you could guarantee that the works submitted were her or his.

I remember discussing the product with our eLearning teachers at the time. Their response was pretty negative. Particularly those that were teaching English, they claimed that their professional judgement was better than any program. By working with the student for a semester, they were able to identify writing styles and literacy skills and could see it grow throughout their time together. Consequently, while the licensed product was available to them, none of them said that they had used it.

Now, to be honest, this was long before there was an “app for that” mentality for computer users. It would be interesting to have that conversation today.

Collaboration is something that I promoted when teaching Computer Science. Granted, we didn’t write long essays but I’d argue that any programmer develops their own individual coding style much like writers develop a writing style. When there were times when I questioned original work, it was a matter of sitting down next to the student and have her or him explain the program to me. Between that and my insistence on written documentation for each problem, I think I did an OK job of making sure that things were original.

Like many of the other products, Google starts off by promoting this product as an aid to help students submit their best work. In the next breath though, the article indicates that Google has access to billions of resources online. That makes sense – that’s one of the things that it does best. So, it’s not a huge leap to make the claim that work that isn’t properly cited is easily identified.

We live in a day and age of privacy concerns and Google addresses it in the announcement, claiming that the student work remains the student’s. Unless of course, they blog about it! But the announcement also indicates that there is a plan to expand this to creating a repository of past assignments for checking things already submitted at the school.

I think it’s going to be an interesting follow to see the success of this product.

  • will die-hard users of other products make the switch?
  • will it only be available in Google Classroom?
  • if a teacher was hesitant to use another product because of professional judgement, will they try this one?
  • will a demo at the beginning of the semester frighten everyone enough that it’s not needed throughout the course?
  • how will parents react to their child’s work being used by a Google product?
  • how many submissions for conference presentations will be focused on promoting this tool?

I’d be interested in reading your initial reaction to this product. Are you in or out? Why?

Writing Prompts That Just Might Change The World


After I wiped away the tears, it occurred to me that this post could be much, much more than just a morning inspiration.

These 20 Photos Are Going To Make You Cry. But You’ll See Why It’s Totally Worth It.

There’s nothing like a good visual to prompt and inspire writing.  Each one of these go over the top very nicely.

Imagine viewing the image and imagining what was going through the minds of all the participants in the photos.

  • What happened just before the photo was taken?
  • What happened immediately afterwards?
  • How did the people in the photo feel about the moment?
  • More importantly, does this inspire your young writers to want to do something to improve their part of the world?

Could these writing prompts be a real call to action?

Writing Interactive Stories


OK, I’m hold enough to confess that I got hooked on the game of Zork a long, long time ago.  Zork was an interactive game that prompted you for various moves at every step.  It was great to visualize and each step potentially changed the story you were immersed in.

For the most part, electronic books follow the printed book where stories are linear.  It works and stories are written that way.

Except for genre of interactive adventure writing.  To do that, you need to investigate Inklewriter.  This application provides a wonderful environment for writing but, more importantly, it helps the author write the interactive, branching story.  Just writing your story and when it comes time to branch, just add the options along with the paragraph that will be the destination!  Inklewriter keeps track of everything so that you don’t have any points where your reader is left hanging!

For the visual among us, a map of your story is generated on the fly.

The interface is straight forward and dead simple to operate.

The clean interface features a toolbar on the left and the big area for assembling your story.  For a small fee, Inklewriter will convert your masterpiece to a Kindle document.

Check out a demo story here.  (The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

You’ve got to give it a shot.  You won’t believe how quickly and easily you, or your students, can writing your own interactive story.  This is a definite keeper – you’ll want to bookmark this.

Writing Posts


It’s been a week of reflection and thinking about being better about blogging for me.

I’m going to finish it off thinking about individual blog posts after reading this post.

From the post, here are the 11 tips and my thoughts as they apply to me.

  • Be Useful – if your post isn’t informing, inspiring, entertaining or making someone’s life better – don’t publish it until it does.
    • That’s great advice.  I actually always have a “person” or two in mind as I write posts.  It helps me focus.  That may make the post not applicable for all but I like to think it’s good for some.
  • Share your Opinion – opinions are often what sets bloggers apart from the pack.
    • Oh yeah.  @dougpete always has an opinion.  If I’m wrong, let me know.  I’ll get back to you with how you’re wrong about thinking me wrong!
  • Cut out the Fluff – before you hit publish, revise your post and remove anything that doesn’t add value.
    • I don’t do this very well.  I find that my writing is generally conversational in nature and that each sentence leads to the next.  Perhaps a rethink of approach is necessary.
  • Visualise Your Reader – writing with a reader in mind personalises your writing.
    • Absolutely.  This is what makes my world go round.
  • Make Your Posts Scannable – only 16% of people read every word online. Format your posts so that your main points stand out.
    • This is good advice.  I actually learned this by analysing the posts that I enjoy.  A big long involved post, over multiple pages, and with all kinds of references seldom sees me engaged by the end of the post.
  • Work and Rework You Headlines – a good headline can be the difference between a blog post being read, or ignored.
    • This is another area that I need to work on.  I’ll start with a working title and then write the post.  At the conclusion, I’ll re-read the post and then see if the headline makes sense.  I think I need to work this better to get better results.
  • Write with Passion – when you show you care about what you’re writing, your readers are more likely to care too.
    • I do this as well as I can.
  • Give your Readers something to do Next – ask your readers to DO something once they finish reading. It could be to read something else, comment, apply a lesson, share the post etc.
    • I seldom do this.  At times, I do as people to comment.  This is good advice; more of a “call to action” for the readers.  I do need to do this better.
  • Tell Stories – stories are powerful ways of connecting with, inspiring and teaching your readers – they also create memories
    • I never used to do this but have tried to do it in my recent writing.  I think it helps put context to what I’m writing and gives people reading the raison d’être for the post
  • Give Your Posts Visual Appeal – the inclusion of an eye-catching image or a well designed diagram can take your post to the next level.
    • I don’t find that I do this all the time.  Even writing this post, I’m wondering what kind of image or diagram would fit.  I’m drawing a blank here – so no image.
  • Practise – the best way to improve your writing is to write. Practise Makes Perfect.
    • This was good advice in English and Language classes and it remains excellent advice.  I know that not all of my posts hit it out of the park.  That’s where analytics come to play and make it helpful.  I am appreciative of the daily visitors who come hoping that I’ve got something good for them.  I wonder what the good/bad ratio would be.

This was another good exercise to do for me.  Thank you Darren Rowse for the original post.  As I look at his post and, in particular, the amount of reader interaction that he commands, I’m impressed.  He’s obviously got it right – can I get better?

Hug an English Teacher


My mom had a plaque that was hung on the wall that said “Too late we grow smart”.  Growing up, I always thought it was something cool that she bought at a flea market but when I think now, it’s advice that makes so much sense.

In high school, I was a math nerd.  In Grade 13, I took three Mathematics, three Sciences, and grudgingly and under duress, one English.  I don’t have the report card but I do recall marks in the 80s and 90s in mathematics and science and a low 60 in English.  I’m pretty sure that, if I had the report card, there would have been an English comment to the effect “Could do so much better if he’d get off his ass and apply himself”.

It wasn’t that I didn’t take part in class – I think that I was like most normal kids – I got the impression English books were only important if they had been written by some dead guy.  Writing was important to get marks.  Every writing assignment generated the same questions….

  • how long does it have to be?
  • single or double spaced?

Good times.

At least I had the other subjects to keep my marks up.  After all, it was important to be an Ontario Scholar and get some money for university.

I got an education and life goes on.  Later, I started writing software just for the enjoyment.  They were “doors” for PCBoard software.  A friend of mine, definitely not a computer type, tried to install one on his system and failed.  His complaint to me was the lack of clear, coherent documentation.  He was right.  Writing is important so I spent some time remembering English classes and skills from the past, proofread/revised and ended up creating instructions that made sense.

I started teaching and made writing documentation a part of every computer science assignment that my students had.  I would have arguments with other computer science teachers who thought that this practice was a waste of student time.  After all, we were teaching programming.  Even the students didn’t agree with me.  I recall many times the comments “Siiir, this isn’t English class”.  (pretend it’s a diphthong to get the full effect)  I’d be forever pointing out that the actual programming isn’t the only job a computer science graduate might get.

What’s all this got to do with English teachers?

I do remember my English classes as being ones of drudgery.  But, I managed to retain at least 60% of what we were assessed.  Yesterday’s post about “Tips for Bloggers” and Edna Sackton’s 10 Tips for Reticent Bloggers“ brought back many memories.  I spent some time reflecting on what I had actually recalled.  Not bad for a math nerd.

I think of today’s English teachers and the sorts of things that they’re doing:

  • They read the classics and they read blogs – all for meaning;
  • They take Shakespeare to Twitter – and the world;
  • They teach how to do and interpret real research – not just the first page of Google;
  • They encourage editing – not some contrived exercise but via wikipedia;
  • They do group work – not just in small groups within the classrooms but with students around the world;
  • They encourage writing – not just for the teacher audience, but a larger audience through blogging;
  • They teach media appreciation – not just by watching a VCR tape from the media centre but by creating and assessing original content in the classroom.

Now, this is a subject I could really get in to.

Bless the modern English teacher.  They’re embracing a subject discipline that’s a moving target.  Go ahead – hug an English teacher.  They’re doing the things that will take our students to where they need to be.

…Doug (just another 60% blogger)