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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Cite It Right: Online Citation Tools and Formal Citations

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

We hear it often: "Plagiarism is rampant! Teachers as detectives! Punish the wrongdoers! Stand up for what is right! Seize the moral high ground!"

I have written about plagiarism before, but this time I want to discuss how the offense can often be subtler than buying a published paper online or overtly copying and pasting a document. Rather, it can be a case of simply failing to properly cite sources. If a chunk of text, an image, or a multimedia clip is taken from a source without citation, then -- bingo! -- plagiarism.

In fact, we should probably include the ability to copy and paste and to blend content from multiple digital sources into a single document or file as a key twenty-first-century skill. With this realization, rather than discouraging such behavior we should be encouraging it, while simultaneously teaching students how to properly cite materials.

Here are some online tools for students that take the confusion out of citing sources:

  • Education blogger David Warlick's Citation Machine, which he describes as a tool that will help students, teachers, and researchers learn how to properly "respect other people's intellectual properties"
  • NoodleTools -- with its wonderfully simple NoodleBib functionality -- which targets grades 1-5 and English as a Second Language students and requires the creation of an account but is free and allows you to save bibliographies as lists
  • SourceAid, the tool for professionals that encourages educators to, as the SourceAid Web site states, "invest in the academic integrity of your classroom by providing your students with the best tools to cite properly and avoid plagiarism."

These Web sites vary in the number and type of citations they illustrate, as well as the diversity of sources they cite. Each discusses how to cite books, Web sites, and encyclopedias, but they are not equal and should be reviewed by teachers and students to identify the one that is right for them and for their work. While perusing these sites, be sure to look at the interactive resources available on NoodleTools under "Teacher Resources," the SourceAid newsletter on research skills, and the other wonderful tools and resources available from Warlick's Landmarks for Schools.

Arguments I occasionally hear against the use of these powerful tools remind me of the calculator debates. The ability to automate the creation of citations still makes some educators nervous and has them wondering whether, by allowing students to avoid the pain of learning how to properly cite their term papers, they aren't doing enough to support the development of good researchers. Many are concerned that these tools just make it too easy for students to cite without really understanding how and why to cite, and when.

Do you and/or your school support the use of online citation builders? Do you use Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association formatting and style guides? Why or why not -- and, if so, which is your favorite? Are there other tools we should know about? I'm interested in your comments. And, yes, I promise to cite you as a resource!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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