Reference Question of the Day

Do you have a print copy of the U.S. tax code? . . . No? Good! My husband lost his eyesight, and he was going to make me read it to him. Thank you very much. You made my day!


Businesses that Take Your Online Class for You #cheatmooc

In Week Five of Understanding Cheating in Online Courses, we are investigating the methods used to cheat in online courses. One of the recommended readings is an article on Inside Higher Ed, written by Alexandra Tilsley, September 21, 2012, called “Paying for an A.” Out of curiosity, I checked out the websites mentioned in the article, looking for the answers to two questions. (1) Do they address the question of cheating, and if so, how do they justify what they are doing? (2) Who do they employ?

A couple of the sites mention cheating in the FAQs. encourages potential clients to check honor codes at their schools. They claim they can be considered “a supplement to your own studies and work.” I wonder if this eases the consciences of the employees. claims to merely be helping by providing answers; submitting those answers is the student’s choice.

As a perpetual student who often wishes I could take classes for a living, I wanted to know more about who these sites employ. (No, I’m not seriously considering employment with a site like this! I wouldn’t want to damage my own reputation as an ethical person and an academic by working for such a business.) However, I was curious… is hiring! They advertise for undergraduate students and college graduates with GPAs of 3.7 or higher. They give preference to students from prestigious colleges, presumably by being flexible about the GPA. They also advertise for graduate students with any GPA. Applicants must provide copies of transcripts and ID.

I was amused to see typos and grammar mistakes on these websites. For example,’s employment application form requests information about your “Exucation Background.” states:  “Once we release the answers, its up to you to submit those answers.” Classic its / it’s grammar mistake. Grammar and spelling mistakes on a website could lead the reader to several conclusions. The authors of the websites might not be very detail-oriented. They might not proofread their work, including the work their clients pay for, such as research papers. They might not be very reputable. They definitely shouldn’t be hired to take your English class for you!

Preventing Plagiarism: Librarians and Profs Need to Be on the Same Page #cheatmooc

For my #cheatmooc, Understanding Cheating in Online Courses, I watched a presentation by Dr. Robert Harris called Identifying and Reducing Plagiarism in Online Courses (AKA Plagiarism Prevention). The presentation was hosted on Google on Air on Monday, June 3, 2013, and I watched Part One live and Parts Two and Three via recording. I have questions and comments about Parts Two and Three, but since I watched the recording I couldn’t ask Dr. Harris directly.

I definitely want to say that Dr. Harris had many excellent and practical suggestions that I can very easily imagine using as a writing instructor. I also especially appreciated the shout out to reference librarians. Dr. Harris suggested that ideally, professors would work with a plagiarism specialist such as a reference librarian. The practical ideas that Dr. Harris suggested in Part Two, “Plagiarism-Resistant Assignments,” reminded me of the Information Literacy course I took in library school. Likewise, it reminded me of the time I spent working at Zollinger Library, UNM-Gallup. I recall many students coming in with assignments in which their bibliography had to include two scholarly articles, one newspaper article, one book, and two quality websites (or some such combination). Dr. Harris has suggested that this is a way that a professor can plagiarism-proof an assignment. It is unlikely, for example, that a research paper obtained dishonestly (purchased, copied, borrowed, etc.) would have this exact combination of sources that the professor specified.

Dr. Harris mentioned something he called citation theft, and he defined it as using the works cited list from someone else’s paper. In other words, you can find an interesting article about your topic, take its citation list, and then locate those exact articles for further reading in your own research. Dr. Harris called this a short cut, and he suggested preventing this short cut by requiring students to submit an annotated bibliography and then discussing with each student the articles listed on the annotated bibliography.

OK, now wait a minute. It seems that the professors and the librarians really need to talk. What Dr. Harris is calling citation theft is referred to as citation mining in library school, and here’s the thing: it’s presented as a legitimate way to locate resources on your topic. In other words, librarians recommend to students that they use this technique. Here are some examples: Kennesaw State University, Georgia State University, University of Calgary. I am sure there are plenty of others.

Dr. Harris mentioned that the process of research, not the final product of the research, should be considered the purpose of an assignment. Given that point of view, which I don’t disagree with, I can understand why Dr. Harris might not want students to mine citations. If a student uses exactly and only the citations from someone else’s works cited list, then that student has not learned to conduct a unique literature review. However, if professors and librarians are going to work in partnership to address the problem of plagiarism, then they need to be on the same page about whether this activity of getting ideas from someone else’s works cited list is mining or theft. I don’t think students appreciate the mixed message of a reference librarian recommending a technique that the professor prohibited (or at least frowns upon).

Another idea that struck me…

Dr. Harris suggested that the use of colons and semi-colons are a stylistic clue that plagiarism might be taking place since most college students don’t use them. I can remember back to about eighth grade when I used both colons and semi-colons, and I used them correctly, I might add. My English teacher was surprised that I was using them and asked where I had learned them. My answer was, “Last year, in English class.” I still use them, and I think you will find two colons in this blog post. Also, Dr. Harris mentioned that the use of a noun as an adjective is an unlikely structure and possible red flag. I love to use nouns as adjectives, but it doesn’t mean I’m plagiarizing. I have two thoughts about this. First, it’s a shame that facility with the English language is a red flag. Second, I assume that Dr. Harris means that these things are red flags if they are not normally present in a particular student’s writing. Please don’t suspect a student of plagiarism just because she paid attention in seventh grade English class!

Understanding Cheating in Online Environments #cheatmooc

As a perpetual student, I am always looking for courses to take, certificates to earn, maybe another Master’s (though probably not a PhD). My wallet doesn’t keep up with my academic dreams, so I am taking MOOCs, massive open online courses. I just started one that seems not only fascinating but also quite relevant to my other two personas of certified librarian and born teacher: Understanding Cheating in Online Environments taught by Dr. Bernard Bull (or perhaps he would prefer I say “guided by” or “facilitated by”). The premise is that by understanding academic dishonesty, we can better address it, particularly with an emphasis on encouraging and fostering academic honesty.

During Week One, we have focused on definitions. We aren’t just talking about cheating, because that’s too simplistic. We are talking about impersonation, sabotage, multiple submissions, scientific misconduct, etc. There are so many ways to cheat, it’s ridiculous. As a librarian, the one that is most interesting to me is plagiarism, and I hope to learn ways that librarians can help encourage academic honesty. The obvious idea that comes to mind is information literacy. Librarians help students find information to use in their assignments, and that creates a teaching moment: “When you use this information, this is what you need to do to avoid plagiarism….”

There was some discussion of second language speakers (students whose first language is not English) having a particular problem with plagiarism. As an ESL teacher, I have a great love for immigrants, refugees, and international students, and so this particularly caught my attention. One possible reason for international students having a problem with plagiarism is different culturally-based definitions of academic dishonesty. In other words, what American professors consider plagiarism is not considered so in a student’s home country. Another possible reason is that second language speakers do not have an English vocabulary rich enough to paraphrase. (Still, there is the issue that even if you are not a particularly good paraphraser, you can still cite your sources, which brings us back to culturally-based definitions of plagiarism). I hope to focus on these two ideas while I take this course: the librarian role in preventing plagiarism and the issues specific to international students and plagiarism.

Week One Reading List

10 types of plagiarism. (2012, November 16). Video retrieved from

Barnbaum, C. (n.d.). Plagiarism: A student’s guide to recognizing it and avoiding it. Retrieved from

DePauw University. (n.d.). Types of academic dishonesty. Retrieved from

Robillard, A. E. (2010, January 7). How metaphors change our approaches to plagiarism. Retrieved from

TurnItIn. (2012). The plagiarism spectrum: Tagging 10 types of unoriginal work. Retrieved from

University of California, Berkeley, Center for Student Conduct. (n.d.). Definitions and examples of academic misconduct. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2013, April 30). Academic dishonesty. Retrieved from

York University. (2012, August 26). Academic integrity tutorial. Retrieved from

Using Libros to Find Books

Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, has a You Tube account with a selection of many information literacy videos. “Using Libros to Find Books” ( explains how to use the library catalog. The video (3:16) has been viewed 123 times in a little over a year. A brief synopsis describes the content of the video so that the user can determine whether the video will be useful to view. The video starts with a slide that advises the viewer to maximize the browser window for the best viewing and that the video has audio. It is particularly useful to inform the viewer in advance that there is audio because the viewer might be in a situation where it isn’t be a good idea to play sound. The viewer can then mute the sound or use earphones. The video is captioned, and the hearing impaired (or a person who for some reason cannot play the sound) can still benefit from the video. It would be a good idea to include this information on the introductory slide because a viewer might not automatically assume that captions are provided. The video is narrated by the Distance Services Librarian who has a pleasant voice to listen to.

The content of the video includes an explanation of what types of materials are found in the catalog and how to access the catalog. There is a brief tip about using the most important keywords of the topic as search terms, and a search is demonstrated using a hypothetical topic. The librarian explains that there are alternate ways to sort the search results (by date or title), but she doesn’t mention the default sorting criteria (relevance). A very good explanation of the item record is provided which includes mention of publication information (for citation purposes), location / call number / and status (for actually locating an item), and the contents and subject headings (for determining whether the item will meet the patron’s needs). The librarian also explains that clicking on a subject heading will provide a list of similar items. At the end of the video, contact information is provided for further questions. Unfortunately, the audio is cut off mid-sentence at the end.

In general, the video is well done, but it is unfortunately out of date. Since the creation of the video, the appearance of the catalog has completely changed. The video shows the old appearance, and this could disorient novice searchers who expect one thing but encounter another when using the catalog. Unfortunately, in order to change this, the entire video must be redone. While it might be a nuisance to redo the video, other small changes could be made at the same time, such as mentioning at the very beginning that the video is captioned, explaining more completely the sorting options, and preventing the unfortunate cut-off at the end of the video.

Reputation Building in Online Communities

In Characteristics of Successful Online Communities, Andrew Cohen has written some very interesting guidelines for successful online communities. He emphasizes the need to plan for success, make people feel at home, rule with benevolence, encourage personal relationships, and facilitate reputation building. I found reputation building to be the most interesting of all his guidelines. I traditionally think of reputation building as something a company would do, but Cohen is talking about allowing community members to build their reputations within the community. When frequent and high quality participation is acknowledged, not only is the community as a whole bolstered, but individual community members develop and build strong reputations within the community. Cohen suggests several ways to do this. Frequent participation can be rewarded with a virtual ribbon once a community member reaches a threshold. Active participants can be publicly acknowledged by featuring them in a spotlight or by interviewing them. Finally, allowing community members to rate postings and comments rewards quality, and members with high ratings can be given more privileges within the community.

Tagging: Pros and Cons

Folksonomies are created by users trying to identify Web content by assigning their own keywords called tags. There is no hierarchical structure or controlled vocabulary. Folksonomies are created by anyone interested in assigning tags to something online, and collectively all the tags create the folksonomy. Because folksonomies are created by users, the terms assigned as tags are likely to be common parlance and often terms that appear in the actual document. There is, however, a possibility of many different tags describing the same things or a single tag referring to more than one thing, creating problems with precision and recall. Folksonomies and tagging are commonplace in social media applications such as blogs, social bookmarking, Flickr, etc.

Facebook for Social Media Marketing

Nicole Purviance, Marketing and Outreach Specialist for SJSU SLIS, gave a presentation on 3-8-2012 called Social Media Marketing. Ms. Purviance defines social media as inexpensive tools that combine technology with social interaction. Some examples of social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Linked In, You Tube, Pinterest, blogging, and Google+. Facebook by far dominates the list with the most unique visitors and the longest amount of time being spent on the site. Facebook has 734.2 million unique visitors per month, and users spent an average of 405 minutes on Facebook in January 2012. In comparison, Twitter has 144.4 million unique visitors per month, and users spent 21 minutes on Twitter in January 2012. Businesses can take advantage of Facebook’s enormous reach, using it to connect with current and future customers. Some examples of how to use Facebook for marketing include:

  • Ask fans questions,
  • Debut a product launch,
  • Hold contests,
  • Link to an article, and
  • Ask customers how the company is doing.

To effectively use Facebook, it is necessary to encourage interaction and keep conversations going by asking open-ended questions. Best practices include freely sharing resources with followers, creating a consistent look and feel across all social media platforms, and creating a community where users can talk about themselves. It is also important to provide many reasons for fans to return to the site. Social media marketing success can be measured several ways. Exposure can be measured by analyzing the number of visits, views, and fans. Influence can be monitored by keeping track of how users speak about your business. Engagement is revealed by user activity such as posting, tagging, and commenting. Finally, if fans are attending events and doing other suggested activities, it can be concluded that the social media marketing efforts are resulting in customer action. I agree with the many points that Ms. Purviance made in her presentation, but I wish she would have tailored her comments to the use of social media in libraries rather than businesses. Still, her information was all very useful and can be transferred to libraries. In the case of the library where I work, Facebook is most likely the best social media platform to use. It’s an academic library, and upon entering the computer lab, it is very easy to see that there are at least as many students on Facebook (and a few on You Tube) as there are doing homework assignments, suggesting that Facebook is there social media tool of choice.

[Ms. Purviance provided the sources for this data and can be reached at SJSU SLIS for more information.]

Culture of Collaboration

While internal collaboration sounds ideal, it can be difficult to achieve, especially considering traditional work models. Kelly (2009) lists several aspects of a workplace culture that will foster collaboration. The first factor that helps create a collaborative environment is “come and go as you please” schedules. According to Kelly, when management allows alternative schedules, telecommuting, and time off to attend to personal commitments, collaboration, ironically, is likely. Employees will need to use various document creation, planning, communication, and file-sharing tools to accomplish their goals. If there is a culture that encourages the sharing of information, collaboration will be likely. Employees who are connected, technically savvy, early adopters of the latest technology, and open to the possibility of discussing work at any time will be more likely to collaborate. Finally, management that demonstrates by example that they value collaboration will also find that they have a staff that is likely to collaborate.

If these factors encourage collaboration, then it stands to reason that the opposite factors will inhibit collaboration. Expecting employees to not only always be at the office but at their desks does not encourage a collaborative environment. Micromanaging will not lead to cooperation; management must loosen up control if they hope to achieve creative collaboration. Kelly describes “knowledge archipelagos,” islands of information caused by the hoarding of knowledge by individual employees; these archipelagos are the opposite of collaboration. If there is a split in the staff between those who achieve work-life balance by only conducting work during traditional working hours and those who are willing to be constantly available through technology, even during non-work hours, then collaboration will be difficult. Finally, when some or all of the staff is paid an hourly rate (instead of an annual salary), collaboration outside of paid work shifts is unlikely. The availability of collaborative tools such as Google Docs, wikis, or Skype will not create collaboration amongst a staff that is anti-collaboration due to personal or corporate beliefs and practices that stifle it.


Kelly, W. (2009). Corporate culture, not technology, drives collaboration. Web Worker Daily.