Whose knowledge is it anyway?

This week we hear from Angela Finn, Deputy Head Learning & Teaching in the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University, discussing emergent issues with intellectual property for the creative arts online.

In recent years, the university has become increasingly interested in defining the ownership of intellectual property. This has become a topic of some confusion and discontent amongst teaching staff and students who are interested in protecting their own rights, for now and the future, for works that have been created within the university environment. In the context of design, sharing images of work can equate to publishing intellectual property. Where more traditional methods of sharing ideas are protected through anti-plagiarism policy and copyright law, the gratuitous reproduction of design images has become commonplace. Compiling and publishing of images is an accepted method of building contemporary knowledge within the visual disciplines and is encouraged through design methods such as recording inspirations in a visual diary – or more commonly now – a Pinterest board.


A screenshot of images that are available through Pinterest from a search for home design. https://www.pinterest.com/search

Consider the example of a recent Facebook post where innovative Australian design company ArchiBlox (http://www.archiblox.com.au/designs/) is gaining publicity by sharing and re-sharing their design drawings within the social media space.  The trade-off to generating interest within new markets is to share enough information for the audience to gain knowledge of a uniquely designed product such as the ArchiBlox modular system.

A link to Science Alert at University of Technology Sydney where the original Facebook posting was directed http://www.sciencealert.com/world-first-this-prefab-home-generates-more-energy-than-it-uses

A link to Science Alert at University of Technology Sydney where the original Facebook posting was directed http://www.sciencealert.com/world-first-this-prefab-home-generates-more-energy-than-it-uses

Although ArchiBlox go to the effort of posting a standard disclaimer on their website,

All ArchiBlox designs are subject to copyright law and are subject to the copyright act 1965. All rights retained by ArchiBlox Pty Ltd

They are embracing a different approach to online marketing. Business and industry are beginning to approach marketing of design by sharing design details as a way of setting their products apart from others in the marketplace. There is emerging freedom around making information freely available, in contrast to the earlier style where detailed information about a particular product or service was only accessible after completing a registration process.

The alternative is where companies such as ArchiBlox are overprotective of their intellectual property, to a point where no one would know about the sustainable, forward thinking, carbon positive, cutting-edge design that they are capable of producing. There is a long history within Fashion & Textiles design where being first is more important than being alone in terms of having a creative and innovative idea. There is little evidence of successful prosecution of fashion companies that infringe intellectual property rights through copying, given the rumoured commonality of the practice within industry circles. The costs of pursuing a case are prohibitive and in fashion terms, the evidence to prove an exact copy as well as hardship through a loss of profits is often difficult to procure.

The current debate about whether or not to freely share knowledge is becoming even more relevant as teachers begin to ‘capture’ their skills and knowledge in various formats to build teaching resources. This has been a result of a continuing and growing trend for using digital platforms to accommodate contemporary students, who have complex and varied work arrangements, and to support wider diversity within teaching practice. At RMIT University many large format lectures are recorded, lecturers produce numerous quizzes, blogs, Google+ communities, Facebook groups – the list continues to grow on what seems a weekly basis.  Some staff members have become concerned with ownership of the resulting image, text, film or other online content that is produced. The University will find it difficult to formulate policy around the dynamic nature of the digital environment. There is no clear delineation between lecturers’ paid work and the resources they develop as a side effect of their dedicated teaching practice, which also vary depending on their skill at using these ubiquitous forms of digital communication. The resulting questions may not have clear answers. Can content generated within an individual teacher’s practice be used to support other teachers within the university? What happens when a staff member moves on from RMIT University? Does the university ‘own’ these materials if they are produced by sessional or part-time staff?

I am reminded of the story of the digital revolution that retells the legend of the first software designers that published code for other designers to use and improve — this is long before our contemporary understanding of open source systems. One of my lecturers at university would tell his students the story that the rule of thumb was that if you liked a particular program you could send an envelope containing $5 to the author as a token of your appreciation. The resulting software was the back upon which today’s giants such as Microsoft, Apple Inc. and Google were built. What would have happened if each individual designer had developed their own software in isolation? Would we have the type of ubiquitous technology we have now? At a quick count I have at least seven personal computing devices (my personal and work laptops, iPads, iPhones as well as Apple TV) within a three metre radius of my sofa!

These questions would be resolved much more easily if we agree with the idea that knowledge cannot be owned but rather, as teachers, we are guardians of the knowledge we have accumulated and our main role is to offer this knowledge to our students. After all, where would any of us be without the people who shared their knowledge with us in the first place?

Linking to the recent Sessional Staff Symposium

Connecting Sessional Staff LogoPosted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

The College of Design and Social Context facilitated a Professional Development Symposium for sessional academic and teaching staff on Friday 6 September.

If you missed my last post, the 2013 Connecting Sessional Staff Project aims to:

  • Address individual learning and teaching needs
  • Share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • Support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • Connect with other sessional staff and learning networks across the University
  • Link to the online Sessional Modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP). The Modules are accessible through Blackboard and information is online at: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/pdttp/sessionals

The symposium workshops were practical and hands-on. They aimed to connect staff with their peers, their curriculum and with their students.

For those who missed the symposium or attended and missed a workshop, here is a brief overview with  the learning outcomes for each.  If you find something  of interest, you can follow the links or even contact the facilitator for more information:

Opening Session

Workshop 1: Technology… you’ve gotta have a Plan B!

Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching, Learning and Teaching Unit

•Design back-up activities to include in lesson plans for when the technology fails
•Know who to call and what to say when you have technical issues in the class
•Identify resources to have on hand to continue to engage your students.

See also:
the teaching tomtom: http://theteachingtomtom.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/technology-you-gotta-love-it-when-it-works/
Teaching with Technology: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 2: Assessment

John Benwell, Principle Learning & Teaching Advisor (Architecture and Design)

•Discuss and know how to use assessment as learning activity and a progress monitor
•Create an assignment in blackboard (with e-submission)
•Discuss and understand academic integrity using Turnitin.

See also:
RMIT University Student Assessment http://www.rmit.edu.au/students/assessment
Center for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne University http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/resources_teach/assessment/
Turnitin http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology/turnitin

Workshop 3: Engaging your students using Inclusive Teaching practices

Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, DSC

•Identify and discuss challenges in managing a diverse student cohort in your class
•Translate the principles of Inclusive Teaching into your practice
•Design activities that incorporate alternative teaching strategies.

See also:
Inclusive Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/inclusive

Workshop 4: Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces

Thembi Mason, Educational Developer and Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor Learning & Teaching (Art)

•Identify the characteristics of a Next Generation Learning space
•Locate relevant resources and discuss approaches to teaching and the use of technology in these spaces

See also:
Next Generation Learning Spaces http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=xnbgfx4a17h3
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 5: Connecting courses to content

Bernadene Sward, Liaison Librarians and Anne Lennox, University Library

•Make the most of library licensed learning and teaching resources, open access and creative commons content.

See also:
Library Learning Repository http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/learningrepository
School Liaison Librarians http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarianshttp://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarians

Workshop 6: Teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds

Barbara Morgan, Study Learning Center

•Discuss the challenges facing students from diverse learning backgrounds
•Identify and integrate teaching strategies that address linguistic and cultural differences in the classroom.

See also:
Study and Learning Centre http://www.rmit.edu.au/studyandlearningcentreFinal Session

Workshop 7: RMIT Peer Partnerships: supported professional development for continuous improvement in teaching

Angela Clarke and Dallas Wingrove, Senior Research Fellows

•Find a focus for the observation of your teaching
•Provide sensitive and constructive feedback for a colleague
•Establish and build networks of professional relationships with DSC sessional teaching staff.

See also:
Peer Partnerships http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/peerpartnerships

Workshop 8: Flexible delivery, Blackboard Collaborate & Google Sites

Erika Beljaars-Harris, Howard Errey and Andrea Wallace, Educational Developers, DSC

•Use iPads and other mobile devices for teaching and learning
•Use and manage Blackboard Collaborate
•Setup and manage Google Sites.

See also:
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology
DevelopME http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/training

School workshops: Talking about Learning and Teaching

School Senior Advisors of Learning and Teaching with School Liaison Librarians and School representatives

•Identify issues surrounding learning and teaching practice in your School
•Locate key learning and teaching resources at RMIT
•Discuss ways in which you can contribute and feel included in a collegial and supportive environment.

Final Workshop: CES and feedback

Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context

The final workshop for the day focused on what academic and teaching staff will be encountering now students have returned for remainder of the year.

See also:
FAQs about CES http://www.rmit.edu.au/ssc/ces/faq

As you can see from the range of what was covered (and with an hour limit for each workshop) the conversations have only just begun.

We have time to prepare well for our end of year symposium, continue constructive conversations in the Schools and time to develop a firm plan for ongoing learning and teaching support for sessional staff beyond this semester.

A few more useful links for Sessional Staff at RMIT University 

Quick guide for sessional staff http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/sessional

Professional Development Calender http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/calendar

Learning and Teaching Unit http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching

Senior Advisors, Learning and Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/dsc/learningteaching

If you have any questions please share them in the comments section or contact me (Kellyann Geurts) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to have the tomtom delivered to your email as soon as it’s published and you can follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/TeachingTomTom.

The librarian, the academic, the student…

Posted by: June Frost, Liaison Librarian, University Library, Bundoora West Campus, RMIT University.

I recently came across this description of my library colleagues in an Oxford University student’s column:

When it is not attacking other creatures librarianus spectacalus spends most of its time catching the unsuspecting rectangular creature bookius bookius in the strange firm linear webs with which they line their mountain caves.  But librarianus does not eat bookius bookius; instead they catch it for the strange effect it produces when they stare at its underbelly.

rowsofbooksAcademic librarians are a strange breed of people. Of course, there are variations within the breed: some like to catalogue and organise information, some like to present information by using the latest gadgets, some like to verbally impart information (sometimes endlessly it seems), some (just a few) like to keep information secret, but almost all of us love to share information in one way or another. It’s not difficult to distinguish the key word here – INFORMATION! We love the opportunity to share information with our colleagues, teachers, lecturers and researchers and with our families (much to their dismay). Here is a typical exchange:

– How was your day, Mum?
– Oh, really good today. Did you see my post on Facebook about RMIT Library’s new LibrarySearch function? It’s just like doing a Google search except you find all the Library resources on one topic including e-books, e-articles and streaming video?
– Oh, great Mum – hope you didn’t make it public!

But most of all, we love sharing information with students who at certain times of the year, are our biggest fans.  It might be that StudentonmobilephoneatRMITthey’ve never used a certain database or that they hadn’t realised they can access a resource from their iPad or maybe they’ve hit a tricky concept in one of their courses. They might not know it, but they’re usually looking to fill a gap in their information skill-set.

Information skills

Information /ɪnfəˈmeɪʃ(ə)n/ (International Phonetic Alphabet)

  • facts provided or learned about something or someone: a vital piece of information.

(from Oxford Dictionaries Online.)

Traditionally, information skills sessions takes place in the first few weeks of a semester, when students are reeling from information overload.  It doesn’t matter whether they are starting a TAFE certificate or beginning research for a PhD, there’s a lot to take in.  The Library homepage contains a plethora of – you guessed it—INFORMATION, and students need to learn the skills to navigate (we also love the word ‘navigate’) their way around and through this information, until ‘Bingo!’ they find what they are looking for.  To get to the ‘Bingo!’ moment, it’s quite understandable that most students will need some help in: firstly, recognising they need information; secondly, selecting the right method to find the information; thirdly, finding ways to locate, disseminate and store the information; fourthly, synthesising and evaluating the information; and lastly, deciding on the methods to present the information.

Time Pressures

A study by Kent state University Researchers which collected data from higher education institutions across 17 states in the USA found that the biggest barrier to including information skills (or IL: information literacy) in teacher education programs was time:

It makes sense that barriers remained consistent whether educators were trying to integrate IL skills or IL standards. Since most courses consist of well-established content, it is not surprising that lack of time and lack of their own expertise in IL were identified as major hurdles. These responses highlight another possible benefit of collaboration; a librarian, looking at a course from a different perspective, may be able to suggest ways that existing content and assignments can be slightly modified to include important IL skills and knowledge. Kovalik, et al (2010) p.62

I suspect the same might be said of RMIT or indeed across the nation.  It does take time for course coordinators and lecturers to firstly talk to or LIAISE (another of our favourite words) with librarians, schedule in an information skills session and then find a time to incorporate it into the busy course schedule, but it will be worth the effort.

The Solution

StudentreachingforbookatRMITOne solution to this may be to rethink the timing of library skills sessions in the academic year.  How about scheduling a session mid-semester when the student’s first major assessment piece is being delivered?  If the librarian has access to the assignment question and themes, the skills session can then be tailored to the question and the students can walk away with not only skills but some actual resources to set them on their way. For flexibility, we could also ensure this information is available online for students who prefer to learn from their bedroom floor…speaking as someone with teenage children.

For myself, I will happily impart information to students at any time of the year, but by trying to strategically place these research sessions at the right point of the calendar, it may produce better outcomes.

Maybe it could further cement our libraries as AWESOME, SICK and KOOL (yes that’s how they spell it now!) places on campus.  Or to use the IPA/ˈɔːs(ə)m//sɪk/ and /kuːl/.

Share your thoughts about campus libraries and information skills in the comments below!


Kovalik, C. L., Jensen, M. L., Schloman, B., & Tipton, M. (2010). Information literacy, collaboration, and teacher education. Communications in Information Literacy, 4(2), 145-169. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/865649314?accountid=13552. 1 February 2013

Plagiarism and academic integrity

Posted by: Meredith Seaman, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Perhaps we are better at detecting plagiarism because of software such as Google and Turnitin. Or perhaps we forget that every generation, at least since the ancient Romans and Greeks, complains that the next one is composed of lazy, possibly illiterate, youngsters willing to cut ethical corners.  

– Jeff Karon, A Positive Solution for Plagiarism, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 2012

late_afternoon_student_studyingIt can seem from recent news articles that the more technology universities adopt to detect plagiarism, the more students have easy access to online material, social media networks and professional online services to break the rules. But whether on the increase or not, and what or whoever is to blame, fostering academic integrity in students can feel like an overwhelming challenge for teachers and institutions.

If there is one element in all of the discussion that seems to underpin most of the suggestions and strategies, it is the benefit of moving the conversation from one about plagiarism to the broader topic of academic integrity.

Less emphasis on punitive strategies and more on what we could call ‘health promotion’ strategies seems intuitively to me the right way to go. My alternate title for this post was: “Strategies to foster academic integrity with an emphasis on prevention rather than cure”.

While it may be challenging, research papers, web resources and blog posts are full of these positive suggestions and potential ways to improve learning cultures at the same time as mitigating risk.

This post will survey a few of these and add some examples from our own context here at RMIT (the paragraphs beginning ‘In practice…’) of a large first year social sciences course that were kindly shared with me for this post.

There are many strategies and interventions that can help your students demonstrate academic integrity and avoid plagiarism, but no magic bullet. I want to suggest three key aspects from ‘Minimising Plagiarism’ at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (The University of Melbourne) that may provide a framework to reconsider the elements of academic integrity in your course:

1. Make expectations clear to students

Modelling good behaviour, talking about your academic values with students, and making your expectations about referencing and originality of work clear in course guides and in-class can help. Share your expectations with your colleagues too. We don’t all start paraphrasing and referencing at the high standard of peer reviewed journals and we shouldn’t expect that from students new to tertiary study. Unpacking appropriate standards for students as a teaching team, then with students, and providing clear guidelines and examples of referencing appropriate to the discipline are critical. RMIT’s Learning Lab (see below) has modules that you could consider incorporating into your course.

In practice: Colleagues embedded a short module on plagiarism, referencing and paraphrasing including short diagnostic exercise into a large first year class using discipline-relevant examples. They also did a formative quiz with students on their perceptions of what was and wasn’t plagiarism, and paraphrasing and referencing exercises. This cleverly included the issue of whether internet content was in the free public domain (or needed to be cited and so on) which is commonly misunderstood. The module and associated quiz was part of a process of developing consensus amongst teaching staff and the students about what constituted ‘cheating’ and/or plagiarism, and making sure all students were aware of expectations. It was done early in the class so that anyone that didn’t sail through the quiz (most did) could get appropriate support and feedback.

2. Revisit course and assessment design

Students are more likely to cheat if they feel a course is unimportant or badly taught. If they feel ignored or cannot understand the purpose of the assessment or believe they are being asked to reiterate well-worn ideas rather than create their own, they cut corners … 

– Jude Carroll, Deterring, detecting and dealing with plagiarism at Brookes University (UK)

One of the best ways to tackle plagiarism and associated problems may be by focussing on innovative and flexible assessment tasks that feel authentic. Refreshing assessment tasks each semester, requiring students to show drafts, or unpack their learning and the processes they have undertaken in their assignments may be some simple ways to design against plagiarism.

Another factor may be the timing and overloading of assessment tasks. If assessments are carefully staggered across the semester and subjects/courses, and if students are supported through good assessment design to plan ahead, then there will be less of the last-minute pressure that has been shown to be one cause of students submitting work that isn’t their own.

In practice: Colleagues used online Turnitin submission in a first year assignment, providing students with access to be able to check their own paraphrasing and referencing before formal submission of the work for grading. Students are able to see a visual representation of the extent of their work’s originality.

3. Visibly monitor, detect and respond to incidences of plagiarism

This tip partly takes us back to making expectations clear.  Reinforced in guides on preventing plagiarism is the importance of detection and response as part of the overall package (but not in isolation). Using Turnitin as part of your Blackboard assignment submission is one way to openly demonstrate to students that work will be checked for originality, and can also be used as an educational tool.

Further resources or prevention is better than cure:

Resources that highlight strategies and solutions to promote academic integrity and prevent plagiarism (these cover everything from induction, learning outcome design, creating a culture of learning, all the way through to assessment):

RMIT-specific resources:

  • At RMIT, Turnitin is now embedded in Blackboard assessment tools.  Click on the link to find out more.
  • Academic Integrity: an essential requirement in tertiary study (PPT 45 KB)
    This is a basic and easy to use PowerPoint suited to introducing students to the concept of academic integrity which can be adapted to your teaching context
  • Assessment Plagiarism at RMIT (PPT 76 KB)
    A PowerPoint explaining to staff the importance of assessment practice in minimising plagiarism.
  • While best done in a discipline context, RMIT’s Learning Lab resources include a video, online tutorial and pdf quicktips on referencing, integrating references into written work, and tips on avoiding plagiarism for students that could be embedded into your course. See their Referencing section.

Recent articles to share with your colleagues and students which may help you unpack academic integrity and plagiarism in your classes:

Thanks to Rachel Chamberlain and Rosy Peake from the School of GUSS for their input into this post and for sharing their experiences and clever solutions.

Share your thoughts on academic integrity and strategies to develop and promote it in the comments below!