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Resources For Teaching Fair Use In Web Environments

There are several ways to address students’ changing conceptions of research and fair use given the influence of changing technologies.

Address it directly in class

Explain that our everyday use of web environments (e.g. peer-to-peer file sharing, downloading music, linking to others’ content) may suggest that it is acceptable to copy or use non-print content more freely, but it is not, particularly for academic writing. The same rules about plagiarism and intellectual property apply, even if you are quoting from a source published nowhere else but a web environment. If you want to take it a step further, it may be helpful to look at a few examples of Creative Commons’ licenses of web content and explain that a Creative Commons license is more open than typical copyright but still requires proper citation when used either in a web or print environment. Typically, the authors of such works will indicate what constitutes “fair use” directly on their material.

Provide information on evaluating sources

Many students have trouble distinguishing credible information they find on the Web. Providing resources on how to distinguish a credible source from a questionable one can help students develop the research literacy tools central to academic work. Also offer your students lists or links to acceptable databases, or encourage them to only search using the Library’s research databases.

Offer suggestions about writing processes

Some students do almost all their research online and thus, rarely take “hard copy” notes about what they read. Such practices lead to cutting and pasting into their notes, a fine practice, but they forget to note the source or even that it came from a sources and thus, later, put it into their papers as their own words. Encourage students to use a different color font for anything they cut and paste off the web, so that at the very least they will know to backtrack for a citation if they forget to copy it when researching.

Require a handbook

All students purchase a writing handbook in first-year writing that they are told to keep for future courses, but many sell it back despite our best advice. Consider requiring a writing handbook (the Writing Program can provide suggestions) so that citation information for a variety of web sources is easily accessible and rules of quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing can be reviewed.