Plagiarism Photography Workshops consultancy home
1 focus on question setting




Teachers set questions because they have an expectation that students will go through a number of processes during which some real learning will occur and they are able to assess what students know and can do. It is therefore critical to design questions that oblige students to go through the processes you wish. McKenzie is unambiguous;

it is reckless and irresponsible to continue requiring topical, 'go find out about' research projects in this new electronic context … We have more to worry about here than websites offering term papers for sale … What we have is a societal shift toward glib and facile understandings allied with an archaic school research program (in some places) that places little value upon questioning and original thought. (2000, p 130)

By developing a focus on setting questions requiring higher order thinking, ready-made answers are less likely to be available. McKenzie suggests asking why something did not happen, or why it did not happen sooner or later. ‘Write about the life of Mao’ is simply inviting a serve from Encarta. Asking ‘Would the course of Chinese history have been the same if Mao had died in (say) 1941?’ requires students to apply their understanding and make judgements about his influence.

Unley High maintains a focus on differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of students of differing ability levels. Bloom’s Taxonomy is used to develop tasks encouraging the use of higher order thinking skills and as a framework for reconsidering tasks. The following assignment had been used by the Languages faculty to encourage year 8 students to use the internet and develop their understanding of the country whose language they were studying.

Choose a region of: Italy/France/Germany/Greece/China and research any five of the following: cities; agriculture/industry; history; cultural events; tourist features; famous people; foods/wines; special events; legend/myth.

Unley High School teacher Karin Wichmann saw this task as an invitation to wholesale plagiarism. A student with access to a CD/online encyclopaedia could have a four-week project done in under an hour, complete with maps, illustrations and artwork. The problem with such ‘trivial pursuits’ tasks is that a factual answer, the lowest level of thinking, is all that is required. Typically, any original thought involved in the process is dedicated to designing the cover.

You are a tour guide preparing an itinerary for a group of students who are planning to visit a particular region of Italy/ France/ Germany/ Greece/ China. This must be accompanied by either a letter or a presentation to the supervising teacher, students and parents convincing them of the value of your itinerary.

Re-framing the assignment thus requires the student to gather the information, then synthesise and present it to meet the specific needs of an identified audience, allowing more scope for originality. The best answers would recognise that teacher, students and parents may all be looking for something different and seek a compromise to balance these needs.

  • Examine tasks you set and consider the processes you are expecting the student to go through.
  • Does the task require those processes or can they simply be sidestepped?
  • What order of thinking is required?
  • Will the student be interrogating authentic raw data and drawing conclusions? How can new understandings be demonstrated?
  • Use Bloom's or a questioning toolkit to develop a range of questions.
  • An outstanding resource is the Xpata Lesson Planner
  • Be wary of student requests to do a particular topic as it may be stimulated by access to easily plagiarised material. Genuine interest however is the best motivator so rather than say no, set up the task carefully.
  • Finally, change your tasks to a significant degree for every class, otherwise ‘heirloom answers’ from older siblings and friends will continue to be handed down, year after year.





Back to Top

Links to the homepage of this website are permitted for educational purposes.

All original photographs © J G Taylor, 2005

Constructive comments and feedback would be appreciated.