Lit Blogs and Lit Students

If you are a litblogger like me, have you come across actions or comments that suggest your blog is being used by students? What do you think about it?

I’ve noticed three specific behaviours that suggest student use:

  • outright questions in the comments, some specifically telling me that they are a student and can I help them, and some simply giving their student-status away by the style of question. I don’t know about you, but my response varies depending on the sort of question. Mostly, I try to refer them to other sources and encourage them to think for themselves, rather than telling them outright what I think the theme is or what a metaphor means. If commenters (who may or may not be students) engage in discussion, as in “I thought x meant y”, then I’d happily respond back. Otherwise, I try to be wary about pontificating!
  • searches reaching my blog that seem to clearly be an assignment or school question of some sort, such as what significance does “whitaker’s table of precedency” have in “the mark on the wall” or what literary devices are used in “the mark on the wall”? They seem like giveaways to me.
Book covers - HMS Press (Toronto/London) Canada

Couldn’t resist this (From HMS Press Canada; Public Domain, via: Wikipedia)

  • searches reaching my blog that I suspect are made by teachers searching for, well, plagiarism. These are the most bothersome ones. They are ones where someone has entered in a sentence or two verbatim from a blog post of mine, as in, recently: “Clearly, given the story Ariyoshi has told, she rather agrees  – or, at least, agrees for such societies as she depicts here in which women’s lot is not only an inferior one but works to discourage them from cooperating and supporting each other. The novel may be set in Japan, but the fundamental truths, unfortunately, are not so confined.”  That’s a pretty convoluted thing to type into a search engine, don’t you think? Is testing for plagiarism the only reason something like this would be entered as a search term? Or, am I being overly suspicious?

Have you experienced these? What do you think? Are you flattered? Bothered? I don’t mind students using my reviews if they cite them properly. It’s their risk if the teacher thinks my ideas are up-the-creek after all, but the plagiarism issue is another matter. In those cases, I wouldn’t mind not being cited (so much), if the teacher thought it was rubbish!

If you’re a litblogger, have you had similar experiences, and if so what you do think or what have you done about it? Or, are you are student or teacher? What do you think?

36 thoughts on “Lit Blogs and Lit Students

  1. I don’t think you are being overly suspicious at all Sue, and that definitely sounds like a check for plagiarism to me!! It’s entirely possible that the searcher just cut and pasted the passage from an electronic copy of an essay though, that’s what I do when I suspect a student has cheated (albeit I’d use a smaller clip).

    I think it is pretty lazy for students to ask outright questions for their assignment. I’d resist that too!!

    • Thanks Hilary. You’re sensible not to type too much in… You probably don’t need to to get a hit. The sentences of mine were pretty convoluted … I’d probably change them if I wrote it now.

  2. If it’s any consolation, many universities now mark electronically using a system that automatically searches online and gives a plagiarism percentage for papers. So if uni students are stealing from your blog, they’re probably getting caught too. You’re blog’s certainly plagiarism-worthy!

  3. I don’t think it is your role to explain at all – you are writing some beautiful and thoughtful pieces – which challenge/alert others of us to the particular writer – or to thoughts which are aroused by your writing – to agree or add further. That is clearly the intent of this site. With blurring rushes around the edges. But not to be interrogated – which clearly some young “visitors” in their naïvety or innocence are on the verge of doing. Perhaps you can merely turn the question back to them to answer as fully as they themselves think/are able – before you will add some (albeit brief) comment – but certainly not your views first. It’s clear I have been a long time away from the literature study classroom – back in the days when the phraseology in essays might clearly alert me to – say – the three students who had merely copied – one from the other! Things have become far more digitally sophisticated!

    • Thanks Jim … that’s a good point to throw it back at them (if I could be sure they were a student!).

      And yes, you are right, things have become more digitally sophisticated. I imagine it’s a real challenge for teachers to make sure they are getting their students’ considered thoughts (of their own or of the opinions of others that they’ve read).

  4. Yes, I’ve experienced it, too. A good deal of my traffic comes from such search entries as you describe. It makes me feel bad, certainly. Not because a student is filching content for this or that assignment. But because my material — whatever its value — isn’t really being read. Now if I were the students’ teacher or professor, it would drive me insane. Fortunately I’m just a blogger. Hope you’ve been well, Sue. Cheers, Kevin

    • Nice to hear from you Kevin … I hope you’ve been well too. You seemed to have been quiet for a while though I noticed a few more posts recently. (Am currently on the move so am not getting around blogs very effectively at present!).

      “Fortunately I’m just a blogger” is how I feel too!

  5. Yup, it happens to me in exactly the same way.
    When I know that a book is on a senior secondary booklist, I am deliberately vague about plot points etc. because while I don’t mind students plundering the web for ideas about themes, I take a dim view of it when they haven’t read the book!
    But sometimes I only discover that it’s on a booklist afterwards e.g. The Concubine is clearly on a list somewhere but I didn’t know that when I wrote about it.
    When that happens, I shrug my shoulders and leave it up to students’ teachers to deal with it, as I’m sure they do.
    After all, I can always tell when my primary-aged students do it – and they all know that it’s an automatic fail when I catch ’em at it!

    • Ah yes, that’s the trick, Lisa … knowing what’s on the curriculum. Trouble is you say, it can change – and we hope it does, don’t we ie that, say, a great new Aussie novel will be taught in schools. I can always tell when northern hemisphere schools go back because there are some posts of mine that start to get a lot of hits (Virginia Woolf and other short stories) so I’m guessing those works are on syllabi somewhere!

      I agree re being vague about plot points, though I hadn’t thought about it for that reason … I just find it boring to write about them, though you do need, don’t you, to give some idea of what the book is about. I once wrote a review – on a group blog before here – in which I gave no summary of the content. A reader quickly told me they’d like to know what the book was about! That was a very helpful comment.

  6. It happens (very) occasionally – the books I cover are less likely to crop up as often 😉
    I do suspect that Dürrenmatt’s ‘Der Richter und sein Henker’ is a set text in Ireland, either for school or university – judging by some destination stats. And my early review of ‘A Room with a View’ also gets a suspiciously high number of views!

  7. When I look at my search results it leads me to believe that I get a fair amount of hits from folks doing research. Of course I do not know if they are actually using anything that they find, they might just be stopping by during the course of their search.

    My reaction has been curiosity, I wonder what specifically that they are researching. I also wonder if they used anything that they found.

  8. I don’t pay very much attention to what searches bring folks to my blog but I have noticed at times an influx of hits on certain older posts which prompts me to try and figure out where the traffic is coming from and it usually turns out to be the sorts of searches students might do. I’ve gotten one or two comments clearly from students asking for help and one email. I am always glad to discuss but kindly refuse to provide “the answer.” I don’t know if anything has ever been plagiarized, but desperate teenagers on the internet probably points to likely which makes me hope they got a bad grade.

    • Oh Stefanie, I love seeing what searches bring people to my blog. I find it fascinating. I think I’ve told you before that your question about whether Red Dog dies in the movie brings a lot of people to my blog … it still makes me laugh when I see them come in!

      I think you are right about discussing but avoiding giving “answers”. Sometimes I’ve had desperate ones about an exam next week!

  9. Aaaaaargh kids these days!! This really gets my goat. I still remember the feeling of utter shock that froze me in the Narrabundah LIbrary when I discovered that cliff notes-esque books not only existed, but most people used them. I couldn’t believe that people didn’t conjure up their own analyses of texts. I just… I felt gypped and proud of myself at the same time, I remember.

  10. Yes, I share the concern that my reviews are being misused, especially reviews I did in the past. Often the books are ones that teachers might use to diversify students’ reading, and they come from all over the globe. How can there be universal assignments of Emcheta’s The Bride Price?. At times I have fretted about my blog being a universal cliffnotes, but I am begining to hope that at least the students are being exposed to a few new ideas from reading my blog.

    My daughter who teaches philosophy say that she can now requires her students to submit their papers through a computer program that scans them for possible plagiarism. The wonders of technology.

    • Ah yes, Marilyn that’s what another commenter said here about computer scanning for plagiarism. I’d love to know how the computer does it. Must research that. And, I hope you’re right … that your blog is increasing exposure to a greater variety of literature and ways of being and seeing.

    • LOL Dani … I’m in the middle of writing another post on a brothel book (but traveling is eating into my reading and blogwriting time). Maybe that will increase my chances of such searches!

  11. Virtually the only people who come to my blog are looking for “a picture of a cliff” or “people on a cliff” or most recently: “smooth cliff face.” It’s been this way for years.

  12. I forgot to say that there are a number of Australian school libraries that have links to my blog and when I’ve noticed the traffic coming in I’ve checked it out: these schools have web pages about the set texts, and they provide links to my reviews among other online resources. Ransom got a lot of hits this way, and so did one of the Graham Greene books, and of course Jasper Jones (a book I did not like at all). My guess is that these schools use these reviews as a starting point for discussion, but the advantage for the teacher is that by providing the links, they’re showing the students that they will recognise any plagiarism from that source.

    • Oh good point Lisa … I’m not aware of my blog being used that way. Sounds like the teachers are probably using the internet well and sensibly.

      Oops, posted this and forgot to add that I’ve found my blog on one such site (but I think it was for an OS book … just can’t recollect which one it was now, but I remember being intrigued.)

  13. My statistics tell exactly the same story. My most popular reviews are My Brilliant Career, The Children’s Bach and The Harp in the South – which I think is great, because it’s evidence that Australian women writers are being taught in schools and universities. I’ve received emails from both students and teachers confirming this.

    Oddly enough, the leading search terms for my blog are “piles of books” and “bus”. I was amused, then terrified when I found the search term “a passage to india fanfiction”. Shudder.

    What I find disturbing is the people who find my blog looking for “(title) + read online” and “read free”. Sigh. Just buy the book!

    • Oh that’s fascinating Michelle … I don’t get many of those sorts of “read online” or “read free” searches though I still get “does red dog die in the movie”!

      I get regular hits for The children’s Bach too which pleases me.

  14. Nah, my blog isn’t literary enough for students! I do find that you can spend a long time writing a book review and not get many visitors but a post you just cobble together can bring in quite a few. Strange.

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