I did a "plagiarism check" on student papers for my non-majors class yesterday. Found one that was at least partly plagiarized. (my SOP in these situations: Print out a copy of the webpage that was copied from, staple it to the back, apply zero to paper. And make a copy for my files just in case of a grade challenge. (A colleague had that happen once....apparently the student in question CHANGED THEIR PAPER and then claimed that he had falsely accused them....))
So I ran a more extensive check on the papers. And while doing that, I discovered that a topic I assigned in a previous semester had been asked as a question on Yahoo! Answers.
What really upset me a bit was that the person who had asked it was someone I had thought was interested and engaged in the class, and what he had done on Y!A was essentially put out a "write my paper for me" request. Not that blatantly, but he did get other people to do the background research and spoonfeed it to him.
And at first, I was angry: how dare he subvert the assignment that way. Why am I even bothering to assign papers if people aren't going to try? Why, I probably spend more time grading these than some people do writing them!
But now that I think about it more, I'm just sad. Sad that a one-page paper is apparently such an onerous task that it must be outsourced. But mainly sad that so many people apparently don't understand or know the satisfaction of wondering about something, doing some research on it, and finding out an answer for yourself.
One thing I've become very good at down through the years is crafting search terms to provide me with good sources; to find the specific item I want. Some of my students look at me like I'm some kind of wizard when they come in and say, "I couldn't find anything on the internet" and I say "Really?" and type a few words into Google or somewhere and hit on eight or ten sites that might work for what they were looking for.
For example: I was curious about Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. This came about as a side thought on my plans for doing a pollinator study this coming spring. So I did some searching (mostly using BioOne, not Google - Google is not so good if you're looking for truly academic papers. There IS Google Scholar, but many of the things it turns up are stuff in the expensive part of JSTOR, which we do not have a subscription to). Found six or eight papers, including a couple talking about problems in bumblebee colonies as well as honeybees.
Will I ever use the stuff I read in my research? Likely not. But it was interesting - and I was able to use some of it in a class discussion with the students. And it was just fun tracking down the information and seeing the pieces that I was reading fit in with the pieces that I already knew.
But there seems to be a large chunk of the population who doesn't care about trying to find stuff out (or trying to evaluate the quality of the source; that is also of utmost importance, especially if using the "general" internet, as opposed to places like subscription databases of peer-reviewed articles) and would rather just shortcut their way through it.
Learning stuff IS fun, right? I'm not totally messed up on this, am I? Because some days I begin to wonder.
Anyway, I got to thinking about it this morning while working out and realized that being able to craft good search terms - being able to think of a way to pose a question so that you will get a relevant answer could be seen as a form of creativity. It's a type of problem-solving. And I'm still good at slightly-outside-the-box thinking, like when a colleague came to me and said, "We don't have anything like a functioning growth chamber, do we? I need to be able to control temperatures on stuff" I happened to think of the egg incubators another colleague had used for an experiment with raising quail, and we went and looked at them, and it turns out you can set BOTH the temperature and the humidity level...which is even better.
I also got to thinking about pattern ideas. And maybe what I need to do is start small. I have a few ideas - heck, even have a few sketched out. But they're not Cookie A grade ideas, they're not Knitty level ideas. But then I realized: why am I worrying about publication (Answer: because you're an academic, duh)? I should just make stuff that pleases me. Come up with designs for ME. I don't have to publish and if I put them up for free here or elsewhere, and someone decides to be a "nuffer" and call my designs "derivative" or something...well, they're a person on the internet complaining about a free knitting pattern.
(That's the crux of the problem, isn't it? I want to do something that receives positive recognition, but I'm afraid of doing something that will get rejection and rude comments. I suppose you can't get one without risking the other.)
Most of the ideas I have are in some way inspired by things in nature (mostly organisms). Probably I should take some time and sit down and work up my ideas. (Well, when I get a few other projects done).
I also want to play around with fingerless mitt patterns and start off by just plugging in different stitch patterns so I can learn the structure of these better, and then maybe try to do a bit more of designing on them. I don't know.