Monday, 19 February 2007

A change of tack

Much to my distress, I recently learned that the essay title I have been addressing was one set as an upcoming assignment by another UK educational establishment. I was even more distressed to realize that this was a rather surreal case of my having been briefly exposed to their material and then, when I was researching a suitable assignment to use here, having it pop up in my thoughts as my own creation.

My intention in starting this experiment was to help fellow academic writers rather than to make life more difficult for them, so I have decided to make a complete change of topic. Since I haven’t so much as glanced at or discussed material relating to the new topic for over a year – other than to carry out a brief online search of the relevant terms – I’m satisfied that this new question, ‘Evaluate Freud’s theory of personality’ is my original creation. Of course, it’s original within the parameters of being a fairly generic instruction and a subject widely studied, but I hope at least that it won’t pose an ethical problem for any of the visitors to these sites or their students/tutors.

The new topic clearly has much in common with the old one. It demands much the same approach from the student, and for me has the additional bonus of being even more baffling. Studying personality has been surprising and confusing for me, and many of the related topics are complex and contentious. So it seems like a good area for us to tackle together.

I of course apologise to everyone who has been directly inconvenienced, and also to those of you with a special interest in cognitive psychology. I hope you will continue to visit and contribute, motivated by an interest in the writing process if not by a love of the subject discussed. I’ll begin work on the new title tonight, and of course my rather chastening experience provides an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on the whole issue of originality (already touched upon by Alina, one of our fellow collaborators – see our exchange on the Wiki’s front page).

Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about originality. Exactly what actions can be said to violate another’s intellectual property? How can we safeguard against unintentional plagiarism, perpetrated when we have no awareness that we’ve learned rather than originated something? Indeed, given the nature of the problem, is this kind of prevention possible at all? I believe that these are burning questions for everybody who writes, since we emphatically desire to produce fresh, original work. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Finally, another change of tack for us will be the way in which I use the facilitating technology. It has been pointed out to me that most of the contributions received have been to the blog rather than the Wiki. It was therefore suggested that I publish my notes, thoughts and reflections on the blog, saving the Wiki for coherent pieces of writing. I think this is a great idea, and will hopefully enable more of you to add your ideas and responses with the minimum of fuss.

20 comments:

Pete said...

Freud and personality sounds more interesting to me. When you get some time, can you offer some working definitions which we can perhaps argue about? What is personality? How does it differ from character? That kind of thing... And what exactly is Freud these days, for that matter?

More to say about plagiarism but I will hold my breath for now...

good luck - and you're not the first student to change topic after a few days!

Anonymous said...

Ahh, unintentional plagiarism. Does 'plagiarism' only apply when it's intentional? I would have thought that being cognisant is a necessary condition for 'crimes' such as this.

I suppose it supports the idea that "there's nothing new under the sun"; countless times have I 'come up with' an idea, written about/discussed it and, some time later, discovered the same idea in a publication from before I was even born. Quelle horreure!

I wonder if phenomena of this sort have any relevance to the topic of personality? Evidently, some aspects of one's personality are unique, but we are all human; does our common humanity render it inevitable that similar/identical thoughts, conclusions and questions will arise?

Laurence said...

I'm sorry to hear that you had to change your essay title, but I also agree with Pete. I think the Freud and personality topic will be more interesting. Good luck!

Lynn said...

Thank you all for your comments - each one of which is heartening and relevant.

Excellent food for my next posting, which I'm about to start work on.

I'm also very glad to hear that there are those of you who approve of the new topic!

Lynn said...

Perhaps those of us who are interested in thinking about these topics are somehow similar in terms of personality? This might set us along converging lines of thought.

Or, perhaps we are unconsciously influenced by everything we read and experience. In this case, even truly original ideas owe a considerable debt to those who have gone before. Even more wackliy, maybe there truly is a collective unconscious...

becky said...

What are the odds of another institution having the same essay title! On a positive note it also gives you the opportunity to experience some of the frustration that students feel when they have numerous titles to choose from and end up writing two or three different drafts on each question. Can I just say that I think your piece of freewriting is fantastic. I have never actually seen any done and I love the way that it flows from idea to idea.

David Hardman said...

Maybe you should have just let the other institution change their assessment? :-)

Of course, I'm biased but I don't know why a long-abandoned theory of personality should be more interesting than a current theory of how memory works, especially given that everyone complains about their memory (the more so as you get older).

Actually, one of the things that cognitive psychology has in common with Freud is its emphasis on the unconscious. Pretty much everything of interest to us is going on below the surface of conscious awareness. Indeed, it appears that your original choice of essay topic may have been unconsciously influenced.. you remembered the topic of the essay from somewhere else, but didn't realise you had been influenced in this way until your attention was drawn back to the original connection. See, memory is interesting...!

Lynn said...

Hi David, it's better than that, even. They did change their title, but it's still quite similar to the last one. Mindful of how easy it is to have one's thoughts contaminated by the output one reads elsewhere, I decided to minimise the potential nuisance value of this project to their students and go with something I thought of earlier. My memory is obviously scarily brilliant. Now, if I can only get it to do my bidding! Reminds me of the Leonard Cohen lyric, "I can't forget, I can't forget...I don't remember what."

I like your point about cognitive psychology being largely concerned with the unconscious. The cognitive approach really appeals to me because it aims to systematically unpack the black boxes in our cognition. As a long-time chess fiend, for example, lectures on expertise really floated my boat. Anyway, nuff said for now - back to work.

Lynn said...

Hello Becky. Glad you found the freewriting interesting. Why not have a go yourself and see if it does anything for you? Let us know how it went.

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