Original content is king online and in education

Original content is king, both in education and online.

One university for which I taught had these guidelines for faculty to use in evaluating student writing:

  • No more than 25% of any document could be borrowed from other sources,  by quotation, paraphrase, or summary.
  • No more than 10% of any source could be copied.

The first guideline was intended to promote original writing. The idea was that if students couldn’t copy what other people had written, they’d be forced to come up with original ideas. The second guideline was intended to prevent copyright violations, particularly copying of such items as photographs, cartoons, and diagrams. Neither rule is aimed at plagiarism; that’s an entirely different issue.

Those two guidelines for educational source use  work pretty well in the internet world.

Quotation is unoriginal

Bloggers may love to quote other bloggers, but search engines don’t think it’s so great.  The fact that you correctly cited your source and copied accurately does not come into the equation. The only thing that matters is that you are not being original. It’s the online equivalent of my university’s 25% borrowing limit.

Self-plagiarism is unoriginal

What academics call self-plagiarism (using the same content in papers for two courses) gets an F from search engines, too.  A post done as a guest blogger and repeated on one’s own blog is duplicate content.  That’s the online equivalent of my university’s 10%-of-any-source rule.

Stock photos are unoriginal

Using stock photos or clip art is having duplicate content, too, a clear violation of my university’s 10%-of-any-source rule.  Again the issue is not whether you complied with the appropriate legal requirements, but whether the material is original with you.

This area is one I’m having to work on. Not only am I a klutz with a camera, but it’s really hard to come up with photos to illustrate concepts like “thesis sentence.”  Look for lots more bad photos on my site until the search engines decide one bad photo is pretty much like another. When that happens, I’m sunk.

Originality is valued

Search engines, like diligent faculty, love original content and penalize duplication.  They give high grades to original content by  moving up in their listings websites that have original content. They push down in the listings—or even drop entirely—sites that duplicate content available elsewhere on the web.

Good grades from Google matter

A site that isn’t showing up in the top 30 search results for its keyword might as well be invisible: the typical searcher doesn’t look beyond the top 30 search results.  Unlike social media, where a mention is valuable for a few hours, search engine results are valuable for months, even years.

The durability factor may not matter to middle school bloggers, or to folks with a salary and pension plan, but it matters a lot to people like me whose website is their retirement plan.

It really also should matter to educators preparing students for a workplace in which how well they eat may depend on their internet entrepreneurship.

Reach voters via school websites

About a year ago, the head of curriculum and instruction for a southern state invited me at the behest of the education commissioner to share my website resources with all the schools in the state.  Attached to the invitation was a list of websites of every publicly owned educational institution in the state.

It was a long list.website button

I probably looked at websites for a several hundred high schools. A surprising number still were using .org domain names, instead of the now-standard public education domain names.

Even more surprising, most of the school websites appeared to have been designed for only the school community. Some of the websites consisted primarily of teacher or class webpages listing assignments and due  dates—not information people outside the school community want to know.

Many websites consisted primarily lists of telephone contacts, helpful to those who already knew to whom they wished to  speak, but not helpful to someone who wanted to know, for example, who to contact about renting the school gymnasium for  a community event.

A handful of the school websites contained almost nothing but links to pdfs. The pdfs probably fulfill legal requirements to  provide information, but they are not convenient for, or generally comprehensible, by the public.

Nationally, 70 percent or more of the public has no children in the school district. That group includes people who are most likely to vote. It is short-sighted, if not downright self-destructive, for schools not to provide information on their sites  in forms that are clear and convenient to those likely voters.

Illustration credit: Blue Website Buttons 2 1 by LegendsWeb