On the Ethics of Photoshop Tutorials

play it again.jpgAlthough we liked it better when the food section was saved for (pre-crossword) dessert, we give two thumbs up to the recently redesigned—and trimmed down—New York Times Magazine, which this past Sunday wowed us with a radiation-soaked drop capital that zapped readers into Jack Hitt‘s fascinating story of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic‘s stint as an incognito new age guru (don’t miss the wonderfully loopy photos by Lars Tunbjork that accompanied the piece). Also catching our eye was Ethicist Randy Cohen‘s response to a high school graphic design teacher who wondered if he should dock points from students who followed an online tutorial to complete a Photoshop assignment —even though the teacher had previously OK’ed the use of such tutorials. Cohen, whose jittery cartoon identity of years past has been replaced by a wise-looking silhouette by Matthew Woodson, designed a compromise…

There’s something not quite right about penalizing these students for doing what you explicitly permitted them to do. It is a teacher’s obligation to be clear about what is and what is not acceptable. (It is a student’s obligation, apparently, to exploit that teacher’s obligation to the point of utter, steam-out-of-the-ears exasperation.) But the Tutorial-Using Three should not be allowed to exploit—deliberately, perhaps—a misunderstanding. Nor should you grade them as high as students who did original work.

Here’s a compromise: Offer the three the choice of accepting the 75 or doing a makeup project. Since the goals here are for them to learn something and for you to evaluate their skill, this would serve both purposes. (Perhaps have them use Photoshop to give my photograph a rich, luxuriant head of hair. Is the technology up to that?) This should be a one-time-only offer. In the future, you should clearly limit and define the use of online tutorials.