The Internet and Plagiarism

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The Internet and Plagiarism

Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 20, 2006 8:42 am ... -headlines
From the Los Angeles Times
Teachers Adjust Lesson Plans as Web Fuels Plagiarism
By Terril Yue Jones
Times Staff Writer

June 17, 2006

School term papers may be going the way of the typewriters once used to write them.

"It's so easy to cheat and steal from the Internet that I don't even assign papers anymore," said Bobbie Eisenstock, an assistant professor of journalism at Cal State Northridge. "I got tired of night after night checking for cheaters."

Across the country, teachers and professors are abandoning the traditional academic chore of tidy margins and meticulous footnotes because the Internet offers a searchable online smorgasbord of ready-made papers.

"Students are using the Internet like an 8-billion-page, cut-and-pastable encyclopedia," said John Barrie, owner of a company that makes software to detect plagiarism.

So as the academic year wraps up in Southern California and elsewhere, students increasingly are having their knowledge tested with oral exams and in-class writing exercises. Or they're being asked to demonstrate their knowledge in unconventional ways — say, by assuming the role of a colonial pamphleteer railing against the Stamp Act.

Teachers who still assign long papers — 10 pages or more with footnotes and bibliographies — often require students to attach companion essays that describe every step of their research and writing. Even then, teachers scour the Internet for suspicious turns of phrase. And some schools are paying thousands of dollars a year for software such as Barrie's that scans work for plagiarism.

Those programs reveal that about 30% of papers are plagiarized, either totally or in part.

"It's a massive, massive problem," said Barrie, whose Turn It In service evaluates 60,000 submissions a day.

To be sure, the urge to cheat is as old as school. Students have long recycled their friends' and siblings' papers with their own names on top. But the rise of the Internet has made it easier than ever: Just type in a search term and up come hundreds of cheating choices that can be assembled into a paper with a couple of mouse clicks.

A 2003 study by Rutgers University found that more than a third of college undergraduates had cut and pasted passages from the Internet without attribution. High school teachers and even elementary school instructors said that kids were starting younger, as easy access to the Internet becomes almost as ubiquitous as television.

Rather than spend all of their grading time trying to catch cheaters, teachers are changing their lesson plans.

"The number of term papers assigned over the years has decreased significantly," said Herman Clay, director of history and social sciences at Los Angeles Unified School District.

Instead, Los Angeles teachers are assigning more in-class written exams, oral reports with visual aids and PowerPoint presentations, said Clay, a former principal of Van Nuys High School.

It's unclear how many teachers nationwide are doing the same, but it's enough that some educators worry that kids are missing an important educational experience — one that requires them to seek out facts and then assemble them into a cogent, sustainable argument.

In-class writing assignments are, by necessity, much shorter exercises that can be as brief as a couple of paragraphs and rarely more than a few pages.

"Kids these days have difficulty writing in depth about anything," said Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet use. "They are used to doing PowerPoint presentations, and the level of superficiality is great compared with term papers."

Whether that matters remains to be seen.

"We're just at the first stage in college with young people who have spent significant amounts of time on the Internet and online," she said. "We have no idea where we're going and what's going to happen with kids and their brains and their ability to do schoolwork."

Ironically, the shift away from take-home writing assignments comes as standardized tests such as the SAT add essay components.

Although term papers are still required at Warren High School in Downey, a sprawling campus with 3,500 students, there is a shift toward more in-class writing and presentation-oriented projects, said Shirley Stewart, the school's advanced placement coordinator and English department chairwoman.

Under state testing guidelines, students must learn the minutiae of bibliography protocol, such as what punctuation comes after the name of the publishing company when citing a novel. But they don't necessarily have to learn it as part of a term paper.

"We're teaching formatting, and in this Internet age, that seems kind of silly," said Stewart, who noted that in-class projects combine research and organization and require a mastery of the subject at hand to present in front of teachers.

At Clovis High School outside Fresno, library media teacher Janet Groth requires students to take notes during their research and write rough drafts of papers by hand in class — then attach them to the final versions.

"It took forever to grade them," she said, "but they knew I'd be checking and that they'd have to explain any wording."

The school also fights fire with fire, paying more than $2,000 a year to use Barrie's Web-based Turn It In, which checks a student's paper against a database of 17 million essays and papers. Barrie's Oakland-based company, IParadigms, calculates that the odds of stringing the same 16 words together in the same order as somebody else is less than one in a trillion.

Barrie said he expected the number of Turn It In submissions to climb 66% to 100,000 a day when school resumes this fall.

Los Angeles Unified is experimenting with Turn It In, but the service is not in widespread use.

Students say it's easy to fall into the trap of copying too much from a website. They say they are squeezed by academics, sports, music and other extracurricular activities to make them appear more attractive to prospective colleges.

And once they're in college, students say the pressure only increases — along with the total number of assignments they're asked to turn in.

"Frequently many students plagiarize an Internet site for an essay they must write because they know the teacher will merely skim it," said Rachel Koechel, a sophomore at Washington State University, who acknowledged having shared answers for online assignments and said she had seen fellow students submit copied material. "Sometimes students don't want to spend four hours on an essay that they know isn't worth a huge amount of their grade, and/or they know it's not going to be fully read over."

Websites with names such as, and cater to that sort of sentiment with come-ons such as "Download your workload" and "If your professor can have a research assistant, why can't you?"

Charges generally are $10 per page but can be much more for customized assignments.

"If you're as overwhelmed with homework this semester as I am, you definitely need help with at least a few essays," reads the opening page of Essayboy, which touts an inventory of more than 25,000 works. "Help is here!" offers essays for free to allow students to get a feel for topics and the nuances of writing, Yasha Harari, co-owner of the site, said.

"We recommend they read whatever they're writing about, get a feel for the language, see what others are writing about," Harari said. "It's a peer-to-peer study group."

Harari warned potential cheaters that they get what they pay for.

"We're the world's largest collection of free and awful homework," Harari said. "You'd be a fool to copy our papers and submit it as your own because it's fully searchable."

The idea crosses everyone's mind, said Eric Katz, a junior at the highly competitive Monta Vista High School in the Bay Area's Cupertino.

"But our school has really stressed that when you get into college, if you plagiarize, you will get caught," said Katz, who hopes to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Despite the growing awareness that the same tools that enable plagiarism also make it easier to spot, students persist. Ted Nellen, an English teacher on New York's Long Island, this year had a student submit a beautiful sonnet — one that had been written by John Keats.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

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Post by mourningstar » Tue Jun 20, 2006 10:34 am

i have to confess .. i myself, been seduced to Plagiarism. it was a matter of time then a matter of motivation. but it mostly depends on the level of importance. i don't fool around with important papers.

i sincerely hope my ethic teacher isn't a member off this forum and most importantly that she doesn't discover my indentity.
"Desertion for the artist means abandoning the concrete."

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 20, 2006 10:40 am

mourningstar wrote:i have to confess .. i myself, been seduced to Plagiarism. it was a matter of time then a matter of motivation. but it mostly depends on the level of importance. i don't fool around with important papers.

i sincerely hope my ethic teacher isn't a member off this forum and most importantly that she doesn't discover my indentity.
Your secret is safe with us.

The bottom line for teachers is that kids still have to learn how to write. It is a challenge but not an impossible one.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by DavidRoss » Tue Jun 20, 2006 11:17 am

Since so many kids these days have a faulty moral compass (is it getting worse with each generation?), they are apt to do what they perceive as the easy thing rather than the right thing, and what they think will give them immediate rewards according to their MTV-addled values. Rather than knuckling under to pressure from the asylum inmates and eliminating one of the most effective educational tools in the kit, I’d like to see such cheating dealt with as it should have been ages ago: expulsion with black-balling by all accredited institutions. Otherwise we’re cultivating a generation rife with Kenneth Lays and his already all too common ilk.

Who'dathunk the principle of the thin end of the wedge would be beyond the grasp of so many?
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill


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Post by Holden Fourth » Tue Jun 20, 2006 3:49 pm

Our school pays for and uses a service called "Turnitiin". All major assignments are submitted via this system and it's surprising how the originality is now coming back to kids work. Even better, once an assignment has been submitted via Turnitin it is lodged in their system forever and therefore prevents students swapping their work wih each other.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Jun 21, 2006 9:07 pm

I must say that writing is hard work and all the marvels of modern technology haven’t made it any easier. Vast resources now lie just keystrokes away, but the basic art of assembling one’s thoughts into engaging prose is little changed since the days of paper and pencil. While mindless information doubles every three years, thoughtful writing still proceeds at an old fashioned pace.

Unfortunately, the timeless nature of writing isn’t shared by its fraudulent imitation: plagiarism. Though nearly as ancient as writing itself, plagiarism adapts quickly to new technology. With a web full of seemingly ownerless prose, plagiarism is as easy as cut-and-paste. And if you don’t see exactly what you want for free, you can buy it online at any number of “paper mills.”

But a more insidious way in which technology has fostered plagiarism is by shifting our attention from content to appearance. A well-written student paper is no longer “A” work unless it’s printed in color on glossy paper, with fonts and images and an accompanying multimedia presentation. Students feel expected to turn in the best papers ever written, not the best papers they can write themselves. So they assemble those papers. With hours invested in the decorations, students feel justified in stealing some or all of the text. After all, they “couldn’t have said it any better” themselves.

In addition to its easy rationalization by people seeking the rewards of writing without the associated effort, plagiarism is also widely misunderstood. It isn’t limited to the theft of another person’s words; it also includes the theft of their ideas. More generally, plagiarism is any form of dishonesty about authorship. A reader or listener should always know whose thoughts they’re hearing.

Plagiarism isn’t a victimless crime. It deprives its readers of their time and trust, and its true authors of their good names. In academia, plagiarism inflates grades relative to education and devalues honest scholarship. Among authors and journalists, plagiarism cheapens the very art of writing, much as performance enhancing drugs cheapen so many sports. Plagiarism is as much a problem of morale as it is of ethics.

Plagiarism isn’t an obscure tweed-collar crime. It’s a sorry fact of life everywhere and any school or organization that feels untainted is probably in denial. With plagiarism so commonplace, an organization that deals openly with it deserves our support, not our condemnation. There is no scandal in cleaning house. The scandal is in tolerating or covering up plagiarism.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is openly tolerated in the most public sectors of modern life. It wasn’t always that way. Lincoln didn’t just perform his Gettysburg address; he actually wrote it. What happened to that tradition of intellectual honesty in public speech? With ghostwriting so ubiquitous among the rich and powerful, it’s no wonder that young people see little value in learning to write well. They view writing the way they view cleaning their rooms—an unpleasant chore they’ll do only until they can afford to hire someone else.

When students believe that writing assignments are merely hazing rituals, hurdles on the path to success in life, some will inevitably plagiarize. And when instructors assign writing that has no clear educational goals, how can the students value it? Having explicitly stated goals is both good discipline and a way to avoid misunderstandings. If students believe an assignment is “busy work,” some will be busy cheating.

Finally, students need to be taught that the act of writing is intrinsically valuable to them. It crystallizes one’s thoughts in a way that nothing else can. .


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