Studies have shown that cheating is on the rise, specifically cut-and-paste plagiarism from Internet sources. This article provides an overview on the subject of plagiarism in the public schools, a general definition of the subject, and various statistics on the rise of plagiarism over the past several years. The Internet is cited as a major factor in the increase in plagiarism. The article also covers the options that are available to schools and teachers to help identify plagiarized work as well as to help students understand the difference between legitimate research and plagiarism.
Keywords Access; Appropriation; Cut-&-Paste Plagiarism; Distance Learning; Intellectual Property Law; Internet; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Plagiarism; Treatment Acceptability
What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else's work or ideas as your own (Badke, 2007). Often this involves student's copying homework, wandering eyes during an exam and, in more serious cases, it can mean entire report plagiarizing (Berger, 2007). Plagiarism essentially constitutes misrepresentation and fraud (Badke, 2007). In all cases, plagiarism is cheating.
Studies have shown that cheating is on the rise, specifically cut-and-paste plagiarism from Internet sources. According to various studies and reports, over two-thirds of college students admit to cheating on a written assignment or test during college (Glazer, 2013), A 2005 study from The Center for Academic Integrity showed that 40 percent of the 50,000 undergraduates interviewed admitted to having plagiarized from the Internet, compared to 10 percent in 1999 (Badke, 2007, p. 58). The Center, which researched more than 50,000 students since 1990, cited that in a 1999 survey of college students, 75 percent said they had plagiarized during the past year and 10 percent of the students admitted they had plagiarized off the Internet (Embleton & Helfer, 2007). By 2001, 4 percent of survey participants said they had copied off of the Internet (Embleton & Helfer, 2007). However, a 2013 study by the Josephson Institute (Glazer, 2013, p. 4) showed that the percentage of students who reported plagiarizing on a test or homework dropped slightly from 2008—when 82 percent of students admitted to copying homework, 64 percent admitted to cheating on a test, and 36 percent admitted to plagiarizing content from the Internet—to 2013 when 74 percent admitted to copying homework, 51 percent admitted to cheating on a test, and 32 percent plagiarized content from the Internet. While some experts attributed this to tougher anti-cheating policies, others claim that students are becoming more adept at avoiding detection.
The International Institute for Educational Planning has conducted a research that looked into the extent of poor ethics and corruption in education since 2001. Their report, "Corrupt Schools, Corrupt Universities: What Can Be Done?" presents their findings from 2001–2006 and determined that there is an overall "weakening of ethical norms" in the United States and internationally (cited in Labi, 2007). The problem of academic fraud in the United States is so pervasive that it is beginning to dilute the quality of educational degrees, whether Bachelor’s, Masters, or Doctorates. The United States is particularly susceptible because it is so advanced in terms of technological offerings, such as distance learning.
Alarmingly, 77 percent of the 50,000 students polled by the Center for Academic Integrity did not view plagiarism as a serious offense (Badke, 2007). The International Institute for Educational Planning report noted that in India, cheating is now so prevalent that when some universities tried to fight back, students protested their right to cheat (Labi, 2007). Some blame technology, from text messaging to iPods and their nearly invisible earphones. There are also websites that advertise term papers for sale to students. Yet the problem isn't technological; it is human (Berger, 2007).
Why do Students Cheat?
There are many reasons why students continue to plagiarize work. Some students complain about the types of assessments teachers give, others blame the pace and demands brought on by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (Dye, 2007). Students certainly are under a lot of academic pressure and are expected to know more with regards to technology and information than they did twenty years ago. According to a 2011 ethics survey of over 20,000 Los Angeles, California, high schoolers, one-third of those polled believed they needed to cheat in order to be successful (Glazer, 2013, p. 4).
Other students simply are unaware that the information they take from one source and use in their own work constitutes plagiarism. Tom Holt, CEO of the technology company Surf Wax, clarified that every individual has a different idea of what plagiarism is and this creates confusion for both the teacher and the student (cited in Dye, 2007). Yet none of these reasons fully explains or justifies the outbreak of cheating that is taking place.
Aside from the students who are ignorant of the fraud they are committing, there are plenty of other students who are fully aware of their deception (Badke, 2007). These students have decided that the risk is worth taking. Often these students are desperate, because they lack time or the necessary skills to complete an assignment (Badke, 2007). Other times, they simply have not done their own work and are confident that they will not get caught.
Another breed of plagiarism is the most worrisome. This is the group of people who argue that nobody owns words and thus published information is free for the taking (Badke, 2007). Today's hyper-technological generation has repeatedly challenged the concept of intellectual property by lobbying for free access to, well, pretty much everything (Badke, 2007).
What Can be Done to Address Plagiarism?
Print plagiarism used to be considered a nuisance that only affected scholars and writers but with the upsurge of the Internet, copying someone else's work is easier than ever (Dye, 2007). Some obvious signs of plagiarism are a writing style that differs from other work the person has submitted, uneven language and ideas or diction that seem more sophisticated than the writer's previous work (Badke, 2007). One warning sign is when a student who does not speak well in class or never seems prepared, submits an articulate and detailed paper (Embleton & Helfer, 2007).
In the past, it was difficult to prove a student had plagiarized unless a teacher knew exactly what source was copied. Now, there is such a massive amount of information online that a teacher or expert can no longer be familiar with every source that exists on a topic making it even more difficult to identify plagiarized work. Many teachers and schools utilize plagiarism software that compares a student’s submitted work to online documents.
Many teachers have similar consequences for cheating including giving a zero to the offending students. Sometimes parents are contacted and detentions or suspensions are given (Berger, 2007). And always, there is the loss of trust. Unfortunately, some teachers and parents hold contrary views so students can get mixed messages.
Education as the Best Prevention
The real “challenge is to help students recognize plagiarism as a problem and to correct it” (Badke, 2007, p. 58). Many people do not realize when “they are committing plagiarism. They cite sources carelessly, or they falsely believe that information” that is available for free on the Internet is fair game (Badke, 2007, p. 58). Some students believe that what they are doing is simply research. Better education on the subject of plagiarism is certainly an essential aspect to the reduction of this widespread problem.
Research is an interactive process in which the researcher reviews sources, evaluates them, challenges and then forms his/her own opinions about the topics (Dye, 2007). Education in avoiding plagiarism should include detailed information regarding how to cite sources explaining specifically what information requires citation (Badke, 2007). Teaching students how to evaluate the reliability of sources, especially websites and the accuracy of their information will also...
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