Reports of cheating at Virginia Tech increased from 80 incidents in 1995-96 to 280 last year, according to a Sept. 1998 New York Times article. At Boston University plagiarism is such a
problem that in 1997 the school resorted to filing a Federal lawsuit against on-line term paper mills
What's the cause of this rise in cheating? The World Wide Web.
Plagiarism used to require a significant amount of effort. Students would have to do substantial research at a
library, or re-use a friend's work. But now just performing a keyword
search on your desired topic can get you all you need for an A+ paper. A
person can select the text they want, cut and paste it and submit it as
their own work. Cut and paste plagiarism is an incentive for some students to make use of those campus T1 lines; students can connect to the Internet and get their assignments done with
substantially little more effort than highlighting text.
Not all plagiarists are aware of what they're doing, especially since the Web makes it easier than ever. Some students are
misinformed about what plagiarism actually is. Some of us think
plagiarizing is copying someone's work in a word-for-word manner.
According to the MLA handbook, plagiarism is defined as passing off
another person's work as your own. This includes using a person's ideas,
concepts and words. Students also often make the mistake of paraphrasing
without citing the origin of the idea, wrongly assuming thatparaphrasing and plagiarizing are exclusive of each other.
And the Web offers plagiaristic opportunities that tempt the procrastinating or writer's block-afflicted student. Not only can students steal information from sites with information related to their paper topic, but they can also make use of sites geared toward helping students plagiarize. Students
can turn to term paper mills, which give students access to papers on a
wide range of subjects to plagiarize. In many states, paper mills, which charge
students for papers, are illegal. But there are Web sites that sell the
information by merely attaching a site disclaimer describing the information as intended only for research purposes, which is legal,
no matter how unethical it might be. And sites that give papers away are also
perfectly legal. Students can just download the information, add a few
transition sentences and be done with a major paper easily.
But these students are gambling with the accuracy of the paper they turn in. The free mills usually supply
students with the work of other plagiarizers. Upon a visit to one of these
sites, they will usually ask a student to submit a paper of their own in return
for the one they're searching for. This way they can broaden their
Jamie McKenzie Ed.D, editor of education technology journal "From Now On," said the "new plagiarism" is the hardest kind of cheating to
detect. Many teachers have grown increasingly frustrated by the fact that
cheating is so rampant. In the May 1998 issue of
"From Now On," McKenzie proposes a number of plagiarism screening techniques. With a list of "antidotes,"
McKenzie says, "[It is possible to] cut off the virulent new strain of
plagiarism before it becomes an academic plague."
Instructors can teach their students what plagiarism is and studying methods so they don't have to resort to cheating.
There is also a process being utilized at the University
of California at Berkeley for computer program plagiarism. Alex Aiken, a
computer science professor at the university, created a program called
Measure of Software Similarity (MOSS). Aiken built this software so that he could detect plagiarism in his students' work. The
program, which is currently available via the Internet to instructors, detects the plagiarism through a cheating detection algorithm. The algorithm compares the programs and lists programs that have similar code.
The penalties for being caught plagiarizing vary by school, but are
usually severe. Punishments range from a censure to expulsion from
Some students refuse to yield to the lure of Web-style plagiarism, despite its ease. "I wouldn't really plagiarize because I think it's wrong and because of
the serious repercussions of doing something like that," said Abraham
Schwartz, a freshman at Emory University.