Plagiarism

I’m not quite sure if plagiarism is skyrocketing due to the internet as it is so claimed in the major media outlets. But if it is, then I think that composition instructors should fight fire with fire. In Chapter 15, Intellectual Property: Plagiarism, Copyright, and Trust, Professor James Purdy is quoted as saying the following: “If plagiarism is easier to commit because of the internet, it is also easier to catch because of the internet.” This is important to consider to all of the old-school composition teachers who lament how the internet has been used as a source of plagiarism. Composition instructors can use that same resource, the internet, to catch plagiarism. Turnitin.com has written a plagiarism study that every instructor should probably read. In the study, it mentions the most common sources where students go to plagiarize is not academic paper sites but user-generated websites such as Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers. And legitimate educational sites are used more frequently than cheat sites. It is important to keep this in mind when teaching. The study also found that educational institutions that use turnitin.com have reported a drop in plagiarism.

There are also some built-in strategies that composition instructors can use to discover plagiarism. The chapter “noted that the frequent interaction between instructors and students creates an environment that obstructs plagiarism.” Also, “because of frequently reading student responses throughout the semester, any written reports or essays should not come as a surprise in terms of credibility and authenticity.” So, basically, being an engaged instructor who has a hand-on approach should do much to prevent and catch plagiarism. I feel that students should understand the nuances of evaluating and citing sources in the digital age, especially in online classes.

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3 comments on “Plagiarism

  1. I question the usefulness of the TurnItIn study. Methodologically speaking, how do you verify the decrease in plagiarism, save by TurnItIn itself? TurnItIn can be defeated by a decently clever student who can use synonyms and rearrange sentences slightly. To get a good study, one would first need to find a method of measuring plagiarism which is separate from the in-class mechanism for such.

    • Well, if teachers report a decrease in how many students they catch plagiarizing in school, that is one way to verify a decrease in plagiarism. I don’t really question the statistical methods. There are plenty of ways to do it.

      Also, if you are a student who plagiarizes, why would you spend all that trouble rearranging the sentences and using synonyms for each sentence? That would defeat the whole purpose of plagiarizing because you aren’t saving any time. So if a student wants to approach it that way, then he isn’t really making it easier on him or herself.

  2. Well, teacher-reporting of a decrease in plagiarism is relying on the accuracy of teacher detection of plagiarism. If teachers could predictably and consistently detect plagiarism, then TurnItIn would be a completely redundant and unnecessary site, no?

    Using TurnItIn as both the detector of plagiarism and the measurement of the amount of plagiarism as a result of using TurnItIn is problematic, because it’s as likely to teach students how to defeat TurnItIn, instead of teaching them how to write originally.

    As for spending “all that time” rearranging sentences or using synonyms, never underestimate how much work someone’s willing to do to avoid what they consider “harder” work. Laziness takes a lot of effort sometimes, paradoxically enough.

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