Fire with Fire:
Using the Internet to Reduce Electronic Plagiarism
The news from Professor Bloomfield's Physics
course at the prestigious University of Virginia was bleak. Bloomfield
caught wind of a rumored cheating problem in his 500+ student class and
decided it was time to check up on his students. Using a customized software
program, he analyzed 1500 term papers from his electronic database of
past and present students to put these rumors to rest.
What he found not only put the legendary UVA
honor system in doubt, it put many students out of the running for a college
degree. 122 of his students had plagiarized their papers.
Unfortunately, plagiarism and cheating in general
is just as prevalent among high school students. A recent survey of top students
from Who's Who Among American High School Students found that 80%
of high achievers reported to having cheated at least once.
The Internet and digital technology in general
has greatly enhanced students' opportunities to plagiarize material quite
effectively and covertly. There are numerous Web sites that provide students
with access to thousands of research papers in a matter of moments.
Like Professor Bloomfield, teachers nationwide are fighting back the tide
of electronic cheating using both digital and conventional means.
The increased access to canned essays afforded
by the Internet is equally effective as a means to ferret out unoriginal
work. Teachers are using a plethora of strategies including using search
engines, plagiarism-detection Web sites, email, and customized software
Free and Easy
The cheapest and easiest method of finding work taken from the Web is
to conduct a simple Internet search on a search engine site such as Google
Simply ask your students to submit their essays in electronic form, copy
and paste a six or seven word phrase from an essay into the search box,
and let it search.
Teaching Today used the Google search
engine to easily find the source of a plagiarized phrase from a biography
written about Emily Dickinson. At least three different term paper Web
sites contained the exact phrase in published essays.
This method only compares the student's work
against material available on the Internet, however. Not all plagiarists
are so far-removed from their source material. Professor Bloomberg actually
found that much of the plagiarized work came from other students. For
that kind of detection, teachers need to be somewhat more diligent.
For a Fee
There are also numerous Internet-based pay-per service companies that
will search for exact word-for-word matches with papers in their digital
archive and on the Internet. The advantage of programs like this is that
students have to submit their work directly to the service prior to handing
it in to the teacher. The teacher then logs into the Web site for customized
analysis of the student's work. Thus, the service compares the work not
only to essays posted on the Web, but also to others in the teacher's
The implicit bonus to using services like this is
that students know their work is being checked for originality. Of course,
that advantage comes at a price.
An Ounce of Prevention
Teachers can help reduce large scale plagiarism by employing a few simple
- Discuss plagiarism
in the class and clearly define what constitutes plagiarism and inappropriate
paraphrasing. You may need to discuss why it is wrong to steal intellectual
- Help students
master the five-step writing process. By teaching students how to write
using a process approach, you arm them with the skills they need to
actually complete a writing project without resorting to plagiarism.
There are numerous tips about the writing process available on the Teaching
Today Tip Archive.
- Require students
to hand in outlines, drafts, and all other evidence of the writing process,
including research notes. Make it easy on yourself by requiring them
to place it all in a binder or file folder.
- Inform students
that you will be checking for unoriginal work. This alone can be enough
to deter a student; especially when the consequences of plagiarism are
Read More About It
What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It
Created by the Writing Tutorial Service department at Indiana University,
this site outlines standard definitions of acceptable and unacceptable
uses of intellectual property.
Plagiarism in an Online World
Author Julie J.C.H. Ryan takes a candid look at online cheating and ways
in which teachers can spot work that is not original.
Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age
Published in From Now On, The Educational Technology Journal, this article discusses seven preventative measures teachers can employ to cut
down on intellectual theft.