Are Digital Resources Causing a Rise in Student Plagiarism?


Is the rise of the internet, along with easily-accessible digital resources, causing a rise in student plagiarism? The Pew Research Center found in a recent study that 55 percent of university presidents believed student plagiarism had increased over the past ten years. A full 89 percent of those placed the blame on the increase of technology.

But Teddi Fishman, the director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, disagrees. She points to studies which have shown that incidents of plagiarism have been fairly consistent over time – only changing by 3-4 percent over time. Rather than an increase in cheating, she notes that computerized plagiarism filters like are helping instructors catch copied, incorrectly cited material more easily. These sites archive and scan millions of academic papers, which are then compared to a student’s paper to see if any passages were lifted from an uncited source.

She also notes that students who want to cheat will – and that students are already finding ways to circumvent the algorithms used by and similar sites. Some students will run text through a translation program, into another language and then back into English, to produce different wording. (Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that text will be readable or make sense – a sure tip-off for teachers.) In an interview with the Denver Post, Fishman, says, “I do worry that we’re teaching people to evade plagiarism detection rather than to cite sources and build upon other people’s ideas.”

That’s not the only issue at hand. Many students many be confused about what constitutes “common knowledge.” They may not realize that some information requires attribution or citation, especially if it’s something they found on Wikipedia or a blog. Some institutions recognize that much of the plagiarism on their campus may be unintentional, so they make efforts to educate, rather than punish, first-time offenders.

In the end, Fishman believes that teachers simply knowing their students and being familiar with their writing style is the best way to combat plagiarism. While most students will make a good faith effort to write original material, there will always be some who just aren’t willing to make the effort.

I’m just going to close with this anecdote from Steve Schriener, an English teacher at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, who gave his students a poetry assignment:

It was a beautiful piece. But with a stunning lack of originality, the student titled it “Imagine.”

“It was the song by John Lennon,” Schriener recalls. “I said, ‘Honestly, I was born in 1957; do you think I don’t know the Beatles?’

“He just said, ‘I was hoping you didn’t.’ “


Related Stories:

Something Else to Blame on Facebook & Wikipedia: Plagiarism

College Kids Plagiarize A LOT! Blame the Internet?

Can Wikipedia Be A Legitimate Resource For Student Research?


Photo credit: Pete O'Shea


LD B.4 years ago

Typing a few keywords into an SE, and then copying and pasting something found there does not constitute fruitful research.

Jay Williamson
Jay w4 years ago

plagirism aside at least the student is showing that he/she is making the effort to research which should be taken into account.

LD B.4 years ago

As the mention of an intent to cheat on the part of students continues to be cited, it bears repeating that plagiarism does not spring from a desire to cheat, but from a common want for quick and easy attainment of a goal.

Nicole Gorman
Nicole Gorman4 years ago

Teaching how to properly cite sources, requiring footnotes and a bibliography, and personally being aware of the major internet sources for assignments and then calling students out on plagiarism and/or failing them are all options that sould seem logical in assisting to stem this problem.

Christine Stewart

I think it is the fault of the parents as well- they couldn't be bothered to proof read their kids' work, and if the teacher gives the kid a bad grade for plagiarizing, the parents get mad- they'd rather the kid get a good grade by cheating!

jessy b.
Jessica B.4 years ago

the lack of mental stimulation to get in the books is a huge set back

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

they will always cheat.. but making things so easily available doesnt help

LD B.4 years ago

Carole H. said "This activity has to STOP!"

While very many no doubt would agree, can it be stopped? Can the genie be put back in the bottle?

LD B.4 years ago

Chad A. said "We need to teach critical thinking and ethics."

Only yesterday was I talking with a recently retired teacher re. critical thinking in general, and the application of logic in particular, and was appalled to learn that students here are still not begin formally taught such.

LD B.4 years ago

Lauen B. "The desire to cheat doesn't come from the internet but the internet makes it so easy"

As earlier noted plagiarism does not spring from a desire to cheat, but from a common want for quick and easy attainment of a goal.