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Free Online Courses Plagued By Plagiarism

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There is software that enables students to use computers without accessing the internet but we don’t have it at the institution where I teach. I’m curious what students can produce the “old-fashioned” way, writing with pen on paper. Doing so means their essays are not as long as they might be and some students simply have a hard time writing by hand, but I know that the pages they submit are their own.

Recent High-Profile Cases of Plagiarism

Plagiarism has recently made headlines. Writer Fareed Zakaria was suspended from Time magazine and CNN after he was found to have plagiarized a New Yorker article on gun control by historian Jill Lepore. Science writer Jonah Lehrer was forced to resign as a staff writer for The New Yorker, after he was found to have made up quotes by Bob Dylan in his best-selling book Imagine: How Creativity Works; the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has said that it will recall print copies of the book.

Certainly teachers go to great lengths to enjoin students to submit original work. I’m usually able to detect plagiarism in a student paper as a passage simply does not sound similar to students’ written-by-hand work students. But no human being could read all the writing assignments of the 39,000 students enrolled in Coursera’s “Fantasy and Science Fiction” course; hence the use of peer grading. Since students are not receiving college credits for the course, you could argue that there is not enough motivation for some (for many) to make the effort to produce original work.

Perhaps the plagiarism in Coursera courses points to a larger, yet to be addressed, issue with such Massive Open Online Courses. Is it not possible that some percentage of participants really just want to be able to gain the information from the course, and writing papers is an extra effort that seems too much to do for an uncredited, free course? Many “bricks and mortar” universities have honor codes that students are supposed to agree to, but (let’s be realistic) that does not mean that everyone follows them.

We can bring online education to the masses but still need to figure out how to evaluate the real vs. the fake work produced by students in the virtual classroom.

Related Care2 Coverage

Are Digital Resources Causing a Rise in Student Plagiarism?

Can Wikipedia Be A Legitimate Resource For Student Research?

Teachers With Online Degrees: Ready For Real-World Classrooms?

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55 comments

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5:25AM PST on Mar 3, 2013

We've got to choose wisely

5:49PM PST on Feb 17, 2013

I teach university & require my students to submit all essays through Turnitin (the largest plagiarism-detecting service; there are others). I'd recommend the author of this article do the same & that, if MOOCs want their courses counted for university credit, they do the same. I'd also recommend it to high schools.

I find that many students who plagiarize do so unknowlingly; their high school teachers told them it was OK to use a source without giving credit as long as they "put it in their own words," so they grab a thesaurus, change a few words, & think they've done the right thing. Others have lifted material from on-line sources, & their teachers never told them it was wrong, so they thought it was OK. Yet others take notes verbatim from on-line sources, then, forgetting where they got the information, reproduce it in their essays without giving credit. Turnitin allows me to set up the account so that students can turn in their essays early & see their own "originality reports." That way, if they've accidentally plagiarized, they can fix it. I find I have far fewer cases of plagiarism than I had before I used this service, in part because students, knowing they will have to submit their essays to the service, are more careful in their first place.

As the author of this article knows, there are other ways of detecting plagiarism; for example, if I suspect it, but Turnitin cannot match it to a source, I google a suspect phrase. I u

12:40AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Thanks for the info.

8:28PM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

thanks

1:35PM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

REALLY? AMAZING, not

10:13AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

No Shit really!

Wow imagine that---especially with the advent of EBOOKS with or without copyrights.
And no one catches them and if by some chance they get caught breaking the law and copyright laws what will happen a slap on the wrist-----the author and publisher may never know that their work was plagerized.

Personally I shall never publish or purchase an ebook. I don't find them worthy, educational or safe in the respect that cost more than necessary and gosh forbid if coffee, wine, oils or anything is spilled onto it---for then it tis broken and all your purchases become obsolete!

Besides the fact they are putting people out of work--bookstores, printers, press factories, etc. I must be connected to technology for part of the day for work related stuff, but when I wish to read a good book, story I will always go for that Book---the kind that can be dog tagged, scotched taped and and bent to just the right angle per the sunshine or light!

8:24AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

As with anything educational, you get out of it what you put into it. I am very interested in Coursea as it offers some subjects that I could not afford the time or money to drag myself to a college to obtain. As I am doing this for my on interest and not for actual college credit, it doesn't matter to me that Coursea is not accredited.

If, on the other hand, this model is adopted for an accredited educational system, then the standards and checks will have to be tightened.

I happen to like the model. It's convenient and offers a chance to expand skills where tutelage is not feasible. A similar site, that I have been using to relearn calculus, is KahnAcademy.org. It provides short video lectures and practice problems that help a student refine their skills. It too is not accredited. But it makes a great way to enhance classroom studies or just brush up on areas in which you might be weak.

3:03AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

Thanks for the info.

11:41PM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

"If it seems to good too be true, then it is too good to be true...!" this is usually the case with ridiculous returns on investment opportunities. Applies to many other internet scams as well....

4:10PM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

thnx for this

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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