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Everybody Cheats

Everybody Cheats
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125 Harvard students accused of cheating on a final exam last spring face disciplinary action including possible one-year suspensions or, for those who have graduated, the revocation of their diplomas. A note sent to the students says they could be charged with “academic dishonesty, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism.”

But this case is about more than students at one of the most high-powered universities in the world cheating. In a digital age, when vast stores of information — more than the ancient scholars at the fabled library of Alexandria ever dreamed of — can be instantly found, and when we can communicate via text or Facebook chat or Skype no matter where we are at all hours of the day, the Internet has blurred the lines around plagiarism to the extent that we do not always realize when we are guilty of it.

Technically, Harvard Students Cheated

The Harvard students did not look over another student’s shoulder or copy answers scribbled on their arm. Their exam for the course Introduction to Congress was a take-home exam, which they had several days to complete and which was graded not by the faculty member, Matthew B. Platt but by graduate student teaching fellows (TFs).

In a New York Times article, students described a disconnect between the professor’s lectures and the instructions on four take-home tests and of inconsistencies in the TFs’ grading rubrics and answers about class requirements. As a result, students regularly shared notes and discussed test questions among themselves even though the final exam stated that “students may not discuss the exam with others.” As one accused sophomore says, sharing information was “widespread and accepted.”

But the exam was also  ”completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc..” As the the New York Times asks, is there “a fundamental contradiction” going on here, directing students to use online resources but not talk about a take-home exam with each other?

In the Age of the Internet, Plagiarism Is Just Too Easy

In The Harvard Crimson, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris says that the extent of plagiarism and/or inappropriate collaboration is “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.” Harris appeared to single out the internet, saying in the New York Times that “The enabling role of technology is a big part of this picture. It’s the ease of sharing. With that has come, I believe, a certain cavalier attitude.”

The argument has been made that, in an age of mashups and mix tapes, those who have grown up with laptops in their laps have a different conception of what’s allowed and what’s not.

Plagiarism has become too easy — but students today do not always realize they are plagiarizing.

BuzzFeed, Listicles and the Ever-Present Danger of Plagiarism

Earlier this summer in Gawker, Adrian Chen described plagiarism on a far larger scale on the internet. In Slate, Farhad Manjoo had explained how the high-traffic site BuzzFeed seems to base quite a few of its very popular stories on topics and images from other sites.

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Photo of the Widener Library at Harvard displaying its motto, "Veritas" (truth) by ilamont.com

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87 comments

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11:11AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

Capitalism encourages cheating, competition fosters cheating. Consider Lance Armstrong, why did he cheat? Because winning is everything in our society, this is wrong. Winner takes all is wrong.

10:25AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

When you "borrow" exact lines, word for word, that's plagerism. These 4 take home exams were all wrong, that is just Homework. Take home exams shouldn't even exist. Exams should be under the watchful eye of the examiner (teacher/instructor/lecturer) and therefore, straight up.

The only way to stop cheating on exams is to watch the students, one by one, take the exam in class. What was the instructor thinking??

2:38PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

thanks

1:33PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

What is the point of an "open book" test? It seems like an oxymoron to call it "cheating".

You think when a Dr. or Lawyer graduates, they never that to crack a book open again? The Physicians Desk Reference- you think they have it memorized? If a doctor looks something up in his practice, is it still called cheating.. stealing someones work?

Why bother with volumes of Law Books?

Apparently? these people learned everything they ever needed to learn in a classroom, and should have no further use of books?

And scientists- they should not be able to use, and build upon preceding bodies of work over the centuries? You don't really think Einstein knew everything he knew without having "Taken" or "Plagiarized" countless of generations and centuries before him.

Is it plagiarism to repeat what Galileo said in the 13th century about the Earth not being the center of the universe?

1:24PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

thanks for the info

12:08PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Jk, I appreciate the thoughtful way you responded to my posting, and having spent Plenty of time in Hospital, I have the up most admiration for the dedication, hard work and compassion of Health Care Professionals. I admit I do see a very bleak out look for humanity, but that has come from time, history(studying it too),recognizing Religion mostly (thoroughly Corrupt) is no path to God or it would at least have a minor success rate, as well as what now what is acceptable in our Society & what's promoted, what's put down, compared to 30-40yrs ago. It is only my personal opinion, but I do believe that if humanity does not make 180 degree course direction, were finished; the oceans will be dead, and Heaven only knows what next Weather catastrophe's will be & their impact, and there is little if any wilderness left. We are supposed to be the care takers of the Earth, not the Rapists; for fuel, valuable minerals & jewels, power over the lives of others. It is a bleak out look, but I do believe that LOVE/TRUTH Will Not abandon us, we've done the abandoning.By the way educationportal.com estimates that 75-98% of College students cheat. If you cheat, you don't learn, and we have many issues to Work Together On, but when will humanity do that? When death is at the doorstep? It would seem so, since history repeats itself over, an excellent example is the imploding of the Roman Empire.

10:55AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

To Change t: Hi,
I sense that you are very concerned with right and wrong, and I admire you for that, but honestly, I think you are seeing the world in too bleak a fashion. I find most of the people in the professions you mention to be kind, caring and competent. I think that cheating eventually brings its own karmic reward, and someone who neglects to learn what they need to learn will take the tumble that this negligence brings. I guess I have a more optimistic view of things. Having been a teacher myself for 24 years, I rarely encountered cheating, and where there was any, I usually found that by more careful prepping on my part, I could help that student to forego doing it. Much of the reward in acadamia is, I think, skewed to the wrong values. Grades, by themselves, are often a poor measure of what a child or older student is supposed to be learning.

By example- I had a professor at NYU who actually walked us through the answer on a test, telling us that it was more important that we "get" what the question was asking, than that we succeed at writing what was correct and then forgetting it (a common phenomenon in high-pressure testing). Oddly, if I look back, I remember the question and the answer much more strongly than anything else I was tested on that day, and I've used the information many times since.

So, to sum up, I think that these questions are more complex than just saying "families are breaking down" or cheating makes people unqualified. I

10:25AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Sorry, double clicked; system running very slow.

10:24AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Great! Doctors, nurses, EMT's, ultra sound /cat scan operators, completely unqualified to serve and aid those in need. So we'll also have lawyers, accounts, engineers, scientists, that will graduate, while essentially learning Nothing but how to Cheat. Another part of the breakdown of the Family, a breakdown centuries in the making and for the Most Part, having to do with the decisions Parents/peer pressure make & cause. Easy to blame the Family breakdown on Gays, but just another delay tactic for Not Taking on Responsibility for your own decisions, and the repercussions of decisions made now & in the past.

10:23AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Great! Doctors, nurses, EMT's, ultra sound /cat scan operators, completely unqualified to serve and aid those in need. So we'll also have lawyers, accounts, engineers, scientists, that will graduate, while essentially learning Nothing but how to Cheat. Another part of the breakdown of the Family, a breakdown centuries in the making and for the Most Part, having to do with the decisions Parents/peer pressure make & cause. Easy to blame the Family breakdown on Gays, but just another delay tactic for Not Taking on Responsibility for your own decisions, and the repercussions of decisions made now & in the past.

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