40 percent of undergraduates in the US admitted to copying at least a few sentences on written assignments.
When asked whether copying from the Internet is ‘serious cheating,’ only 29 percent of students answered yes. A few years ago, 34 percent said such copying—plagiarizing—was ‘serious cheating.’
Plagiarism On the Rise at US Colleges and Universities
These figures are taken from surveys completed from 2006 to 2010 by Donald L. McCabe, a co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University. No doubt about it: Plagiarism—copying the words of someone else and claiming them as your own, without referencing the original source—is on the rise among college students in America.
And while legions of professors (myself included) are shaking their heads, an August 1st New York Times article further complicates the picture by asking if, in this digital age rife with Wikipedia articles with no author attributed and the ease of cut-’n’-paste-a-passage-with-a-few-words-changed-here-’n’-there, students no longer even realize that they are plagiarizing. When rap music and so many other artistic creations regularly borrow from and mix samples of others’ work, is the very notion of original authorship going the way of the dodo?
I’ve taught writing (including freshman composition) at colleges and universities since the early 1990s. I’ve caught (sadly) more than a few students who’s plagiarized parts of papers (and sometimes entire papers). Every semester, I’ve talked about ‘what plagiarism is’ to my students; we review the part of the course syllabus that refers to my college’s policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.
An instructor has to do this, but it’s the kind of advice that (le sigh) goes in one ear and out the other.
So I’ve tried a few other things.
I’ve used anti-plagiarism resources like Turnitin.com. I’ve become reasonably adept at trolling the Internet when I suspect what a student has turned in just may not be all of his or her original work’. I’ve also also gone back to more ‘old-fashioned’ methods and given students in-class writing assignments that they have to write by hand and submit before they leave. I also teach Latin and ancient Greek languages classes, and make up quizzes, tests and exams anew every year, so students can’t pass on copies of such. When I do assign papers, I try to craft topics that aren’t the sort you can find essays for at the many ‘CollegeEssays.com’ sites that the Internet is rife with.
Writing is Difficult, But Worth It To Learn To Do Well
In the time it takes a student to surf the Internet and patch together some paragraphs here and a sentence or two there, he or she could have been writing, painstaking sentence by sentence, their own analysis and interpretation of some literary work or historical topic. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the topic of plagiarism. I’m far more glad to get a paper with some grammatical errors or an awkwardly worded, but original, thesis statement that is my student’s own work. Writing an essay requires a lot more than just typing whatever thoughts one has about a short story into a word processor; it calls for careful reading, research and, most of all, a lot of thinking and reflecting. I guess I’m old-fashioned enough (well, I do teach the ancient Greeks and Romans) to think that everyone does have original ideas and an original way of articulating these. Certainly I’d much rather read exactly what my students write than the words of who knows who from some website.
As Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the campus of the University of California at Davis (where there were 196 plagiarism cases reported last year—there are most likely many more that went undetected), told the New York Times:
‘Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice.’
It is, and it’s a skill that’s well worth acquiring. Writing is a lot more than just putting words on paper or onto your laptop screen and students do themselves no favor by plagiarizing. Indeed, they hurt themselves most of all, by depriving themselves of the chance to actually work on their writing and thinking—skills that, if you ask me, we all need to communicate across the Internet.
Photo by Digirebelle.