For most college students, the end of the spring semester is fast approaching. The push is on to prepare for final exams and to write paper on paper on paper. The Internet has made doing so both easier — students need go no further than their dorm rooms to research their library’s databases — but it’s also made plagiarizing parts or all of written assignments too easy and too empty: So long as you know how to cut and paste text and “doctor” it up a bit with a synonym here and there, you can churn out those essay assignments with no problem.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that college students are increasingly turning to social media sites like Facebook to plagiarize papers. It’s a finding that is no real surprise; these days, Facebook (and texting) seem to be main, if not the only, way a lot of students communicate with each other.
For the study, iParadigms analyzed 40 million papers that high school and college students submitted over a 10-month period. Here’s what the study found, as noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
- One-third of all “matched content” comes from social-networking and content-sharing sites like Facebook, Myspace, Scribd, SlideShare, Yahoo Answers, and Answers.com.
- Legitimate education sites account for one-quarter of all copying. Popular sources included the National Institutes of Health site, www.nih.gov; MedLibrary.org; and test-prep and homework-help sites like Course Hero and BookRags.
- To researchers’ surprise, paper mills and cheat sites accounted for only 15 percent of matches. In this category, Turnitin includes sites like OPPapers.com and Allfreepapers.com.
- Over all, the top eight sites for matched content were Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, Answers.com, SlideShare, OPPapers.com, Scribd, Course Hero, and MedLibrary.org
The Chronicle of Higher Education notes one caveat:
Turnitin detects “matched content,” not necessarily plagiarism. In other words, the software will flag material from a paper mill, but it will also flag legitimate stuff that is properly cited and attributed. The company leaves it up to individual professors to determine plagiarism. So there’s no way to know exactly how much of the copying highlighted in this study, outside of the material that matches content from shady sites, is actually cheating.
The findings from the iParadigms study do cohere with my own experiences in detecting plagiarized papers. Most students help themselves to the seemingly infinite store of free information and text out there on the web, rather than spending money to purchase a completed essay. Copying from sites like Wikipedia is quite rampant.
After twenty years of reading college students’ papers, I’ve something of an idea of when a paper just doesn’t seem to be in the “voice” of a student. A little Google-searching often produces the site the student has copied text from after which it’s time to confront the student, with his or her paper and a print-out of the plagiarized site in hand.
There are ways to create essay assignments that make plagiarism from website very difficult. Knowing that students are swapping ideas and essays via Facebook sometimes makes me think, time to go back to in-class writing assignments with students using good old-fashioned ballpoint pens or even pencils and, yes, paper.
Photo by the author.