Death of Plagiarism in the 21st Century

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Michelle Fabio, in “Has the Internet Increased Plagiarism in Schools?” (Legal Zoom, May 2012), presents a useful distinction between plagiarism and copyright infringement. She also asks if plagiarism is illegal and answers yes, that is, “When the act of plagiarism is also copyright infringement.” The question of whether plagiarizing should be considered illegal is interesting. Most colleges and schools have policies on failure to credit sources, and these provide varying degrees of sanction. However, these regulations don’t have the weight of state and federal laws, and ethics rather than legality is the primary issue. An interesting topic, but perhaps for a later time.

For now, my interest is not in whether the internet increases plagiarism but, rather, how we can use technology to eliminate it. Fabio mentions online services such as The Plagiarism Checker and Turnitin. Teachers and students copy and paste suspected text in the site checker and receive reports on portions that may have been plagiarized. However, a far simpler and cost effective method is to do as Lynn Zimmerman, ETCJ associate editor, suggests: paste a suspected text string, in quotes, in a search engine such as Google. If there are hits in the works of other authors, then the text may have been plagiarized.

Teachers read literally hundreds of student papers a year, and after a few years, they develop a sixth sense for deviations from typical student prose. I’ve been teaching college composition for decades, and for me it’s like stepping into a suddenly cold spot in a shallow stream or a suddenly dark section of a forest. The change is abrupt, startling. It’s often a change in style, from the colloquial of students to the formality of professionals. It’s the use of vocabulary that sticks out like an island in an endless sea. It’s the appearance of complex sentence patterns in a field of simple and compound sentences. It’s the ray of logic in an otherwise cloudy sky. It’s a lack of transition from one thought to another, like missing planks in a dilapidated rope bridge. It’s a gut feeling based on the expected and unexpected. In short, a teacher can sense whether text has been plagiarized.

When bells go off or red flags pop up, all we need to do is select the suspected text, paste it into a search engine, add quotes around it, click on search, and wait for the results. If hits are from the works of other authors, we then select other text to determine the extent of plagiarism.

In the vast majority of cases, teachers develop a sense of a student’s abilities. Writing is a performing art. A student with poor balance won’t suddenly be able to pirouette, just as a recreational jogger won’t be able to suddenly run a sub-four-minute mile. In the online learning environment, teachers have an opportunity to observe student performances in email exchanges, discussion posts and comments, in chat forums, and in preliminary and final drafts. As a result, they develop a style image or profile of each student. Thus, a deviation from this image will raise an alarm. It simply doesn’t fit the teacher’s impression of a student’s writing style.

But this search engine approach, although simple, does take precious time from other pressing tasks. Fabio’s article makes me wonder if we can’t use word processing and web technology to more efficiently address the problem of plagiarism. I think we can, and I believe we can do it easily — with a few innovations.

I’d like to see a writing program such as MS Word include a smart plagiarism meter, or splam, as a new feature. When turned on, it would silently monitor writers as they’re composing, checking emerging text against all the text strings in the web. It would rely on search engine technology and work behind the scenes. When a string meets the built-in criteria for plagiarism, the writer is warned. The writer will also know that these passages, if not properly documented, will be automatically marked as plagiarized when the paper is loaded into the teacher’s word processor.

I’d imagine that smart plagiarism meters, or splams, will become smarter as time passes. They will eventually be able to detect plagiarized strings that have been altered by writers. These same mechanisms could also be used to facilitate writing, detect repetition and redundancy in text strings and even suggest alternatives.

With the latest technology, writing is entering a brave new world where traditional problems such as plagiarism will be significantly reduced or even eliminated and writing performance will be enhanced and facilitated.

53 Responses

  1. Hi Jim,
    The sixth sense for plagiarism you describe is indeed what teachers used in pre-internet times and what still works best.
    Turnitin and other detection services seem to maybe work well when the source is already in their data base, but so-so with online texts: I can’t find the reference right now, but some years ago, a researcher submitted to turnitin a copy of a paper of his that was openly available online and got 0 matches.
    On the other hand, googling a sentence does not work if the original was published in a site that requires a login or even in a public site with a metatag that forbids indexing: see Using the robots meta tag (Google Webmaster Central Blog, March 5, 2007).
    And this even obtains for texts published privately (login required) or semi-privately (accessible only to people who know the URL) on Google’s own servers: in Docs, Sites, gmail and now Drive: while Google’s search engine does index these texts to place customized Google Ads, this indexing is not made available to humans – fortunately.
    Therefore, your “smart plagiarism meter, or splam” suggestion wouldn’t work with Google’s authoring tools, due to Google’s privacy ethics. It might with Word, the example you use, because Microsoft has often shown scarce concern for users’ privacy (see their adhesion to the antinomic “trusted computing” concept, and their palladium project).
    However, would you really like to have anything you write made available to everybody? And then: how could students and teachers be forced to use Word, with the security risks and license costs entailed, in a democratic society?
    Or maybe your splam proposal is meant à la Swift and I offered you a good chuckle with the above…

    • Hi, Claude. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Also, thanks for the emailed heads up re posting problems. I think I have that squared away.

      Re irony — as I mentioned in our email exchange, no, none intended. LOL! I’m serious.

      In the article, I don’t mention a particular search engine, assuming that splam technology would differ (to suit its purposes) from existing services.

      My guess is that splams are inevitable. Given the tech, it’s just a matter of time before it’s used.

      Re how it will be used: It would be like a spell or grammar checker. It could be put to sleep to avoid interruptions while composing and awakened at the end for a report.

      I think it would be good to know that I’ve stolen a Shakespeare line or two. This way I have the option to quote and cite it.

      I believe splam would be a natural addition to our composing tool chest, giving us better control not only in what we’re saying and how we’re saying it but in researching and documenting our ideas. Its purpose doesn’t have to be limited to plagiarism detection. Splam could be a research and documentation tool as well, opening a wide range of windows for pursuing and documenting ideas as we write.

      You’re right. Many sources of information are closed — inaccessible except through subscription. However, the world of publishing has been changing rapidly, and web media is eliminating not only the costs traditionally associated with paper publishing but the procedures and incentives as well. I believe we’ve reached the tipping point where many writers are beginning to realize that open access is the most efficient and effective means to share their ideas. In other words, if they want to be heard, then the open web is the best medium.

      I believe there will come a time when ideas beyond the reach of splams won’t receive the protection they now have and that “published” will mean open to free web access. That is, if it’s not freely accessible on the web, then it’s not officially published.

      “Closed” runs counter to the spirit and the promise of the web, and the flow of “open” will continue to increase at an exponential rate, sweeping aside the barriers that are already beginning to crumble. Best, Jim S

    • Here’s an example of an effort to open closed publications:

      Audrey Watters’ “Unglue.it: A Crowdfunded, E-Book Liberation Project,”
      Inside Higher Ed, 17 May 2012. -Jim S

  2. […] Death of Plagiarism in the 21st Century (etcjournal.com) […]

  3. I think the idea of having a “splam” would be a very helpful tool for both writer and reader. I believe the so called increase in plagiarism is indeed attributed to the fact that it is so much easier to find the body of work being plagiarized from. In the past i believe that there was still plagiarism going on, however, the “composer” might have been using a source that is not as readily available to the grader. He or she could have been using a book in the library (I know unheard of in today’s world) and no one would ever have known that was not the students work if the student did not cite the book at all. The university that I attend has a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism; if you are caught you are put in front of a board of your peers, but mostly likely out of the university. But yet every year there are students who continue to plagiarize.

    • He or she could have been using a book in the library (I know unheard of in today’s world)…

      Dylan, this one statement about books and libraries is an example of how much our world has changed. The idea of 24/7 access to the world’s info via an iPhone changes, forever, the notion of learning and teaching and, by extension, schooling and education. In this sense, mobile communication devices in combo with the internet is extremely disruptive, offering us a world in which libraries full of hardcopy books are anachronisms — like telephone booths in an environment where nearly everyone has a smartphone.

      The university that I attend has a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism; if you are caught you are put in front of a board of your peers, but mostly likely out of the university.

      This is really the only way to deal with it. In our system, everyone pretends plagiarism isn’t happening. Whenever I brought it up, I was ignored. Thus, students can do it with near impunity. In my classes, I confront cheaters as well those who aren’t aware that they’re cheating. Both must learn that there are consequences. In nearly all cases, the cheater will drop the class and the ignorant student will make the necessary adjustments.

      But yet every year there are students who continue to plagiarize.

      When plagiarism continues despite a no-tolerance policy, the implication is that some students are getting away with it and consider it a worthwhile risk. The onus is on teachers. The solutions are actually very simple. We need to be aware of the problem and build safeguards into our assignments. We also need to develop an “ear” for style, i.e., every student has a distinct “voice” that’s as unique as her/his fingerprints. We ought to be able to “hear” phrases and lines that are uncharacteristic.

      Thanks for your comment. -Jim

  4. I think that plagiarism is not necessarily increasing in the amount of students how do this act. I think that whit the technology we have now it makes it a lot easier for teachers to be able to detected plagiarism . Before the internet students used books as resources and teachers would have to search a whole book to find plagiarism which took up a lot more time

    • Good point, Danielle. I agree. Also, your comment leads me to other thoughts, e.g., the idea of a non-digital book that can’t be searched doesn’t make much sense in today’s world. Also, the idea of a book or article that’s worth citing that’s not accessible to search engines and not open to all readers doesn’t make much sense in today’s world. It’s like a scholar publishing his research in a language that no one but s/he speaks. It doesn’t add to the ongoing universal “conversations” that generate knowledge. -Jim

  5. I think that the main reason for the increase in plagiarism is indeed the ease of coping and pasting. This makes it very simple to copy someone else’s work and make it your own. The idea of SLAM is a good idea but for everyone to be able to see your work is a very scary thing. Technology does make it easier for people to assess all your information and this is a scary thought. I think the thought that plagiarism is increasing because students are getting caught more is also a very true statement. Teachers have assess to many websites to see if their students are plagiarizing and this is a good thing. Something to also think about is if the students are being educated in the right ways to understand how to avoid plagiarism and how important it is to cite a paper then we may reduce this problem. Students need to be aware that using citations in their papers is a very important thing and plagiarism is a very serious issue.

    • Kirsten, I’m drawn to your comment: “for everyone to be able to see your work is a very scary thing. Technology does make it easier for people to assess all your information and this is a scary thought.” It is scary, but it’s ultimately the most natural, democratic, and open way to participate in our world as human beings and professionals. In the best of all possible worlds, don’t we expect each person to be able to think critically about issues and to express her/his concerns and opinions? In this way, each person contributes to making the world a better place. The fact that this is scary for most of us, in my opinion, is an indictment of our schooling and, perhaps, our upbringing. The up side of online technology is that we can no longer simply show up and use “presence” as expression. We’re forced to “say” something. If we remain silent, we don’t exist. That, for me, is even scarier. -Jim

  6. As a current education college student, I am constantly hearing warnings about plagiarism and what I need to do to prevent it in my future students. I believe that plagiarism has become a bigger problem in schools today because of how much emphasis is placed on the use of new technology. As my professors know, students of today rarely use sources for research unless they are from the internet. It is so much simpler to hop online to do research than to sift through endless books and journals in a library. Unfortunately, this is how a lot of students end up being accused of plagiarizing. I believe there needs to be better ways for students to prevent plagiarism altogether. I think your idea for Microsoft Word to include a splam feature to help monitor writers as they type would be great for students. No matter how aware students are of plagiarism, I know there are still cases of students in which they have no idea how much they actually have to cite in their writing. My college has a very harsh policy on plagiarism, but students still do it every year, intentionally and unintentionally. If students had access to a program that would tell them if they were plagiarizing before they turned in their writing, I believe there would be less problems with plagiarism in classrooms today.

    • Shelbey, every prof/teacher ought to read your statement: “As my professors know, students of today rarely use sources for research unless they are from the internet. It is so much simpler to hop online to do research than to sift through endless books and journals in a library.” Research is, for all practical purposes, a virtual process. Fortunately, the technology that moves it online also makes it relatively easy to detect plagiarism, and it’s only a matter of time before a splam-like feature will be built into word processors.

      Your point, “No matter how aware students are of plagiarism, I know there are still cases of students in which they have no idea how much they actually have to cite in their writing,” is a good one. Plagiarism as a result of ignorance is widespread, and it needs to be addressed at all levels of schooling. All teachers should, and do, make a distinction between accidental and premeditated cheating. Both will benefit from intervention. -Jim

  7. As a college student studying to become a middle school teacher I think it is relevant to say that the internet has made it easier to detect plagiarism. I also believe that the ease of copying and pasting information from the web into a word document, instead of writing your own thoughts (paraphrasing), has made it easier and more tempting to plagiarize. As a future middle school language arts teacher, it was great to learn about sites like turnitin.com and the idea of copying and pasting “suspicious” phrases into a search engine to check for plagiarism. I felt that the smart plagiarism meters in word documents that Jim mentioned would be very helpful and effective in reducing the amount of plagiarism that occurs today and in the future of students’ paper writings.

    • Becca, I think you see both the forest and the trees. Digital technology is amazing. It makes search possible, and search is the key to the power of the internet. It helps us to instantly find exactly what we’re looking. It gives us, 24/7, anywhere and anytime access to nearly all the knowledge and information in the world. This search technology can and will be harnessed to aid all of us in researching and writing, and one of the benefits will be the immediate detection of plagiarism — not to punish offenders but to help us in the documentation process. -Jim

  8. As a student studying to be a teacher I agree that plagiarism seems more prominent now than in years before, but that might be because the internet is still fairly new. Thirty years ago you couldn’t turn on a computer and look up books or use Spark notes for an assignment. I was also wondering when I read the Legal Zoom article why some teachers would pay for a plagiarism checker site when they could just check in Google. When teachers are spending their own money for supplies as it is, it only seems right that they not pay for something they might not use very much.

    • Heather, good question: “Why some teachers would pay for a plagiarism checker site when they could just check in Google?” As a future teacher, I think you’re going to find that this is a major problem in schools and colleges. Instead of using the internet tools that are freely available, educators would rather pay millions to so-called “experts” and their “services.” When we see the how technology trickles into our classrooms and offices despite the huge amounts we spend on it, we don’t have to look any further than to this practice of paying others (euphemistically referred to as “partners”) to do what we can so easily learn to do for ourselves. For those entrusted to teach future generations to become independent learners, this is a paradox worth addressing. -Jim

  9. As I get closer and closer to becoming a teacher I start to think more and more about how students will try to be sneaky or use tricks to get away with cheating or plagiarism. It is good to read an article like this because it gets me thinking about how I will handle it and what I need to be aware of. With the internet today, it is super easy to just copy and paste things from the internet on to your word document. I agree with Mr. Shimabukuro that there should be a plagiarism meter in Microsoft Word that can let students know if they are plagiarism and it won’t let them copy and paste onto the page. Plagiarism is getting easier to do, but finding plagiarism as a teacher is also getting easier with TurnItOn and other programs that detect it. I just think that students should be made aware of consequences more often through school and that is our jobs as teachers or future teachers.

    • Jordan, plagiarism is a dark side of our profession. We like to think that all students are ultimately good and honest and that to think otherwise is unworthy of someone who aspires to the title “teacher.” But the fact is that there are “bad people” in our classes. Fortunately, not many and not often. But they’re there. And for whatever reason, they choose to be dishonest and cheat. If there are no sanctions or consequences, then we’re allowing them to make a mockery of education, which is based on the premise that one is rewarded for what s/he learns. -Jim

  10. Studying to become a teacher, I can definitely see how a program such as the one you described in your article would be extremely helpful. Not only would it make the teacher’s job easier in the end while grading papers, but it would also teach the students to not plagiarize in the first place. Having something in a program such as Microsoft Word that warns them and will also be flagged when it is submitted is a great idea and will definitely encourage them to not do it. After reading Michelle Fabio’s article, I do think that having the Internet has increased plagiarism. Yes I think it has also made it easier to catch students who plagiarize, but I definitely think that the ability to copy and paste into papers is a much bigger problem. It makes it so much easier to use another person’s work. Because it has gotten so much easier, I think a program embedded into another program would be very useful and I honestly think that we will soon have that on our computers.

    • Brittany, I think you underscore the fact that technology is a wonderful tool for addressing problems that have traditionally plagued teaching and learning. In this sense, all educators ought to view technology as an extension of all things educational — teaching, learning, schooling, etc. It’s not a silver bullet for all ills and it definitely can be misused, but these failures shouldn’t hold us back from exploring, developing, adopting, adapting, discovering, and creating new and better ways to use technology to facilitate or improve learning and teaching. -Jim

  11. Plagiarism is a hot topic right now in the education field. As a student in my 3rd year in Education, I cannot tell you how many times I have been warned/ showed that plagiarism is not something to mess around with. From a teachers perspective, I am excited and hopeful to one day see SPLAM implemented into word processors such as microsoft word. Students need to know when and why they are plagiarising, and this could be an effective tool for that. The internet is such a useful tool when collecting data and other peoples ideas in order to write papers, and the future is bright in regards to less plagiarism because we will one day have more tools to better detect it.

    • Nathan, I like your positive attitude: “Students need to know when and why they are plagiarising, and this could be an effective tool for that. The internet is such a useful tool when collecting data and other peoples ideas in order to write papers, and the future is bright in regards to less plagiarism because we will one day have more tools to better detect it” [emphasis added]. For so many educators, cheating is the major stumbling block in embracing technology. This is sad because, as you say, “the internet is such a useful tool” for writing. With existing technology, we are very close to addressing plagiarism at the point where it occurs — in the writing process. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to include brief automatic explanations of why plagiarism has occurred and how to fix it with various options. -Jim

  12. As a student studying to be a teacher, it seems to me plagiarism is a huge issue. Whenever I start a new class, each teacher goes through their syllabus and plagiarism is always mentioned. Students are always warned not to do it and if they proceed to do it, consequences are also mentioned, and they go as far as dropping you from the class, to not being able to attend said university anymore. Reading your article, mentioning how MS Word should include a smart plagiarism meter, I thought that was a fantastic idea. This program would not only help people to stay away from plagiarism but it would also immediately tell them if they were plagiarizing something and did not realize it. The Internet is the main resource when it comes to receiving information and students should definitely know the difference between plagiarizing and copyright infringement. Once students know the difference between the two and know not to do either one, it only makes them a better writer. I think in a way, plagiarism has been over looked because of all the papers a teacher has to read over a year time period. I agree in Fabio’s article that Internet has lead to the increase of plagiarism but also has lead to a way of detecting plagiarism.

    • Brianna, I agree: “Once students know the difference between the two and know not to do either one, it only makes them a better writer.” Discovering the dialogic nature of writing will suddenly transform a boring school exercise into a real world encounter in the arena of ideas. By citing others’ words and ideas, we drive home the fact that writing is a powerful tool for participating in the ongoing conversation on critical issues. We’re able to connect with and acknowledge other writers to clarify our position. In this way, we become active members of communities, social and special interest groups.

      This point, too, is a good one: “I think in a way, plagiarism has been over looked because of all the papers a teacher has to read over a year time period.” Plagiarism may be the price that we’re paying for our current approach to evaluating writing. We need better methods, and, again, technology is the key. However, it’s ultimately people who need to manipulate technology to solve problems. Thus, the need is for imagination, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, perseverance, courage, openness, flexibility, thinking outside the box, and persuasiveness. And these are all human qualities that make us forever superior to technology. -Jim

  13. From my perspective as a student studying to become a teacher, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard teachers explain to me that plagiarism is wrong. I feel when a student chooses to plagiarize they are not being fair to themselves. I cannot wait for when I become a teacher because I feel that the technology will evolve so much that we will have Splam in our Microsoft Word. Splam seems that it will be extremely beneficial for the students in the classroom who do not understand the many differences to plagiarizing because it will inform/warn the students that they are plagiarizing.

    • Renita, you make a good point. Often, knowing, intellectually, about plagiarism isn’t exactly the same as knowing through experience by accidentally committing it and getting caught. At that moment, the concept hits home. If students could do this with the help of technology, they could save themselves a bit of embarrassment. -Jim

  14. I have read your article,and the one you are referring to, and I am still not sure if I think plagiarism has increased or not. I think we need to define what we consider increasing. If it is the amount of students getting caught, then I do think it is increasing. If we are talking about the percent of students plagiarizing going up, I’d have to say I think it has actually gone down. I am in my final year of my Education degree and know that no matter what I would not plagiarize due to the penalties I may incur. Students hear about plagiarism so much anymore that I believe most of us would be too scared to even try it. We also know of all the programs out there for detecting a plagiarized paper, so to risk being caught would be considered silly to the vast majority of us. I think your idea of a program being built into MS Word would be a great idea and would greatly help out students wondering if what they are writing will get them into hot water or not. I do think it is easier for one to plagiarize these days due to the internet, but I think since plagiarism is so enforced anymore the percent of people who actually do it in decreasing.

    • Lucas, you’re the first to question the stats, and this underscores the fact that most people take statistical claims at face value. We all have a built in crap detector, and it’s based on our own observations and knowledge. When what we feel is true doesn’t jibe with someone else’s generalizations, we have to pay attention to the alarms going off in our heads. When we dig into the design of the study, we might find gaping flaws that confirm our doubts.

      Your observation

      If it is the amount of students getting caught, then I do think it is increasing. If we are talking about the percent of students plagiarizing going up, I’d have to say I think it has actually gone down.

      is interesting because it exposes a non sequitur: The fact that more are getting caught doesn’t necessarily mean that more are doing it. It just might mean that we’re getting better at catching the smaller number of plagiarizers.

      Perhaps the greatest value in participating in open discussions such as this is the possibility of hearing from someone, like you, who questions the research that’s behind the generalizations we’re working with. -Jim

  15. As a future educator I appreciate the insight about plagirism. I feel the best way to prevent students from plagirizing is to educate them on the proper way of citing a source. Also, there are consequences to plagirism and the students should be aware of them. Informing students that there work must be their own and that teachers appreciate their individual thoughts is a good way to begin the process of educating young minds about plagirism. Educators must be able to use the tools available to them so that they are able to catch acts of plagirism among their students.

    • Lindsay, I agree. All educators must stand together against plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, and use the incident as an opportunity to educate. Inconsistent or intermittent enforcement may be at the heart of the problem. -Jim

  16. As I am studying to become a teacher, plagiarism is mentioned in almost every class I have had. It is a really big deal, because of the consequences you could encounter. I do think students need to know the difference between plagiarizing and copyright infringement, so they will not do either. I think there are people that do not think they are plagiarizing because of paraphrasing, but then there are people who plagiarize for the fun of it. I plan to educate my students on plagiarism, so they can make wise choices for their future.

    • This is an interesting observation: “I think there are people that do not think they are plagiarizing because of paraphrasing, but then there are people who plagiarize for the fun of it.” You’re right, some students don’t realize that paraphrasing — or even summarizing — still requires references. These gaps in learning are real, and despite years of lectures from teachers, some simply don’t pick this up. The problem is compounded by the huge gray area of “common knowledge” that doesn’t require documentation unless someone’s words are directly quoted. Re “people who plagiarize for the fun of it” — yes, they’re out there. They’re the ones who cheat as a matter of course — not just in school but in other facets of their lives as well. This comes as a shock to some teachers. -Jim

  17. After having read this article, I find myself in an interesting position when thinking about and discussing plagiarism. As a student who is trying to become a teacher, like many of the other people posting, we must both be consciously aware of the work that we do while also judging the work that our students give us. That being said, presented in this article have the potential to seriously reduce the number of works being plagiarized in classrooms.

    In the technological world that we live in, I would like to believe that the vast majority of students know how easy it is for teachers to catch plagiarized work, and yet many still choose to do it. Programs put in place on MS Word, like the one described in the text, could allow students to see their own plagiarized work before turning it in. In my opinion, such knowledge would make the vast majority of students rethink the work they have done and create something of their own.

    • Yes, this is the key, to incorporate such a feature in word-processing programs that “could allow students to see their own plagiarized work before turning it in. . . . such knowledge would make the vast majority of students rethink the work they have done and create something of their own.” With this technology, students will be able to monitor their own writing and eliminate plagiarized material or carefully cite it as a source. No one else needs to be involved. -Jim

  18. I am in my third year of a Bachelors Degree of Education and I would love to see a feature such as SPLAM implemented into a Word program. As a college student myself, this feature would save me from MANY unnecessary headaches and restless nights of havoc! This could also be said from a teacher’s perspective as well. The web is an immeasurable reserve of information, which helps to make teaching and learning easily accessible. Unfortunately, because the information is so readily available it also makes it easier for students to cheat (copy and paste), rather than formulate their own thoughts or ideas. I believe the plagiarism meter is an incredible idea that would be extremely helpful to students ( middle school to college level) and educators (at all levels) as well. I can’t wait for its arrival!

    • Telea, I agree. With all new technology, there are positives and negatives, and the web is no exception: “The web is an immeasurable reserve of information, which helps to make teaching and learning easily accessible. Unfortunately, because the information is so readily available it also makes it easier for students to cheat.” Detractors will use cheating as an argument against the use of the latest technology in education. However, there’s no going back. We need to do what we’ve always done with new technology — invent new solutions. -Jim

  19. I really think that this is a great idea. I know, from experiences from high school as well as college, that its extremely easy to just cut and paste in word and be done with a paper or essay. Its a wonder that more teachers don’t ask for students to email essay/papers to them so that they could easily check using cut/paste and a search like Google to figure out if any part of the paper being graded was actually plagiarized. As I continue my education in hopes to become a teacher, I continue to remind myself that no matter what, students are going to cheat and that it is my job as a teacher to not only punish the wrong doers but to figure out a way to prevent it from happening.

    • Corbin, your comment

      Its a wonder that more teachers don’t ask for students to email essay/papers to them so that they could easily check using cut/paste and a search like Google to figure out if any part of the paper being graded was actually plagiarized.

      made me pause for a moment. Does this mean that some teachers still expect students to submit hardcopy papers? I find this very difficult to believe. -Jim

  20. With being in the field of education; I believe that plagarism is a very serious matter. I believe that the issue comes up so much that many students are more afraid of what the consequences would be as apposed to if they feel bad for stealing someone else’s work. I think that the issue of plagarism is stressed so much in our schools that most children want to stay away from even someone suspecting that they may have copied someone’s words; now that’s not to say that many children still do participate in plagarism because websites are so accessable, but I think most kids are almost scared to plagarize because of how easy it is to detect it now days. Even though it may seem very easy to committ plagarism; I think most people do not even want to risk what the outcome would be if they were caught.

    • Mary, I agree: “Even though it may seem very easy to committ plagarism; I think most people do not even want to risk what the outcome would be if they were caught.” I think the vast majority of students — and people in general — are in this category. The problem is the very small number who cheat and get away with it. It’s like speeding. If some are doing it and not being ticketed, then others are encouraged to speed, too. In other words, Why obey a rule that’s not being enforced? Unfortunately, one of our roles as teachers is traffic cop, and we ignore it at our own peril. -Jim

  21. As a student studying to be a teacher I want to condition myself to pick out plagiarism, and use the “sixth sense” you mentioned in my future classroom. We are warned in every class here not to plagiarize, so it makes me wonder how often it happens in college. I like your idea of a plagiarizing checker. Such a useful tool to have.

    • Andrea, you already have this 6th sense, but you probably haven’t had to be conscious of it until now. You’ll be able to sense the difference between a student’s typical sentences and those from other, often professional, writers. Trust in your instinct. If you feel that text has been “borrowed” from others, chances are it has. These are the parts that you’ll copy and paste in a search engine. It’s always a sickening feeling to find that a student is intentionally plagiarizing. As teachers, we feel good about student achievement, and when they do very well, we’re genuinely happy. When they cheat, however, we can’t help but feel let down. The upside is that real cheaters are actually quite rare. -Jim

  22. Regarding the article by Michelle Fabio, my attention was mainly caught up with copyright infringement. I like how she raised the issue of it as sometimes in connection with plagiarism, as well as the definitive differences. It’s something I realize that, when I am one day teaching in a classroom, I will need to make the same separation and lay out the consequences of each. Also, I know that copyright infringement is something that is becoming an ever-growing issue, and the enforcement is gaining strength as time goes on. It is something my students will have to aware of and sensitive to.

    Regarding this article, mainly my attention is caught by the idea of splam. It does sound like an excellent idea, and it sounds workable with the level of technology we have anyway. I might suggest though, having worked before with well-intentioned systems that cannot adjust to un-forseen circumstances (computers can only respond by programming, not new and complex situations), that splam have a note-box with a link section for the student to explain why perhaps the system may be registering it as plagiarism if it is not. This would give them a chance to plead their case without it being too automatic, would immediately provide a chance for eased communication on the matter, and would also allow for the teacher to recognize cases of misunderstanding or perhaps unintentional plagiarism. That is the only suggestion I have, and though I recognize that they might send a note by other means, this would be more direct and leave less room for miscommunication.

    Thank you for taking the time to provide this article, answering everyone, and providing this interesting (and I think workable) idea for catching more cases of plagiarism.

    • Hannah, excellent idea: In cases where a splam is being used by teachers to monitor students’ real-time writing, there is a need for “a note-box with a link section for the student to explain why perhaps the system may be registering it as plagiarism if it is not.” As you say, a program is only as good as the programmer, and no program is ever bug-free. Thus, with feedback from students, the splam and how it is applied or interpreted could be refined over time. I agree: “This would give them a chance to plead their case without it being too automatic, would immediately provide a chance for eased communication on the matter, and would also allow for the teacher to recognize cases of misunderstanding or perhaps unintentional plagiarism.”

      You’re welcome. As a teacher myself, I can’t think of anything more important than taking the time to chat with future colleagues about critical issues such as plagiarism. The person (or persons) who truly deserves thanks is the professor who has encouraged all of you to participate in a public discussion in a professional forum devoted to issues and trends related to technology and education. It takes courage and imagination for a teacher to open the classroom dialogue and allow students to participate in the construction of their own learning in a way that’s personal, transparent, expansive, and interactive. As teachers, I can’t help but believe that experiences such as this will inspire all of you to continually redefine what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century. -Jim

  23. As a student studying to become a teacher both this article and Fabio’s article mentioned ring present in the obstacles of writing today. Fabio spoke more about the age old of how not to do it and gave what I perceived as a potential useful tool of using the reality that plagiarism may be copyright infringement to deter students even more. However, I felt that this article touched on something all the more prominent, that is has been happenning for years and teachers usually don’t need the internet to detect it. Not only that, what can be done to help stop it before it becomes an issue, and the splam idea would be a great helper. Also, maybe the effects of plagiarism would encourage more of the online turn ins suggested in this article, to see how a student’s writing develops and changes, and as a teacher we could help cultivate it and make it significantly better, after all isn’t that the point of teaching.

    • Katie, your suggestion of turning a writing problem into an opportunity to improve writing instruction is a splendid idea! This is definitely the most positive step we, as educators, can take — figuring out how to turn a negative into a positive. With a bit of imagination, this flip-flop could be applied to other problems, e.g., it would be nice if someone could turn the problem of students texting in class into a a dynamic learning activity. -Jim

  24. As a college student pursuing a degree in education, I found both your article and Fabio’s article very interesting. Fiabio included research that showed an increase in plagiarism, but the question is what is causing the increase. I definitely think that the internet makes it easier for students to plagiarize. Many students do resort to copy and pasting information while I think other students may not even realize they are plagiarizing. Students will change a few words around and use it in their paper without crediting the author thinking it isn’t plagiarism. I think it would help to avoid these situations if schools addressed plagiarism more often and taught students how to avoid plagiarizing. I also think the new tools offered to teachers to check papers for plagiarism have also just gotten more students caught.

    I found your idea for the MS Word smart plagiarism meter is extremely intriguing. This would help students realize when they are plagiarizing, even when they think they aren’t. Instead of being caught off guard when accused of plagiarizing because they don’t understand that they did, students can get a warning before submitting their papers. Teachers can also benefit from this new tool because it would cut down on the amount of time it takes to check each paper for plagiarism and allow them more time for planning and effective teaching.

    • Hi, Allison. You’re getting into education at an exciting time! Within the next decade, probably sooner rather than later, hardcopy textbooks will be gone. This is just a sign of how everything being published is now digital — even when the sales push is for hardcopy. A natural consequence of this world of digital info will be the splams we’ve been discussing, which will end the scourge of plagiarism. Your students will have easy online access to all the articles and ebooks written by professionals in every field. Much of the labor-intensive research writing ritual will be managed by smart word processors, freeing writers to focus on the critical thinking aspects of writing. When the manual and mechanical tasks that we associate with research writing disappear, as teachers, the focus will be on problem identification, experimentation, observation, analysis, evaluation, hypothesis testing, logic, etc. And this will be true for all levels of schooling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s