Meets the Age of the Internet
year ago, the University of Virginia conducted a plagiarism investigation
on more than 120 students, all of whom belonged to the same introductory
physics class. A computer program designed by their professor,
Lou Bloomfield, determined that many of the papers shared the
same phrases. Some were complete replicas.
The news came as a shock to the school, whose honor code dates
back to the 1840s. For the university, the investigations put
a blemish on an otherwise untarnished past. For the rest of higher
education, it signaled the growing trend of academic dishonesty
on college campuses nationwide.
According to a 1999 survey by the Center for Academic Integrity,
75 percent of college students admitted to some cheating.
The growth of academic dishonesty has been spawned largely by
technology. Ironically, the same tools that make it easier to
email professors and conduct internet research also enable students
to download academic work that can easily be passed off as their
own. In the age of the Internet, a tech-savvy slacker with an
web connection and a credit card can click their way to a final
paper— without ever having set foot in a library.
Over the last few years, colleges have pointed to ‘term-paper
mills’ for the rash of academic dishonesty. These mills are actually
Internet websites that offer students reports, essays and theses
on nearly any topic imaginable. Fees vary; some sites charge per
page while others offer one year’s worth of access for a flat
rate. While most term-paper mills state that their papers are
intended for research purposes only, their irreverent names—SchoolSucks.com
and Evil House of Cheat, for example— suggest otherwise.
One such website provides an area where students can post requests
for specific papers. On it, Stallion9 writes: “I am doing a 5
pg paper on Steroids in pro-baseball can anyone help?” while BHSREDNECK
asks: “Does anyone have a book report on a book by Lurlene McDaniel
called “Six Months To Live”? if so please email it to me.”
Higher education is not taking digital plagiarism lightly.
In 1998, Boston University filed a federal lawsuit against several
term paper mills for racketeering and wire-fraud. Although the
case was eventually dismissed, BU’s action marked higher educations
tough stand against online plagiarism.
Less litigious alternatives have been employed as well. Professors
at Georgia Tech have taken a page from University of Virginia’s
Professor Bloomfield and created their own anti-plagiarism software.
Oddly enough, the strongest challenge to online plagiarism may
come in the form of a website. Educators can access several anti-plagiarism
search engines that check whether students have lifted parts of
their papers off the Internet.
developed in 1997 by John Barrie, has 100,000 registered users
at high schools and colleges worldwide and screens an average
of 5000 papers daily. Teachers submit their papers to the website
and find out in 24 hours if they are authentic. Other anti-plagiarism
websites include: Essay Verification Engine, Integriguard,
and Ablesoft’s rSchool Detective.
some schools continue to rely on low-tech remedies for their digital
plagiarism syndrome. Many professors counter cheating the old
fashioned way: by inventing creative assignments and asking students
to provide drafts of their work.
On cyber-ready campuses, cheating is now easier than ever. The
promise of educational technology, once hailed as a utopian instrument,
now keeps faculty on guard.#
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