Cheating and Plagiarism
Do you remember how you may have cheat-ed in school? Let’s see if I can guess... you wrote the answers on a out-of-view part of your body like your ankle or palm; you put together a “cheat sheet” that you could pull in and out of your sleeve; or maybe you passed notes or looked onto someone else’s work to get the answer you were looking for. Like just about everything else, cheating has also gone high-tech. As a middle school counselor in the 1990’s, I remember my first glimpse of this when kids would bring pagers to school. Others students could page them with numbers corresponding to the test questions and answers. Looking back, that seems archaic now as compared to cheating techniques that take advantage of more capable and sophisticated technologies.
The student uses his or her cellphone to text message the questions from the exam to a friend inside the classroom or outside the testing room. The friend then looks up the answers and sends them back. The student’s phone is in silent mode the entire time. Also, the student can enlist a friend enrolled in an earlier section of the same class to take a picture of the exam using a cellphone. The student has time to transfer that photo onto a computer, enlarge it and have all the answers before taking the test.1
A student must write a paper in a foreign language such as Spanish or French. What should require significant work over several hours is a breeze and can be accomplished in minutes with the help of online language translation services such as Google Language Tools (http://www.google.com/language_tools) or AltaVista Babel Fish Translation (http://babelfish.altavista.com/). The student simply writes the paper in English, pastes it into the translator and then replaces his/her original paper with the results. It may not be perfect although a quick grade of “C” may be better than an earned “A.” Other online tools exist to help in various school subjects. For instance, Google also allows users to solve complex mathematical expressions, conversions, and lookup dictionary definitions to name a few (see http://www.google.com/help/features.html). Another website, Math.com includes a variety of tools to help with equations, graphs, inequalities, calculus and more. Cliffs Notes, guides that present and explain literary and other works in pamphlet form are now available online (and for free!; http://www.cliffsnotes.com/).
Some students use handheld computers, calculators with memories, iPods, mp3 players and other gadgets to store formulas, dates, spelling words, and other data likely needed during a test or other learning/assessment activity. The data can be transmitted via infrared or Bluetooth wireless networks to others in the class or even down the hall, through concrete walls. These gadgets are small and may be perceived by adults to be used for purposes other than cheating.
A 15 year old student got stumped on a summer reading assignment and went to a website (http://www.sparknotes.com) for help. She used its primer to complete the assignment, but never cited the source of the information. Like dozens of other English honors students at her school, she failed the assignment and was accused of plagiarism by her teacher. The alleged plagiarism also highlights the struggle by teachers to keep up with tech-savvy cheaters in the digital age, when term papers can be bought online and the right answer is usually just a mouse click away. 2
Plagiarism is probably the most misunderstood no-no in the school rulebook. Ask kids what plagiarism means and they usually rattle off “you can’t copy right off the Internet or out of a book without identifying the source.” When pressed about what exactly that means – like can you copy a sentence, a phrase or a word – most act rather astonished. They have never stopped to think about it and it usually leads to a rather uncomfortable silence. Yet, the consequences of plagiarism can include diminished academic achievement, failing grades, and – in college – being expelled or dismissed from school. So what does plagiarism really mean? 3
Plagiarism – the attempt to pass off the ideas, research, theories, or words of others as one’s own – is a serious academic offense. Most students know when they are intentionally plagiarizing, for example copying an entire essay out of a book or buying a paper off the Internet. Enterprising students can find papers on everything from euthanasia and terrorism to master’s-level term papers on biophysics and Shakespeare. Some students lift entire passages from online sites such as http://www.123helpme.com and http://www.CheatHouse.com, where term papers and school projects can be downloaded and copied. According to the Center for Academic Integrity (http://www.academicintegrity.org/), 41% of students admit to “cut and paste” plagiarism and 50% admit to some level of plagiarism from the Internet.
Many kids who plagiarize do so accidentally by not giving proper credit for others’ quotes, facts, ideas, or data. Intentional or not, they must still face serious consequences nonetheless. We need to educate our children so that they can save themselves from a great deal of high-tech trouble while respecting the intellectual property rights of others.
There exists a great deal of tips, resources and handouts that you may find helpful in teaching children about the nature of plagiarism (and how to avoid it). Here are a few carefully reviewed websites to help get you started:
- Avoiding Plagiarism from the Purdue OWL http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/03/
- How to Avoid Plagiarism from the College Board http://www.collegeboard.com/student/plan/college-success/10314.html
- Turnitin Research Resources http://www.turnitin.com/research_site/e_home.html
- McGill University Student guide to avoid plagiarism http://www.mcgill.ca/integrity/studentguide/
- Prentice Hall: Understanding Plagiarism http://tinyurl.com/2tpp7r