Beating Web cheaters at their own game
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That psychological deterrence is exactly what Barrie hopes for. "The only way to stop digital plagiarism," he says, "is to create a centralized database of intellectual property that term papers can be checked against."Skip to next paragraph
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Barrie - whose service boasts 20,000 registered users in 19 countries - estimates that 30 percent of the work Turnitin.com receives is unoriginal, and 85 percent of that unoriginal work was cribbed from the Web. "Students are using the World Wide Web as a multibillion-page, digital, searchable, cut-and-paste encyclopedia," he says.
Last year, in Dr. McCabe's study of 4,500 high school students, 72 percent admitted to at least one instance of serious cheating on written work. In his analysis, the Internet has created few new cheaters - only five percent of students have engaged in Internet plagiarism and not another form of cheating - but McCabe suggests that digital deceit can be addictive in its anonymity and ease. "I think the Internet has resulted in those who are plagiarizing doing it more often," he says.
Stephen Davis, professor emeritus of psychology at Emporia State University in Kansas, agrees. He's surveyed 14,000 college students on academic dishonesty, 500 on Web-based cheating.
"We see a lot of students who use the Internet for less than self-enrichment," he says.
Dr. Davis's research shows not only changing patterns in cheating, but a change in student psychology. He says there's been a rise in external motivation - the lure of material gain. And when students are frustrated, he says, they often rationalize cheating by blaming "the teacher who made the test too hard."
Experts caution that not all cheating is malicious, and that many students simply don't realize that copying off the Internet without citing sources is wrong. "There's an attitude that if it's on the Internet, it's public knowledge, and therefore it doesn't need to be cited," McCabe says.
With today's emphasis on teamwork comes another fuzzy line - the question of where collaboration becomes cheating. "Students talk about the fact that in the corporate world today, nobody expects you to be able to solve a difficult problem by yourself," McCabe says.
Mike Porter, an English teacher at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colo., says he has two approaches to prevent cut-and-paste plagiarism: setting deadlines before the final paper is due - for preliminary research, a rough draft, and a bibliography - and knowing students' writing. "If I have a struggling student who suddenly comes up with Shakespearean prose, that's a warning sign," he says.
Students aren't always suave in deception. Mr. Porter recalls one student who turned in an essay with the Web address of a term-paper mill still typed at the bottom of each page; Davis remembers two freshmen turning in the exact same paper, freshly downloaded, in an introductory psychology class; and Whitman describes a student who, though he didn't plagiarize his paper, relied on an Internet site about Abraham Lincoln - and was surprised to learn later that he'd been quoting from a fifth-grader.
Two years ago, Educational Testing Services, in conjunction with the National Ad Council, launched a campaign urging students not to cheat. Called "The Ref in Your Head," the commercials ran on national prime-time television and portrayed students confronting - and refusing - temptation, as referees clad in black caps and striped shirts popped out of their heads to blow whistles.
As the digital domain expands, the challenge - in schools and on the Web - is to make those referees real, while maintaining trust on both sides of the field. "It puts the incentive on us as teachers to change formatting, change topics, stay fresh," says Porter. "We have to force kids to reinvent the wheel - or at least write a new paper."