A staggering number of students admit they plagiarise other people’s work, both online and off. The question is: what should be done about it?
“Whilst the copying, falsification and plagiarism of essays and assignments has long been a prevalent form of academic misconduct amongst undergraduate students, the increasing use of the internet in higher education has raised concern over enhanced levels of online plagiarism and new types of ‘cyber-cheating’.” So reads the abstract to an article by Neil Selwyn. While I do not have access to that article, here is an extract of a blog post by Richard N. Landers which discusses the matter:
“So how bad was it in Selwyn’s sample? 61.9% (757 students) admitted to engaging in online plagiarism. 59% copied a few sentences, 30% copied a few paragraphs, 12% copies a few pages, 4% copied entire documents, and 3% purchased essays. 22.3% admitted to engaging in such behaviors regularly.”
On reading these statistics, the first question that people may ask is whether things are worse now than in pre-internet days. Landers says:
“The study also examined “traditional” plagiarism and found similarly high levels – again, 61.9% of the sample reported some type of plagiarism, though this time from books and articles. I am not wholly convinced that the researchers adequately differentiated “online articles” and “offline articles” (students may consider these to be the same thing), but there is not enough detail reported on their method to be sure either way.”
This doesn’t really answer the question. That said, I don’t think the answer is particularly important. The fact is that 61.9% of students are getting marks which, to varying extents, are not deserved. Or, to put it another way, 38.1% of students are suffering because they choose not to cheat (or, at least, choose not to admit to cheating!). Consequently, in my opinion, the only question that needs to be asked is: what should be done about it?
To my mind, there appears to be only one solution. The way in which students’ abilities are tested and assessed needs to change, with more weight attached to the results of supervised exams and less to the results of course work and assignments. Nothing else would work. Sure, educators could use a service similar to Copyscape to automatically check for plagiarism, but all that really shows is whether or not the student has made enough changes to the documents from which they copied for their work to pass. And, of course, a student can also use those exact same services to establish whether enough changes have been made. We should be testing kids’ ability to use information, not test their ability to find and rework it.
What do you think? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!