It is widely believed that the Internet has led to a great increase in plagiarism at both the high school and university levels. Whether or not this is true requires carefully considering the Internet and its effect on plagiarism. Four questions come to mind. The first is whether or not plagiarism has increased due to the Internet. The second is does the Internet can make plagiarism easier to accomplish. The third question is can the Internet make catching plagiarism easier. A final question is what can be done to reduce plagiarism whether it is due to the Internet or not. Part of the evidence for answers will come from the opinions of teachers and professors who research this area and who teach writing. Hopefully, there will be some statistics to support their opinions. The other part will be from searching the Internet.
First is the question of whether or not the Internet has led to an increase in plagiarism. Plagiarism has been around for a long time. Doris Dant surveyed high school students in 1986 and found that 80 percent of the students admitted having copied from other sources. This was even though 94 percent had been taught how to do citations. At this time, the Internet was not widely available to high school students, so it shows that plagiarism has been a problem for a long time (81-84).
Still the problem is viewed as having grown due to the Internet. In a Pew Research Center report on the value of online learning in 2011, college presidents also responded to a question about plagiarism. Fifty-five percent say that plagiarism increased in the past ten years while 2 percent said it decreased with the remaining 40 percent saying it stayed the same. Of those presidents who think plagiarism has increased, 89 percent believed that the Internet has been largely responsible (Parker, Lenhart, and Moore). Also in the report was a question about the use of laptops in class. Since laptops can access the Internet, they are generally banned during tests. During regular classes, only 2 percent of the college presidents said laptops were banned. Fifty-six percent said that it was up to the professor, and the rest said that students are allowed to bring the laptops to class (Parker, Lenhart, and Moore). So access to the Internet while in the classroom is widely accepted in college since it is not seen to aid in cheating.
The Pew report has been widely quoted as proof that plagiarism has increased due to the Internet. Yet the Pew report is described as a survey of opinions of the college presidents. It does not give any statistical proof. Some evidence comes from overseas. Rachel Williams in The Guardian reports that cheating including Internet plagiarism is on the rise in British schools. The idea that plagiarism has increased may also be due to constant media reports on concerns in Turkey, China and Korea. Also the cases of public figures, authors and artists being accused keeps people aware of the problem and makes it appear to be widespread whether it is or not. Wikipedia has a long list of plagiarism by well-known people going back to Aristotle in the article List of Plagiarism Incidents.
The second question is has the Internet made plagiarism easier. To this, I would answer of course it has. The Internet has also made research in general easier. Going through the lists of possible print sources and then finding them in the stacks is a long and tiring process. It is much easier to type in a few key words and get a long, long list of articles to read. It is not quite so easy though when you find that many of these articles are pretty much the same and some possibly are examples of plagiarism.
Computers make it easy to copy and paste material from the Internet. It is a lot easier than having to type or write things out by hand. Typing or writing by hand is time-consuming and tiring. It is also much easier to make a mistake and much harder to correct any mistakes. This easy way of copying and pasting from the Internet is very tempting when you are rushed for time to write a paper or make a report. Being rushed for time also makes it more likely that you will neglect to properly cite a source or use the wrong citation form. That might be unintentional, but it is still plagiarism.
Most students are smart enough to not just paste whole sections into a paper, but even giving an incorrect citation is also considered plagiarism. Giving a citation is not always easy. The use of citation styles like MLA tends to slow writing down. When you see an article online, you have to ask yourself, “How is this properly cited?” Then you have to go to the style book or an online style guide and search for the proper method. Sometimes you can’t find a really clear example. You cannot find everything on the Internet. Then you have to think about whether or not you can use the source without risking your grade being lowered for an incorrect citation. Students may leave out sources just because they don’t know how to cite them.
The Internet has a solution for that problem too, but it could cost you money. There is a website called easybib that will make the citations for you in MLA, APA or Chicago style. The problem there is that you seem to need to already have all the information. If you have all the information, it should be just as easy to do it yourself. The website also has upgrades available for a larger fee that give you even more help in writing a paper.
Another question when using the Internet is whether a source is reliable or not. We all know that there is a lot of garbage on the Internet. Blogs are plentiful but not a good source because they are usually just the opinion of the author, and many blogs just copy each other. Another problem is when you find a good article by a reliable source like a major magazine or newspaper, they will often cite authors and papers but then give no citation information, and it is difficult to find the original source online. So the temptation is to use the material and not cite it.
One way students have around these problems is to buy a whole paper online with the citations already done for them. This is not just a problem in the United States. Williams in The Guardian reports that a lecturer at the Manchester University in England found that students were willing to pay up to 300 pounds for a top essay. That is over $500.
In summary, the Internet has made plagiarism easier just as it has made research easier. The convenience of using a computer to cut and paste is a big part of the material. Typing and revising in general is easy on a computer. Checking references against other sources and getting advice on how to write and how to cite is easier. Running your paper through a spell checker eliminates a lot of mistakes. These are all short cuts that make life easier for the students, but many think that plagiarism is the easiest short cut of all.
Another website, Plagiarism Checker, has software that is installed on the teachers’ computers. Teachers can easily use it if they require the students to submit their papers digitally. For papers submitted by hard copy, the old-fashioned way was to read the papers and check word by word. This required not only a lot of time but also an extensive knowledge of the topic. Another method is using the Cloze test which replaces every 5th word with a blank. The professor asks students to read and complete the blanks (Frantz). This too is a chore for the teacher who has to construct the test and then use time to conduct it.
In summary, the Internet has solutions for the problem it has supposedly caused. If a rise in plagiarism is due to the Internet, the teachers can require students to submit digital files and then the teacher can run them through the websites or with the software packages that can detect plagiarism.
Finally, there are many teachers who state that teaching the proper methods of citation is the real way to combat plagiarism. Howard and Davies state that forbidding students to use the Internet is going too far and that it won’t stop plagiarism from happening. They say that stating the rules and strictly enforcing them is not enough. Summarizing and paraphrasing are not simple things. Students need to be taught how to summarize materials that they have read. Howard and Davies state that it is a mistake to think that summarizing is a simple task that can just be assigned. It has to be carefully taught.
Additionally, they say that students need to be instructed in evaluating sources. They need to be made aware of what is intellectual property. Finally, they say that the use of Wikipedia should not be forbidden. It can be used by the students to gain background knowledge but not used as a source itself.
So part of plagiarizing is due to lack of knowledge and training. With the many different types of sources, it is hard to keep all the rules straight. Even if all the rules are checked with each entry, mistakes still creep in. Education is the key. Education is not only going over the rules but also practice in applying them. One online tool that can help is Grammarly. It allows the user to drop a file into the checker or copy and paste text. It then gives feedback on the material. The feedback is not only about grammar but also about possible plagiarism issues. There is a seven day free trial, but after that there is a fee for use.
In summary, based on the experts in this field, I would have to agree that the Internet makes plagiarism easier but also makes it easier to detect. The Internet gives students access to millions of articles, book excerpts, blogs, and commentaries. But Turnitin, for example, counters on their website with “150+ million archived student papers, 90,000+ journals, periodicals and books, and 14+billion web pages crawled” There is a balance between the ability to cheat and the ability to catch cheating.
Whether or not plagiarism has increased due to the Internet is uncertain. Students have been cheating for a long time at least since the 1800s (Howard and Davies). What does seem to be a compelling argument by the various professors is that students need deeper instruction and more practice in evaluating sources, citing sources, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Practice will make doing citations easier, so the temptation to plagiarize will be less.
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