Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The internet and the decline of academic honesty

For any of this to make sense, I should preface this with a couple details:
I'm a tenured professor at a large, accredited university, though for (fairly obvious) reasons I won't be naming any names. But this subject is something that has been, in my opinion, worryingly overlooked by the media and most academic institutions, so I feel it's important to talk about my experiences.

I believe that the internet is fundamentally changing the academic landscape and, generally, professors and universities are ill-equipped to deal with it. As institutions, we've always dealt with a fair share of "academic dishonesty" - outright plagiarism, "group work" taken to extremes, falsification of data and everything in between. All professors know the stories (perhaps having experienced them personally) of students buying papers outright from upperclassmen. None of this is new to academic life and, of course, the internet merely increases the frequency of this sort of behavior. None of this would be worth writing about were it not for the fact that last year, about half of our graduating class was implicated or caught in some variety of cheating. While it would be unrealistic to assume that all of these students were actually guilty of whatever they were suspected of, I would not hesitate to say that 25-30% of our graduating seniors should never have been allowed to walk. Of course, most (if not all) of the incidents were overlooked because the administration believed it was unacceptable to keep that many students behind. A mere decade ago, this number was in the single digits. How can something like this change so rapidly? And how can it go unreported and unnoticed? Simple: Our students are now, more than ever, cheating in ways that leaves our older generations in the dust. There have been a number of articles written about the increasing quantity of cheating and general academic dishonesty in American institutions. But what hasn't been mentioned in the other, potentially more concerning factor: The entirely new type of cheating that has been ushered in by the Internet itself.

The internet, with its huge number of resources (some of which are actually bear research utility), offers students an incredible incentive to cheat. More and more, our professors are being given papers where students have simply copy & pasted segments from various webpages together (frequently from sites like Wikipedia), creating some sort of almagamated hyper-plagiarism which becomes harder and harder to catch. While these chimera-esque papers can, most of the time, be easily spotted through the mixing of language styles, clever students can pass these off throughout their academic careers with little worry. Some institutions have started employing services like Turn It In and iThenticate whose primary purpose is to catch this sort of peicemeal cheating. These services work fairly well and have lead to, in my institution, the indictment of several papers which would have otherwise gone undetected. There's a fair question regarding the success of these sort of services when students make any half-hearted attempt to alter the exact text of a quote, but I can't speak to that as I have no way of testing that question. The use of these services also places a nontrivial financial burden on the institution, but really, what alternative do we have?

The more concerning and potentially insidious academic threat comes from a new type of service which was brought to my attention by one of my students. The website Student of Fortune is built around a system which seems to, by its very nature, defeat the methods powering Turn It In and iThenticate. By creating a monetary transaction through the request/fulfillment of knowledge, it seems as though it will become substantially more difficult for professors to even have the resources to determine if a paper has been plagiarised or not. The additional prospect of papers being written or problems being solved on-demand by other users creates an added burden on professors. Perhaps an overwhelming burden. With sites like Wikipedia, it's easy to spot the phrases in papers that have been lifted from the site, but with Student of Fortune and its ilk, such things are nigh-impossible.

If collaboration and the open-source methodology are truly the future of the web, how can professors and universities deal with this? While the media and popular culture have spent countless hours extolling the virtues (and there are many) of these sorts of communities, I can't help but wonder: How can we, the teachers and professors of the "interent generation" weed out the cheaters and liars from the honest students? How can we compete with the expectation for guiltless and effortless cheating the internet has instilled on our country's children? I, for one, am running out of ideas.


Blogger pixelbender.junk said...

To summarize your article:

You work at a large university that has a large population of cheaters. You blame the internet with a broad sweep generalization, and then throw in Wikipedia unfairly attributing cheating to its existence.

I have spent three years at a prestigous pulic university (if there is a such a thing) where there would be no where near that much cheating. Could it be a result of the teaching methods at your university? Are you assigning too much work to the point that students have to cheat in order to get it done? Are professors providing a bad example?

Why do you single out Wikipedia? It is actually a great example of sharing knowledge, and gives references (better or worse on some items). I would think this is what one wants to accomplish with education.

Then you discuss one website, which in terms of papers is essentially buying papers, which has always been done and is not specific to the website you mention. Other than papers, what is wrong with paying money to have someone with knowledge (or who obtains it, thus now "having" it) share it with you? This seems like exactly what happens in college (aside from the fact that often profs don't share anything, and you pay a lot of money to read a book).

Ironically, I am finishing my 4th year at an accredited school online. While I can and do use the internet for everything, I've done more actual work than I did in the traditional setting and have taken some of the most difficult tests, yet I am happy with school.

Lastly, why do you care? Perhaps you're one of the few professors that do, but you're a dying breed. The only reason us student go to college is to get a piece of paper, and honestly the most helpful things we learn apply to social engineering anyways.

In the end, your school needs to become more selective if a fourth of your students are cheating.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Ted Dunning said...

I am very curious what you define as cheating. Certainly, many people have definitions that are particularly strict and even unrealistic. In many cases of "plagiarism", it is clear that the root problem is that students haven't been clearly told what is expected of them. Told to "cite references", many don't understand the difference between that and cutting and pasting.

It would be better to step back a moment and try to determine what the real goal behind the assignments really is and how to combat the inevitably cynical attitude of many students who are determined to do the least work rather then the most learning.

My own experience in teaching at the university level showed me that changing the curriculum to be goal oriented and encouraging creativity led to such enthusiasm on the part of students that the biggest problem we had was the tendency of students to neglect their other course work in order to work on mine. There was no question of cheating since the students were competing for the prestige of coming up with the most interesting solutions to the problem.

It is definitely true that sharing information has become vastly easier in recent years. To my mind, teaching students how to make use of shared resources is a worthy goal. Assigning make-work tasks that are easily subverted by sharing is counter-productive.

12:38 AM  
Blogger William Ward said...

"Never memorize what you can look up."
- Generally attributed to Albert Einstein

If you want to test competence, you're not going to find it at the end of a standardized test nor a term paper. You'll only know by engaging the student directly. Perhaps it is time for educators to adapt to a world where access to knowledge is irrelevant.

Rather, it is the application of the knowledge that is taught and assessed.

- William Ward

12:46 AM  
Blogger John said...

How can we, the teachers and professors of the "interent generation" weed out the cheaters and liars from the honest students?

This is easy enough to do. Merely make it a requirement that submitted work has to be handwritten rather than typed. When it's not just as easy to copy and paste and probably takes longer to copy by hand they're more likely to be producing their own original work. It's what an English teacher of mine mandated about 10 years ago because of this very problem.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Ben Foxworthy said...

As a student, the most successful solution I've seen is to raise or modify the expectations of the assignment to fit the resources that students now have available. How to do this is the real problem; it can take some creativity. If you don't think it is possible, maybe you should consider giving in-class essays.

However, I think such a large amount of plagarism is probably indicative of other problems with your institution. Ideally, I think the professor (or at least a TA) should be talking to each student about their ideas throughout the writing process. If this isn't happening, maybe it's less of a problem with technology and more of a problem with large class sizes or uninvolved professors. Also, the administration should not be letting these students graduate; that perpetuates the problem. Maybe you should worry about those issues first.

1:14 AM  
Blogger geert said...

If the information needed to produce a paper is so readily available online, perhaps the level should be upgraded. So that a student should show insight, originality, creativity instead of just reproducing knowledge.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Roger_Mudd said...

This is just continuing a trend of the new “rubber stamp university”. It started with the 1960’s and 1970’s, during which it became expected for middle class kids to attend a college and get a 4 year degree. With more people having a bachelor degree, competition for graduate degrees increased as a masters or PhD was required for an upper middle class life style. This lead in the mid to late 90’s to grade inflation as whiney students and capitulating professors slowly increased GPA’s. Which brings us to our present student body which expects 4.0’s for their grad/med/law school application and expects minimal work or effort. Thus we’ve seen the high school diploma replaced with the bachelor degree and the bachelor degree replaced with a grad/med/law degree.

Your job as a professor is less about teaching and more about babysitting for a set period of time. At the end of this time your student gets a piece of paper that allows your student to enter the workforce at a middle class/lower middle class level. The increase in cheating is a reflection of this reality as the students aren’t there for academic but rather economic reasons. In addition, students who are truly there to learn will not cheat no matter how easy it is for them. Why cheat something you enjoy doing and have vested time and effort into?

I’m willing to bet you are part of the problem as well. Ask yourself what % of students you fail in any given class. If 75%-99% of people can complete your course with a passing grade, you haven’t really done anything but dumb your lessons down for the lowest common denominator.

1:22 AM  
Blogger starinup said...

Written papers have always suffered from this sort of problem as everyone here knows. I don't think that forcing them to be hand written is a suitable answer though, as many people have messy hand writing and the effort to hand write is small compared to developing a paper and hand writing it.

I think a better idea is presentations with a question and answer session, with a limit how many notes can be used. It does take a lot longer, but you will know if the student understands the material, or has atleast been able to remember what ever he or she has presented.

You might also combine turning in a written paper with the presentation. Even students are terrible at presentations will atleast know the thought process behind the written paper. Such and individual may not be able to articulate his ideas as well in person as in writing, but the logic should be consistent and the student would be able to answer a few basic questions.

In the end you have a better idea of how much material the student understands.

1:24 AM  
Blogger foghill said...

I assign projects in which the students have to review a research paper published within the last year. This could be done in a variety of courses, e.g. using material published in a newspaper.

The idea is to avoid the problem of within-university sharing of old assignments that bear not just marks but often suggestions about the better approaches to the work.

Of course, the problem is that in some fields, particularly in science, there is a need for problem-solving work. Apart from changing numbers, it's hard to invent entirely new questions relating to first-year topics such as force diagrams, t-tests, etc.

There is a solution to these and other problems under discussion -- evaluate based on *tests* and tests alone. It's hard to consult the web when you're sitting in an examination room that lacks computers, mobile phones, etc.

Students don't like test-based grading very much, though. This is partly because they suspect they will get lower scores on tests than on assignments where they have more time to think, can work in groups, and can consult the web. The other factor making students like assignmenst is that they wish to get advice on their reasoning and techniques through the term, before the make-or-break final examination.

Evaluating with both assignments and examinations requires a weighting scheme. When I was first a professor, I tried something that was done with me, as a student. The idea was that students got both assignments and a final examination. If their mark on the exam was higher than the that derived by adding in the assignments, then the assignment grades were ignored. Thus, a student could choose to do none of the assignments, if they thought they really understood the work and wanted to spend time on something else. It is a wonderful solution because it allows for different ways of working. The idea that the final examination supersedes all is also sensible ... if you figure the material out in the end, well then that's all that was needed.

The problem with this is that it requires guts on the part of the professor. It requires the professor to write an "F" on an examination sometimes.

But, as has been stated on this thread already, handing out low grades is not very acceptable nowadays. Students don't like it, Deans don't like it, Registrars don't like it. The easy path is to write B for C and C for F, and to do even the latter rarely.

PS. for a laugh, check out that StudentsOfFortune.com site. You'll see a movie of a woman (wearing bunny ears) explaining the site. I guess somebody decided that describing the product with the written word was inappropriate.

5:39 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Reduce the importance of take home exams and papers. Raise the importance of examinations (essay especially) and presentations. Use Socratic method in periodic seminars with TAs. Video?

Create a culture where cheating is looked down upon rather than revered. This can be done with community meetings and open discussion. Social opprobrium will do like nothing else. Work with the Greek houses.

Part of the underlying problem is the commercial nature of higher ed. Schools are perceived as (and too often are) credit markets. Anything goes in a market. Administrations create this atmosphere. Grades are the commodities.

Of course there is always the polygraph.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Erundur said...

My professors in college had a variety of ways to combat plagiarism on papers. Some required written (or laptop-typed) essays of a certain length as part of examinations. Of course, the short-answer segment of tests also aimed to measure what the others students and I had learned about the content of the course.

However, as others here have mentioned, I believe the greater problem to be one with our society. The majority of people who hope to make a decent wage attend college to fulfill hiring requirements at most companies.

To get the jobs, they need the degree; to get the degree, they need the grades; to get the grades they do what they need to do depending on their own level of morality. Cheating is an easy solution for many.

In my case, I went to a "cookie-cutter" public university that seemed for more concerned with pushing me out the door than with how much I actually learned while I was there. I took the requirements and I got the grades. I happened to be honest, but many of my colleagues could have easily cheated through the lower-level courses and put in a moderate amount of effort on tougher courses to get through.

So what's a better solution? I have no idea. The problem is so large -- encompassing hundreds or even thousands of universities -- that it's not one with a quick solution. Finding new methods to combat plagiarism in the digital era will help you weed out the worst students, but this won't stop the pandemic of idiots with bachelor's degrees.

5:53 AM  
Blogger oktogo said...

As the power of individuals to gain immediate access to information regarding any academic topic becomes greater over time the necessity of the sort of education discussed here may simply decline.

I don't mean to sound too outlandish, but I think a case example from my job may explain my point.

At my previous company we made significant revenue by building a training organization that prepared printed materials to train our customers on our technology and offered hands on training courses. The courses were very well attended by our new customers who wanted to be very well versed in our technology before they deployed it.

At my current company we have been wholly unsuccessful with our training programs, even though the technology is almost identical. The reason? Every time we work with a customer and offer training they respond that they are happy to just figure out what they need to know when they need to know it by using the very full featured wiki we offer on our technology.

This switch is in part because of a better focus on our part of building a good wiki to improve the customer user experience (at my previous company the array of available information online was fairly broad as well, although less easily consumable).

But more importantly, I think it represents a mindset switch on the part of our users to recognizing that with highly available resources the necessity of analysis and knowledge existing at any time other than when they need it is simply not that great. This is an awareness that is only just beginning to permeate the thinking of the technology savvy.

As we begin to have more direct interfaces to the internet and the ever growing array of knowledge that it represents, and further as we all gain access to greater levels of processing power, it will become more and more compelling to simply ignore formal education and move to an on-demand knowledge model.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Virchull said...

It sounds like you are a lazy professor, resistant to change, and prone to whining. Many approaches are available to deal with cheating. They are actions that raise the level of expected performance and personalize the learning experience. They include things like: writing or problem solving exercises in class - with high impact on final grade, pop quizes, feedback and grades on class participation / discussion, individual or small group projects with the requirement to turn in research notes along with the final discussion paper, projects that end with a verbal presentation and discussion - not just a paper, etc.

Quit whining, change, and get to work.

6:38 AM  
Blogger Dr. Finalgirl said...

This post is certainly thought-provoking. I don't have much new to add here except to say that, in 7 years of teaching at two very different kinds of institutions, I've only found two cases of plagiarism in essays. I think this must be because students in my writing classes go through a multiple draft process, from thesis on down, at every stage of which they must produce and revise original work. Plagiarism has never been a problem for me in a lit. class, presumably because those students know how to cite properly and are writing in a discipline where "saying something new about a text" is sort of the point of writing.

All that being said, as a medievalist, I have some trouble accepting the idea that all work must be completely original in order for it to show mastery of a given topic or skills set. Imitatio is, of course, a legitimate means of learning. The idea that writing must be a solitary, interior process -- that all the words on a page must be completely original and one's own for them to be valuable and meaningful -- is obviously post-Romantic. Earlier periods viewed writing as a collaborative process of textual accretion that goes on across centuries, languages, and cultures. I like this idea of writing as an almost archaeological process of discovering and adopting different voices; learning how to incorporate those other voices into one's own writing is surely a valuable process which we ought to teach in writing classes. This is as much an issue of style (how to introduce quotations grammatically and gracefully, how to borrow and build upon particularly apt phrases, how to detect and then imitate writing techniques, etc.) as it is of intellectual honesty (how to give credit in a transparent way that all scholars can recognize as rigorous and above-board). Therefore, again, I see these as skills to be learned and practiced as well as rules to be followed.

It's perhaps also worth noting that it was the case, in the two instances of overt plagiarism I did "catch", that the "cheating" resulted from ignorance of citation protocols rather than from deviousness or laziness on the students' parts. It seems that, so far, emphasizing the draft process, requiring students to show pre-writing (like abstracts, thesis statements, outlines, etc.), teaching documentation, and assigning non-generic text-based writing topics has kept plagiarism out of my classrooms.

If it ever became a widespread problem, I'd do what some other posters here have suggested, and institute oral examinations and put more pressure on in-class essays. Assigning in-class essays and oral exams in combination with take-home assignments should create an overall atmosphere which is not conducive to plagiarisim. I do doubt that changing technology is leading to worse or more widespread instances of plagiarism; I emphasize in my writing classes that internet sources must be cited just like print sources, then show my students how to cite correctly, and then encourage them to use scholarly sources (which tends to lead them away from Google and Wikipedia, anyway).

7:01 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

It's interesting that these cheating problems are only going to appear in the soft sciences or liberal arts fields. An engineering or math student who has others solving their problems for them is going to flunk every test and flunk it well - those subjects can only be mastered enough for the exams by working your own problems and actually understanding the problem-solving process.

Perhaps you can emphasize tests more (during which no PDA's, computers or phones are allowed) and take-home work less?

It seems that the real dilemma is the degree to which institutions are willing to tolerate cheating versus driving off students by being hard on them and requiring them to actually learn the material.

A university that tolerates a great deal of cheating, as yours apparently does, is only encouraging students to cheat. By refusing to set and enforce tough standards, the university itself is cheating its students.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Rob Frohne said...

As a free and easy alternative to "Turn it In" and "iThenticate," you can use Google to search for long strings using quotes to have Google search for that exact sequence of words.

Perhaps at your school, the Engilish Composition class instructors have not made it clear what plagerism is, and that could be addressed.

I am an engineering professor, and though I don't give a lot of assignments that would lend themselves to this kind of plagerism, I don't see the problem.

8:02 AM  
Blogger no_nick said...

A mere decade ago, this number was in the single digits. How can something like this change so rapidly?

It is not that cheating is increasing, it is that where the "cheating" is coming from is easily accessible to everyone.

Before the Internet a professor would not go a look through every book that was sited for a paper but now the professor can do exactly that.

8:55 AM  
Blogger crazy said...

Why has it become so easy to cheat? In order to cheat on a test or exam, someone other than the cheater must have solved the problems or done the required research before the question was posed to the cheater. Why are the same problems or questions being repeated? I realize generating new questions and topics for exams and paper is difficult. However, at many institutions the professors are simply not generating new material to test the student population.

I believe the rampant cheating is a sign that critical thinking is not what is currently evaluated in the classes but the ability to gather information quickly. In that respect the students are doing quite well with the tools at their disposal and should be rewarded as such.

I would challenge the students to take online resources and compaire them to each other. Find and exploit perspectives on the subjects in question. Maybe comment on accuracy or consistantcy between available resorces whether or not these resorces are "legitament".

Young minds need new questions to answer. Otherwise I think they get bored.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Robosocialist said...

When I was at an Ivy League back in the 80s, each fraternity had a file cabinet, with papers, tests, etc. from various profs. The richer frats had all of them.

Copy and paste paper has been around for years, available at least to the better off students, you might also blame Word and Word Perfect for making it much easier:-).

Which perhaps explains why some folks who appear to have learned very little, made passing grades at some prestigious University's with apparently little effect on their thinking ability.

One thing that web based systems can help with is using very large question banks, and randomly assemble tests from those banks. With a question pool of say 1000, building 100 question timed test, it can be pretty tough to cheat.

It's also harder with group activities and peer review, especially when the product is not a static paper but an original study or new artifact.

However, it would be a good time for academics to start re-thinking how higher ed. degrees are assessed, so that the massive cheating that begain with fraternitys, file cabinets, and typewriters can finally be dealt with:-).

9:33 AM  
Blogger Ishwor said...

I think it should be left upto the student whether to cheat/not to cheat. The reason is that at the end of the day, if they don't know what they're are doing/talking about, it's not anyone that is at risk of getting fired later on but the students themselve.

I think internet and the OSS philosophy is true to those who are true to themselve to begin with.

Wikipedia is a great help when the text books knowledge is far less and we want to dig deeper. I think a percentage of the blame for cheating has to go to the lecturer for not being more interactive/helpful during a tutorial/lecture session.

The old saying "you have to go with the wind" holds true to every aspect of teaching with students. You have to be a *student* to teach a student. Energestic, and curious to solve problems yourselve and even saying "I don't think I know the answer" in front of student might help.

Just my .02 cents during this wee hour of the morning. :) Goodluck.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Ben Samuel said...

Wow. I'm amazed at how many posts there are that either excuse the cheating or blame the profs. I was never a stellar student, but at least I had enough self respect not to cheat.

In my senior year (of a computer science degree) we had to do team projects. I found that every project I was on there would be at least one person who didn't know how to use some very basic tools. These people would never pull their weight, and when you finally had to fire them from the team a fun project became a drag.

I post on various professional forums, and I'm continually amazed at how many people are too lazy to even do a web search to find answers to their homework. And then those people get their degree... and they're back on web forums asking people how to do their jobs.

People who want to blow off cheating as something "everyone does" should consider:

1. Getting your degree can be fun, but it's hugely demoralizing to work your ass off while these bastards are doing the bare minimum and getting better grades than you.

2. When they get to future jobs and are incompetent, it makes your school and therefor your degree look bad.

3. You continue to run into them later in life, fixing their mistakes and covering for them.

4. They bring their complete lack of ethics and professionalism into the workplace.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Mr. Bloggerhead said...

I'm a tenured professor at a large, accredited university, though for (fairly obvious) reasons I won't be naming any names.

No, your reasons for being anonymous are not obvious.

You are a tenured professor. You have a responsibility to your institution. You have a responsibility of upholding the meaning of the degrees being awarded. You have a responsibility to the faculty, the students, the alumni.

If the condition you describe is true, then I'm sure many others hope that someone of authority, like yourself, one of the most senior people in your institution, would step up to the plate and correct the problems.

As a tenured faculty member, you are one of the few able to take a stand. If you have to hide behind anonymity, then you might as well just lock yourself in your office and forget about the well being of your students and your institution.

Tenure is not awarded so that you can have a nice job for life. It is awarded so that you can take the risks to make a difference.

10:54 AM  
Blogger IM_not_real said...

A lot of the poster who are professors fail to take into account all the various ways of cheating. "Oh it doesn't happen in the hard sciences", if you really believe that I have a bridge to sell to you. Buying a terms paper is one way or having someone "polish" your paper (usually a TA who needed to make some $) - here's a hint if the writing style in class exams differs greatly from the term paper that's a red flag. Math and science exams were easier in some ways, formulas were written in places or programmed into calculators. For computer science classes with 3 forms of the exam, I saw a group of six sit down and swap exam papers so that people were taking the same exam next to one another. I never bothered cheating b/c for me it was easier to study (plus I had a fear of getting caught), but I saw numerous examples of people cheating and I never turned them in because it was not "done" within the student community.
A lot of times kids cheated b/c they knew they profs didn't care about the class (they would have rather be doing their research) or the class had no value to their future jobs.

Simple solution to cheating - (1) make 'C' the average the way its supposed to be (no one has to guts to do it anymore); (2) Do oral exams, because there is no way to cheat on those. You don't have to do the whole curriculum, just have them come in and pick a question out of a hat - it forces students to study everything.

And be honest with yourselves, kids don't get a fair grade for a good paper, they get a fair grade for writing the way you want them to. The biggest part of any class was figuring out what the professor wanted us to say vs our actual ideas.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Kurt A Beard said...

He rightly blames Wikipedia because it is difficult to prove students copy from it. It only takes a few smooth edits of the Wiki to be able to claim ownership of parts of the article. I’ve seen students lift sections and pass it off as their own work saying they uploaded it to Wiki and shouldn’t have to cite their own work. Students also create websites and cite their own creations for support, so the web does have a few black eyes against it.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Kurt A Beard said...

He rightly blames Wikipedia because it is difficult to prove students copy from it. It only takes a few smooth edits of the Wiki to be able to claim ownership of parts of the article. I’ve seen students lift sections and pass it off as their own work saying they uploaded it to Wiki and shouldn’t have to cite their own work. Students also create websites and cite their own creations for support, so the web does have a few black eyes against it.

11:45 AM  
Blogger classplayer said...

So you work for iThenticate university?

12:13 PM  
Blogger TerminalDigit said...

I don't know anything about iThenticate, but TurnItIn's practices are questionable, to say the least. One of TurnItIn's major selling points is the fact that it scans student work against not only popular reference souces, but also against other student work. In this way, they're able to tell, for example, if someone is submitting an essay that was submitted by a student in a previous year. The problem is that in doing so, TurnItIn archives and indexes all student work without the student's permission, and there is no way to opt out of this feature.

As a student (an honest one), I have no desire to help TurnItIn improve its services or turn a profit -- of which I don't see a dime. Maybe if they paid me, I'd let them index my work, but they don't. They claim "fair use" under U.S. Copyright Law, but I hardly think this qualifies since they are indexing the work in its entirety. Only a court case will tell for sure, but universities are wisely giving in to students who refuse to use the service. McGill University had a notable case several years ago, and I happen to know from personal experience that the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA dropped its TurnItIn requirement due to similar complaints in 2005.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Wybaar said...

ishwor said:

I think it should be left upto the student whether to cheat/not to cheat. The reason is that at the end of the day, if they don't know what they're are doing/talking about, it's not anyone that is at risk of getting fired later on but the students themselve.

I don't know about you, but I'd like to think that the engineers designing cars, planes, buildings, etc. whose failure could cause me serious injury or death know what they're talking about.

Even if they depend on computers for a lot of their work, having a good grasp of the basics (so they can catch blatant errors if they occur) is in my mind a basic job requirement.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Vijay said...

Let me add my two cents worth to this discussion based on my perspective in four years of undergraduate education in India and two years into my Masters in the US.

In India we had an extremely stiff entrance examination to get into the Indian Institutes of Technology, for which most of us on an average spent upwards of three years preparing for. That's three years out of touch with the world.
After we lucky few (1%) got in, we found that academics was well nigh optional. One could work or not, it was virtually guaranteed that we would get decent jobs after four years in the august Institutes.
So, working/studying/solving assignments were largely regarded as uncomfortable diversions from the larger goal of enjoying college life, much in the fashion the average American regards the grass on the lawn (something you need to get out every week to cut down to a level - but you would rather watch TV).
An overwhelming majority of us conformed to the following facts - hated the branch of engineering we were in, wanted to get the hell out of college ASAP, were willing to do as little as possible to graduate.
However, in graduate school in the US I found a very different atmosphere. The majority were here because they wanted to (cos rarely do people NEED to go to grad school). As for the undergraduates, people knew that high GPAs in the US meant nothing due to grade inflation. Consequently, since the only route to a good job is to impress the interviewer in a closed book session - people actually care to understand material and learn stuff. Whether they want to or not is not something I can say of course.
Personally, I regarded the best class I ever took had a law school format - where we were supposed to view the lecture videos beforehand and the professor would ask us questions (good questions not Google Lookups) in class and allow us the use of the Internet to answer. We could also ask questions and discuss current topics in engineering (like ipod design). This meant that the class was highly motivated and we gained a lot more from the Professor's breadth of knowledge. No exams were necessary as every class in effect was an exam - though a fun one. It should be mentioned that the class had 15 students - which is typically much less than the average class. In general I've seen a large number of testimonials to the ineffectiveness of huge classes.
On a lighter note, do people know that there is a game called Soldier of Fortune (a really nice one, I may add). Even the title of their website is kindof ripped off!

3:12 PM  
Blogger Chris Veal said...

First off, if what you're doing doesn't work, then stop doing it!

You want to have students write papers? Fine. Have them research and find references in their own time. Require the students to bring 5 copied or printed references to class. They write the paper in class and turn in their references as well. Further, conduct this writing under test conditions so they can't access their backpacks and hide any reference they don't turn in.

Also, actually require a writing section on tests. Too many schools and professors go the easy route and just use multiple choice. In a real test, you should have to explain your answer rather than just provide it. That is a better demonstration of competency than just filling in an oval or regurgitating reference material.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Bob Calder said...

Part of the so-called Interent problem is the rate of growth of humankind's online and offline knowledge. However my own observations tell me that my students do not care to communicate in an original or an effective manner. For them, writing is such an onerous task that they will do almost anything to avoid it.

Many of the other posters offer ways to avoid the issue, but it is one that must be met. Not avoided.

The Internet is not causing anything. It is reacting as a market driven entity should by providing what people are looking for.

I think that we need to have Dr Finalgirl cloned a few thousand times. I hope she isn't morally opposed. ;-)

7:06 PM  
Blogger Animesh Sharma said...

I feel the take-home things should be replaced with inside-class activities. Home activities pertaining to the course should be restricted to read and reflect, the real test should be done inside the class on one to one basis. This will let the teacher know the exact gap-of-communication between the student and herself and avoid all such plagiarism as outlined in the article.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Eric the Grey said...

You sir, have inspired me.

I've been looking for a topic for my English Comp II paper. What better topic to write about?

I'm no stranger to internet searches for information on my papers, but I do ensure that I cite them all properly.

Would you be willing to submit to an email interview? If so, you would need to step outside the anonymity facade so I can verify your qualifications, and this is going to be an academic piece, although I highly doubt that it’ll be published anywhere. I’m not a literary major after all. :)

I really would like to hear more of your views regarding cheating and honesty in academic writing and how the internet plays a roll.

Feel free to email me: eric.the.grey ~AT~ gamil.com and let me know if you are willing to do an interview. I will put together a list of questions, although it might be a few weeks before I have them all compiled.

John Edwards

10:49 AM  
Blogger matt leclair said...

I might point out that if your students saw any value in what you're asking them to do they wouldn't cheat because the time they invest doing the work would be worthwhile to them. If what you're making them do is so tedious, pointless and straightforward that copying and pasting something of the Net could satisfy the requirements of the assignment, it is the class design that is at fault, not the students.

However, I'm not going to waste my time, because "The Concerned Professor" is an obvious plant by Student of Fortune."

Let's re-summarize it:

Everybody is cheating. Half your classmates are probably cheating, so why aren't you? Even if you get caught, your school probably won't do anything to you because they don't want to look bad. What, you say you're still worried about getting caught? Well, forget doing free research on Wikipedia. Professors are on to that one, and there's tools to detect plagiarism from other sites.
But here's a great new service! Student of Fortune! Carefully designed to defeat all known forms of plagiarism detection, for a modest fee you can have your papers written for you, and spend your time on what you really went to college for!

And in conclusion, let me just throw in a few educational buzzwords like "collaboration" and "open-source methodology" without explaining anything about them or why they appear in this article. Actual professors might realize this is all fake, but college students Googling for a safer way to cheat on papers probably won't see through it.

Nice try.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Bob Calder said...

Matt makes a good point...the students who are cheating likely don't understand the point of the assignment. Of course, if they don't understand the *course* they shouldn't be in it.

He is also right about the buzzwords. While "collaborative" is correct with respect to Student of Fortune, there is no obvious reason to use "open source methodology" unless you mean collaboration, which it isn't.

Despite what Matt and others say, the internet isn't part of the problem. Absolutely everything cited has and was done prior to the arrival of the tubular device. If the Senator were to put something large enough to plug it up in one end, information would still arrive on the student's desk albeit with more labor involved. Student of Fortune isn't liberating, Wikipedia isn't liberating. Nothing special is going on. There is just more of it and it's a bit faster.

Unfortunately for students everywhere, learning comes at the expense of cramming one's head full of things one would rather not have rattling around in there. Where they don't make the connection is the fact they are making the case for high stakes testing. After all, why have anything other than lecture notes and a final that takes up seven or eight bluebooks? That's what I'm talking about. Can't hack it kid? Back to flipping burgers.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

As a recent PhD in a acredated bla bla bla institution this is certainly a major concern. I would agree with some of the other comments but would also argue until I am blue in the face that students should be using every resourse at their disposal in the education process... so this leave the professor (and soon me) in the awkward place of having to come up woth assignments or other metrics that cannot be cheated through. Unfortunetly this means more work for us and as 101 is not typically not why we are here that is annoying. One thing I would find fasinating would be to build finals based on the assignements that students turned in. Of course students will compain that "how can I remember what I wrote 3 months ago?" well if you can't rememebr it you certainly didn't learn it. So cheat or not pow.

Also in my department they use
the fear of the concequences to keep the cheating down. Does it work? Maybe somewhat but it is sure hard to catch folks. I also love the classic all the A test answers on the B test thing. Gotta love that!

10:16 AM  
Blogger Opterhum said...

Dear Sir:

As you all ready pointed out, the problem has existed through out time. The system was setup to limit cheating by the uses of in class exams and test/quizzes because the student no longer had access to these repositories of knowledge during that time. On the other had, homework was only used to help the students understand the knowledge. These repositories of knowledge can help the students understand the knowledge or to cheat depending on how the person chooses to use it. Therefore, you can see the balancing act that most schools subscribe to: the balance of homework and test/quizzes to the over all grade in the class and the inherit cheating in this equation.

Example: In Physics, the professor shows a concept and assigns homework so you understand it. A week later, you take a quiz in class on a new way to use the concept that was not in the homework hence verifying you learned the concept. Simply cheating on the homework will not help with the quiz. The next quiz used the concept from the previous test as well as a new concept; this limits the cramming a student can do before a test/quiz. Hence, you get a bad grade if you do not understand the concept or if you cheated on the homework. If you cheat too much or fail to understand the concepts then you fail the class. One can apply this idea to history, example understanding the events that lead up to a war or understanding the events that end a civilization. I am sure you can apply it to others fields as well.

As for cheating on homework, why do students do it? This question needs an answer in order to correct the problem. Is it because the professor cannot explain the ideas/concepts? Is it because the professor does not know it as well as he/she should know it? Is there too much homework from classes where the professor believes his is the only one the students should focus on? Is the student just lazy? Does the student want to learn it but cannot find the help to learn it? Some of the answers will lead to a better educational experience and hopefully a better understanding of the information provided.

However, there will all ways be people that are just lazy or do not care about a class because it is not their field of interest. As long as they do not cheat its fine but if they are cheating, then you have to do something about it. Not look the other way and graduate them. That student will devalue education and will pass the attitude that school really does not teach you anything and from his /her point of view it did not, because he/she passed by cheating. It is the professors/teachers and the school systems that must balance the homework and tests /quizzes to find the right balance for their organization to promote understanding and educations and not look the other way when they see people cheating.


4:43 PM  
Blogger h.smith said...

As a field service professor at another large university, I would have to say that what I've seen is not plagiarism facilitated by the internet as much as "different" thinking facilitated by the internet.

By different, I mean thinking that is less original and more synthetic; it's not about coming up with one's own ideas, but synthesizing others' ideas or existing information. And sometimes even this is difficult for students, as they are used to digesting bite-size chunks of internet information, and not full narrative, the connection between ideas, that we experienced by finding our information in books, articles, etc. rather than online. It's almost as if the body (of information) was lost, dissected by the internet, and now we are just getting an arm here, a leg here, so to speak, in our students' papers.

As a former copywriter for interactive ad agencies, and a Web writer from the very beginning of my career, I have nothing against the internet; it has paid me well. However, I do see that it has flung a false sense of the speed of our own intelligence at us, daring us to catch up; the only way many can do that is to defer to the internet. This, of course, can lead to plagiarism.

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