The Plagiarism “Epidemic”

March 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm 5 comments

Scanlon, Patrick M., Student Online Plagiarism:  How Do We Response?”  College Teaching.  51.4 (2003):  161-165.  JSTOR.  Web.  22 Mar. 2011.

If you’ve ever written a research paper, chances are, you’ve tapped into Internet resources.  Though the benefits of this resource are numerous, there are negative aspects as well.  Students are now able to easily “cut and paste” other peoples’ ideas.  In fact, you can even buy a paper for as little as a couple of bucks.  As students at Penn State, we are all well aware of the ongoing issue with plagiarism.  I’m not sure if I ever remember having a class where the syllabus didn’t clearly state that plagiarism is a serious academic offense and will be treated as such.

In the article, “Student Online Plagiarism:  How Do We Respond?” Patrick M. Scanlon presents a multitude of quantitative studies of plagiarism over the last forty years.  He goes on to discuss what he calls a “weak response” by teachers and professors.  Finally, he offers advice for faculty in order to help educate students on plagiarism.

The problem with truly understanding how widespread the problem with plagiarism really is stems from the fact that different studies give a very wide variation of results.  Scanlon asserts that anywhere from 9 percent to 95 percent of students admitted to a form of academic dishonesty.  The huge gap in these numbers isn’t surprising, however, because the very nature of this type of action would make students unlikely to admit to it, even if the poll was anonymous.

Don't Cut & Paste!One interesting argument that Scanlon made was that though the number of student plagiarizers isn’t as high as previously thought, students have the misconception that the number is higher.  For example, in one study only 8 percent of students admitted to engaging in Internet plagiarism often.  In contrast, 50.4 percent of the same group felt that their peers engaged in this type of activity (162).  The problem with this is that students may believe that Internet plagiarism is a commonplace activity and this, in turn, may make them more likely to engage in it in the future. 

Scanlon criticizes the way plagiarism is looked at by educators.  He cites the 40 year old, first large-scale study of academic dishonesty to prove his point.  In this study, student body presidents and deans were asked to rank the seriousness of offenses that warrant students being expelled or suspended.  Surprisingly, plagiarism ranked last, under “violating rules about having guests of the opposite sex in dormitory rooms” and “stealing books from the library” (163).

What are teachers supposed to do?  The Center for Academic Integrity offers an assessment guide that facilitates the evaluation of plagiarism among students and helps to develop plans to curtail academic dishonesty.    Scanlon also stresses the dispersion of knowledge.  He strongly suggest that faculty and students should make a strong attempt to “examine the nature of information on the Web while considering writers’ responsibilities to their sources, as well as their reader” (164). 

This article was written in 2003.  What do you think?  Have things changed since then?  Like I said previously, I have never encountered a syllabus that didn’t address the issue of plagiarism.  I feel like, as a student, I know that what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.  Am I the exception or the norm?  If you think that plagiarism is still a major issue, what do you suggest be done about it?


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. emiller27  |  March 24, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Plagiarism is a huge deal that students should take more seriously. I never understood why a student would take this chance. How difficult is it to cite from where you got your information? We are told that our professors have the ability to scan our papers for plagiarism. This was actually put to the test at a college that I cannot think of right now. There was a brief report on the local news about plagiarism at this college. Professors were given papers that were written by students and papers that students purchased on the Internet. The professor read the reports and was only able to tell that the student bought the paper because there were things discussed in it that had nothing to do with the class. The professor also scanned the papers. The scanner was unable to register that any of the papers had be purchased on the Internet. After seeing this, I feel like students are more likely to buy papers on the internet and are willing to take the chance.

    • 2. amberjayd  |  March 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

      I know! It is so easy to cite sources! Why take the chance. If you are going to do the research, why not just write the paper. To me, that is the easiest step.

  • 3. UseLessInk1234  |  March 25, 2011 at 4:01 am

    This topic is so interesting, not only because we are students but because there are people actually dumb enough to plagiarize. Technology made it nearly impossible to easily plagiarize, yet it made it extremely easy to get caught doing so. There is so much information out there today it is difficult to tell who’s information was actually an original thought. So many people think of similar answers to questions or information to put in paper, how can someone actually say that an idea is truly their own anymore? The only way people get credit these days is by putting a pricetag on it. Buying the rights to information, idea, etc., is unfortunately the only safe haven from getting humiliated with the plagiarizism title. Oops, just doesn’t cut it these days.

  • 4. amberjayd  |  March 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Actually, a lot of the things that I read said that technology really doesn’t help as well as you think with catching those who plagiarize (the programs that you buy). The best way for educators to detect plagiarism is to carefully read over the papers looking for the tell-tale signs.

  • 5. mqm5176  |  April 2, 2011 at 4:58 am

    “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” With regards to this entry, it doesn’t matter what resources are now available to both plagiarizers and to those who prosecute plagiarizers, people will still attempt to do it. I don’t think much has changed since the article has been written. Every effort to eliminate one form of plagiarism is answered in the form of a new means of committing it. As for what can be done about it, it is going to be a never-ending cycle of new methods being develops and new methods to stop it being developed. Nothing is ever going to eliminate it.


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