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Online Education and Plagiarism

Posted on Tuesday July 5, 2011 by Staff Writers

One of the most frustrating issues higher education professors face is plagiarism. A recent study conducted by TurnItIn.com, a software database that is able to match the content of student papers and projects to content on the internet, plagiarism has entered the social networking age. According to a NeoAcademic.com, approximately 50% of undergraduate students and 25% of graduate students admitted to using online resources to cheat. These statistics may be startling, but they are hardly surprising given the prevalence of online essay mills and other cheating services readily available over the Internet. Some online students may believe that a physical distance from professors allows them to avoid some of the consequences of cheating and plagiarizing, or that the vastness of the Internet may make it harder for instructors to detect when content is unoriginal. If you suspect that a student or classmate has committed plagiarism, how can you know for certain?

Social Networking Sites. According to an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education detailing TurnItIn’s study, some of the most common places where students procure unoriginal content include Facebook, MySpace, Answers.com, Slideshare, and Yahoo! Answers. In the instance of the latter especially, students are able to ask a question and be answered by another Yahoo! user in minutes. While the student may think she has gotten away with having someone else do their homework for her, educators can easily track down the questions and answers through a simple web search.

Education Databases and Websites. Students can also obtain content from legitimate sources such as websites for national associations and databases. In these instances, the issue is not so much students cutting and pasting text and claiming it as their own work, but more so failing to properly cite material when they submit it to professors.

Software. Educators today have a growing arsenal of tools to deter students from plagiarizing their work. TurnItIn is one example of a program that takes a student’s work and compares it to a database comprised of common sites and turns up any exact matches of content. Professors can thereby tell when students have directly lifted material from another source, or whether a student has failed to properly cite his sources.

Plagiarism can have damaging effects on students, professors and institutions, and therefore it is important for both learners and teachers alike to be able to spot it when it occurs. If it is easy for students to find the information they need and be bolder with what they pass off as their own assignments due to the ease that the internet allows, then it can be just as easy for instructors to know where to find the (un)original source.