about turning in a paper you bought off the internet? Think again.
three a.m. and you're sitting in front of your computer bleary-eyed.
Your deadline is approaching. As a matter of fact you have several
deadlines approaching. The idea of logging on to the Web and downloading
a finished term paper from one of the many sites posting them seems
tempting. Many of the papers available on these sites are free -
just point and click and you can get a paper on topics that range
from current politics to Shakespeare to nuclear physics. There are
also custom-written and foreign language papers available. Unfortunately,
you might not really learn French, but Web site forgeries can make
it appear that you have. But before you start clicking, beware.
Not only are professors and teaching assistants more aware than
ever of resources for plagiarizing, but new databases are appearing
online to help schools bust cheaters. Digital "term-paper mills"
have proliferated exponentially in the last few years and some of
these sites claim to have had over a million visitors. Although
plagiarism has always been an issue in the academic community, the
Internet has augmented the problem. Cheating is now convenient,
speedy, and just a click away. A recent study by USA Today found
that fewer than five percent of the 2,100 college students surveyed
admitted to using a term-paper mill paper, and just ten percent
of them had used the Internet as a source to plagiarize. The numbers
may not seem very high, but to school administrators and professors
who currently have no accurate way to measure how much "digital
plagiarism" takes place, the proliferation of paper mills has posed
a new challenge to academic integrity. However, as fast as these
paper mills are growing, technological innovations to detect cheaters
are becoming more popular with school administrators and professors.
Services such as Integriguard, The Essay Verification Engine, and
M.O.S.S., or Measurement of Software Similarity, (geared toward
catching plagiarists in computer science classes) have been around
for several years. A newer service called Plagiarism.org was tested
at the University of California, Berkeley last winter. "We have
been very pleased with the interactions we've had. It's a great
tool which in all instances saves faculty members hours and hours
of research," says Doug Zuidema, the assistant director for Judicial
Affairs in the U.C. Berkeley student conduct office. His office
is currently in negotiations to set a contract with Plagiarism.org,
though the terms are undisclosed. According to Kathleen McMahon,
the assistant dean of students at University of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA), is also exploring a relationship with the service.
Plagiarism.org reports current interest from as many as three hundred
other schools, including some overseas. These anti-cheating programs
have large databases of hundreds of thousands of papers and can
scan millions of Web pages in minutes using some of the largest
search engines on the Net. Once a paper is submitted for review,
it becomes part of the databank, making it difficult for students
to share each other's papers for different classes, as well as at
different universities. The problem goes beyond simply downloading
an entire paper from online sources. "The Internet has changed the
shape and pattern of the plagiarism cases that we see," says Assistant
Dean Jill Cutler of Yale University, executive secretary of the
committee. "The attitude about downloading things off the Internet
and incorporating them into a paper is different from the attitude
about copying things out of a book...it leads people to do things
they may not fully intend to do." Bruce Beiderwell, the assistant
director of the writing program at UCLA, maintains that the seemingly
gray areas of plagiarism must be clarified. "Some students have
an unsophisticated sense of what writing is...using a pastiche of
material lifted from the Internet linked together with student text
and heavy editing, it can become easy to convince themselves that
it's their original work." Beiderwell takes his students to the
library where librarians guide them through a Web site and discuss
the research value of what is on the site and how to evaluate it.
In addition, he notes, "students should be critical of many sources
on the Internet because there is no way to evaluate their credibility
and they're ephemeral. When someone goes back to check a source,
it could be gone."
time will tell what effect the Internet's massive growth will bring
to the educational process. For now, students like Melissa Barshop,
a junior English major at U.C. Berkeley, seem to be keeping things
in perspective. "Papers from the Internet don't guarantee good grades
and there's always urban legends about ordered-up papers that failed."