Copy-pasting is killing the quest for originality in our students. What is plagiarism? What are its moral ramifications? Do students even realise that plagiarism is a form of cheating? And what can teachers do to curb this menace? These are just some of the questions Sana Lone raises in this month’s Ilm o Amal.
When I was a student, assignments meant searching the topic on Google, finding the most relevant link and copying the entire thing with minor adjustments. It was well into my professional life that I understood the difference between research and copy-pasting. The concept of plagiarism did not exist in my mind, nor was it ever addressed by my teachers. They accepted it as my own work and never challenged it. Thinking about it now I wonder whether they themselves were aware of plagiarism. Did they know the difference between work that was copy-pasted and original research-based work?
A form of cheating that is considered ‘okay’
So, what is cut and paste work?
The term is derived from the computer function where one can copy content from one area and paste it onto another. Academically, the term refers to copying of content from an original work and without quoting any citations, presenting the entire work or part of it, as one’s own.
To understand why plagiarism is so common and not even considered an issue, we need to analyse our education system, which is sharply focused on grades, achievements and competition. From a very young age, a child is thrown into this competitive environment, where he must succeed at all costs and get better grades than his or her classmates, and the children of his relatives and neighbors. In short, he must do better than every child of the same age in his surroundings. The adults in the child’s life are not stressing on the value of personal excellence, but on the momentary thrill of outdoing others. Even in a classroom, a child is more likely to be praised for work that is beyond his developmental stage. Whereas a child who brings original work feels left out, as in the light of over achievers his originality doesn’t shine through.
Unrealistic expectations = shortcuts
In his book “In Defense of the American Teen” Ryan Teves-an American Math and Science teacher sums up the whole situation in the following words:
“Does the student who doesn’t cheat get a little medal saying “You’ve done the right thing”? Is the non-cheater better off in this case? Does the A student get scolded for cutting corners? No. The A student gets applauded and accepted to a fine university and the other gets labeled as lazy. We have trained these kids into thinking that school is about results.”
He further adds: “Competitive grading and a lack of placing the priority on the effort of the kids will always ensure that cheating continues.”
When I was teaching Grade 1, I had a challenging student who was behind the benchmarks set for that grade. On multiple occasions, I received homework that was clearly done by a grownup, as I knew that the homework was far ahead in quality, than the work the child did in class. It was one big challenge to convince the parents that I was not looking for perfect homework and that by assigning the work, I was trying to assess whether the child understood what she had learnt or not. This was just one case, as across my teaching career I have come across several instances of parents doing their children’s homework regardless of the consequences of such an action. From a very early age, children learn that it’s okay to cut corners as long as the result looks ‘outstanding’. Our unrealistic expectations from children are one of the biggest reasons that children resort to shortcuts to get them good grades.
Since copy-pasting is a quick process, it seems like the easiest option for a student in a fix with a looming deadline. Poor time management skills or taking the easy way out are other reasons students fall on this course.
Is the Internet to be blamed?
In the publication “Mouse Click Plagiarism: The Role of Technology in Plagiarism and the Librarian’s Role in Combating It” Nicole J. Auer and Ellen M. Krupar noted that “the proliferation of paper mills, full-text databases, and World Wide Web pages has made plagiarism a rapidly growing problem in academia” (p. 415). In their dissertation “Plagiarism in the Internet Age” Rebecca Moore Howard and Laura J. Davies state “in an age when students gravitate to online sources for research – and when tremendous amounts of both reputable and questionable information are available online – many have come to regard the Internet itself as a culprit in student’s plagiarism” (p. 64)
Websites such as “Sparknotes” and “Cliffnotes” provide detailed notes, question /answers, summaries and guides for students, often giving them a gateway to plagiarism. Online research papers, encyclopedias although not encouraging students to copy, inadvertently end up providing them with content which can be easily copied for assignments. There are even some content writing websites providing assignment writing services for students. Hence, the internet has become a black hole for students who are ready to be sucked into the moral blackness of plagiarism.
The damage is insidious
However anything that is acquired immorally and easily will have a catch. Students getting their work done through copied material will have some negative impacts on themselves academically and personally. Consider the following:
• Plagiarism lowers confidence in one’s own work. A student used to copying work will always doubt the credibility and quality of his or her own work.
• Plagiarism is not going to be a onetime thing, if it’s not nipped in the bud. A student who gets away with copying someone else’s work might want to opt for it the next time as well. This practice can gradually take out the sense of personal integrity from a student.
• Plagiarism hinders a student’s learning. Students who think they can get away with copying will not want to bother with actually learning. They might consider it a waste of time as they can already get good grades by copying.
• Students who get away with getting good grades on copied material will face difficulties in their professional lives. Good grades are in no way a guarantee of professional merit as professional lives require skills and abilities derived from one’s own self.
Staying a step ahead of plagiarism
So how can teachers check for plagiarized content? Since the Internet is the source of most of the plagiarism, it also offers solutions for it. There are multiple websites offering services that check the content for signs of lifted material.
Such websites are:
• Google and Google Scholar: If a sentence strikes you as odd, put it in quotation marks and run a Google search on it. If the student cut and pasted the phrase, it will show up on Google.
• The Plagiarism Checker: The Plagiarism Checker allows you to run a Google search on large blocks of text.
• Articlechecker: Works the same way as Plagiarism Checker, but gives you the option of checking against Yahoo as well as Google.
• Plagium: Like The Plagiarism Checker, this site Googles the text that you submit. Unlike most other checkers, Plagium works in several languages.
• PlagiarismDetect: This plagiarism detector goes a step ahead and allows you to upload whole document rather than cutting and pasting blocks of text.
• Duplichecker: Duplichecker’s interface makes it easy to submit entire documents as well as excerpts.
• SeeSources: Searches the Web for sources similar to the text you entered. You can scan both excerpts and whole documents.
• DOC Cop: Doc Cop can check the similarity between two papers.
• WCopyFind: WCopyFind is a downloadable scanner that checks for similarities between two papers, but it can’t search the Web.
• Viper: The Anti-Plagiarism Scanner. It does side-by-side comparisons of the submitted text with the potentially plagiarized one.
• PAIRwise: PAIRwise (Paper Authorship Integrity Research) can compare documents to one another while searching the internet for similar documents.
The red flags
It is understandable that a teacher cannot put her entire class’s assignments through these plagiarism detecting softwares. What she can do, is to watch for some red flags to detect plagiarism.
• Contradictory grammar and vernacular
• Different writing style
• The tone of the content
• Irregular punctuations
• Incorrect formatting
• Abrupt change in the content
• Irregular font
• Unnecessary hyperlinks
• Wrong quotations
• Content that doesn’t exactly fit the topic.
• The absence of citations
Although plagiarism is a moral dilemma, some of it is part and parcel of research. Students researching content for their topics will pick up material written by other authors to give their assignments credibility. The content may be stated in the students own words, but the ideas will be someone else’s.
It is quite easy to condemn the practice of plagiarism, however to curb this vice, educators need to come up with effective strategies. They need to:
• Stress more on the quality and integrity of work from an early age. Make the environment less competitive so that children and parents don’t feel the need to cheat in order to excel.
• Form a code of ethics and morals in classes and implement them with your student. Bring those ethics in practice and model it for them.
• Share the consequences a student can face for submitting plagiarized material and follow through with them.
• Talk to students about moral integrity and the joy of originality.
• Make sure that students know what plagiarism is and how it hinders their learning.
• Make homework and assignment topics unique. Avoid age-old topics so that children may find it hard to find and copy someone else’s work.
Sana Lone is an IECE graduate (2010-2011). She has a Master’s degree in English Literature. She taught for two years and is currently working at TRC. Sana frequently writes articles and blogs on education and is also managing a social media page for teachers and parents.
• Teves, R.(2020) In Defense of the American Teen: An insider’s commentary on the state of our secondary school. Boomington. Indiana: Author House