Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up
Trip Gabriel at NYT:
At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness — and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.
At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.
And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.
Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.
But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.
It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.
Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students — who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking — understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.
“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”
The mash-up culture is not a culture of plagiarism. Those who copy music, lift riffs, or appropriate images don’t usually claim authorship of the original source material or claim it as their own. They use this material in works of their own, while freely acknowledging its provenance. The creativity and originality comes from finding the right source material and putting it to good use, not from denying the original source. Whether such copying and appropriation should be legal, it’s not the same as plagiarism, as it’s sourced. Web links often serve as source attributions, and even Wikipedia pages demand footnotes. Even in the Internet Age, we recognize the difference between incorporating the work of another and passing it off as one’s own.
Another possible explanation for the apparent rise in plagiarism is that many college students are simply unprepared for the type of academic work that is expected of them and engage in plagiarism even though they know it’s wrong.
At the University of California, Davis, of the 196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office last year, a majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.
Many times, said Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the campus of 32,000, it was students who intentionally copied — knowing it was wrong — who were “unwilling to engage the writing process.”
“Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice,” he said.
I find this explanation more persuasive. I also think the apparent rise in plagiarism is of a piece with the apparent rise in cheating by students generally. The problem is not that academic standards are too strict for the Internet Age. Rather, it’s that students are not taught that such standards really matter.
This all strikes me as extremely dubious. For one thing, they don’t appear to have any real data to indicate that cheating is on the rise. For another thing, any analysis of this subject has to account for the fact that the Internet has made plagiarism radically easier to detect. Finding some old book or article and copying a section of it was always fairly easy for any student with access to a good university library. It’s true that computers make this somewhat easier, but the difference is marginal. By contrast, digital search makes it dramatically easier for a suspicious teacher to check and see if a dubious passage is copied from somewhere, and the ongoing process of digitizing humanity’s store of knowledge will make this easier and easier in the future.
What’s more, the idea that the Internet is eroding the concept of authorship seems extremely dubious. This here blog is on the Internet. But it’s author is clearly identified. I link to a lot of things other people write, and I identify those people. Music is just the same. I’ve been listening to NPR’s stream of the new Arcade Fire album. Thanks to the Internet you can, if you’re so inclined, download a copy of this album without paying for it. But in order to find it you have to know that it’s the new Arcade Fire album, and the same is generally true of all music downloads. Whether you’re talking about acquiring digital music legally through Emusic or the iTunes store or whether you’re talking about BitTorrenting it the only way to find things is by correctly applying the concept of authorship.
I suppose it’s true that Wikipedia puts up a lot of non-copyrighted content whose authorship is somewhat hard to discern. When I use images from their “Wikimedia Commons” (like for this post!), I link back to where I found the image but don’t normally do an author credit. But Wikipedia seems to me to be very exceptional in this regard.
Since plagiarism is cheating it should be penalized (once the practice of honest writing has been properly explained) – penalized just like that and no quarter. In the above quote, as well as other things written in the article, two points are run together. One is the sense some students apparently now have that there is material out there that ‘doesn’t seem to have an author’; or, to put it otherwise, doesn’t seem to belong to anyone. The second point, however, is distinct and is the core of what is wrong with plagiarism. This is that, if you simply claim whole chunks of writing, unattributed, as if you are the author of it yourself, you’re presenting as a product of your own mind, your own reasoning, your own analytical or rhetorical or whatever capacities, something that… isn’t. It’s a form of intellectual fraud and alien to the educational process.
To underscore the distinctness of this second point from the first one – in which you’re ripping off someone else – simply imagine a case where that isn’t so. Edward presents Melanie’s words as his own, after Melanie has given him full permission to do this. He gives in, as being his, an essay written by her. It’s cheating even though it isn’t theft.
Isn’t this one of those stories that everyone secretly wants to believe is true because it “proves” that things were better in our day, that society’s going to hell in a handbasket, etc etc etc? It’s five minutes of generational ego trip. Toss in some philosophical navel-gazing about how the wild and woolly Internet is Changing Us and you’ve got tasty red meat cooked medium rare.
Seriously? College kids are redefining authorship? Old style physical books seem more like they’re really written by someone else? Students no longer think of term papers as ways of expressing their unique and authentic identity? High schools suck?
Maybe so. God knows I can’t prove any of these theories are wrong. But I’d sure guess that if you make something about a hundred times easier than it used to be, that’s a pretty good guess about why that something is on the rise.
Of course, I cheated when I came to this conclusion. The author of the piece, Trip Gabriel, insists that modern kids barely even consider copying from the internet to be wrong. But at the very, tippy end of the article, we get this: “At the University of California, Davis, of the 196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office last year, a majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.”
In other words, they know perfectly well that it’s wrong. They do it because they’re lazy and don’t feel like trying to craft sentences of their own. Just like every plagiarist in history. But it would have ruined the story to put that near the top.
Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:
According to the New York Times, college kids can’t even walk five paces in a straight line and repeat their own name, metaphorically, when it comes to putting citations on their dumb college papers. Do I need to cite the internet? Am I required to admit that all of my term papers are essentially very lightly rewritten expansions of Wikipedia entries? Print out the following Guide to Plagiarism and put it in your Trapper Keeper, and pass it on to your children one day, if “colleges” still exist, in the future.
1. DID YOU WRITE IT? [Yes/ No]
2. DID YOU CITE IT? [Yes/ No]
If you answered Yes, No, you are an honest student.
If you answered No, Yes, you are an honest student.
If you answered No, No, you are a plagiarist.
If you answered Yes, Yes, that doesn’t even make sense.
ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: “Cool,” since before the internet was even a thing.