Technology as a Plagiarism Detector
Unfortunately, the enormous benefits of the Internet as a rich information source for student writers are tempered by the vast potential the technology presents for using information inappropriately. Student Internet users have become adept at pasting whole pages of text into their writing without even reading or paraphrasing. It is just so tempting—they have the writing of experts already in digital form, and how would their teachers ever know? In a more active show of cheating, students can access complete essays online from “paper mills,” some that offer essays for free and others for a charge, on virtually any topic a teacher would assign (see, for example, http://Cheathouse.com, www.planetpapers.com, or www.coastal.edu/library/mills2.htm).
Teachers must develop conscious strategies to battle this Internet-assisted plagia- rism. First, teachers should let students know that they are aware of the possibilities the Internet presents for the misuse of information. Many students will be deterred from stealing online text simply by knowing their teachers are aware that it can be done. Informing students about the correct citation of online information is also vital. Frequently, students simply are not aware of the seriousness of the act of copying text, or they think that if they change a word or two, they are in the clear. Other times, students justify cheating because they are facing an assignment deadline.
Teachers who suspect a piece of writing has been plagiarized can employ some specific strategies, from basic to more advanced. At the basic end of the spectrum is some good old-fashioned detective work. Teachers should first look for clues that a piece of writing may not have been written by the student who turned it in. Are the references current? Are there any formatting changes that would signal pasted chunks of text? Is the topic appropriate to the assignment? Is the writing style compatible with that of other writing from that student?
Harris (2002) recommends these further strategies for remaining ever-vigilant in holding Internet-assisted plagiarism in check: (1) Compare writing with in-class writ- ing assignments; (2) require specific components or sources that prewritten essays may not contain; (3) stress process over product; (4) structure assignments with smaller parts due at regular intervals, thus putting less emphasis on the final project; (5) include topics of real interest to students; (6) educate students about plagiarism; and (7) demonstrate the poor quality of online papers (many are contributions from site users, so there is no real guarantee that even a purchased paper will be of quality).
If still unsure about the source of the work, teachers can paste or retype a phrase from the text directly into a search engine such as Google (http://google.com) or AltaVista (http://altavista.com). If the original source is among the countless web- sites indexed by these popular search engines, it should turn up in the search results. Finally, if there is still no clear answer, many districts now subscribe to specific plagiarism detection sites, such as TurnItIn (http://www.turnitin.com), which require stu- dents to directly upload their assignments to the website. Such sites then match the essay text to their databases of other papers online, as well as other papers submit- ted by students in that teacher’s previous courses, and return color-coded results showing the pieces of the text that have been plagiarized.
Students Prepare Their Own Reflections Diary
The French culture multimedia projects were nearly finished. Some students in Cassie Lichtner’s eleventh-grade French class were putting in a last few minutes of rehearsal before the parent presentations that evening. Others were completing the Project Reflections necessary to submit with their projects to their electronic portfolios.
Students write reflections to accompany all major projects, listing strengths they perceive of the assignments, as well as those aspects they would do differently next time. This was a difficult process for many students at the beginning of the year be- cause they had never been asked to think about their own learning before. At first, some students only described the assignment, rather than considering their own ef- fort and learning. Ms. Lichtner often meets with students individually to ask them questions before they write their reflections so students will better be able to elicit thought and self-reflection. Ms. Lichtner reads her students’ reflections for a better understanding of each one’s learning habits, but does not grade them. The purpose of the reflections is to record personal understandings at the time of the assignments. At the end of each 9 weeks, students will spend extensive time reviewing their entire portfolios to assess their learning and set goals for the next quarter. If students waited several weeks to look back at each assignment, they would not recall the detail and relevance as meaningfully.