Linda B. Blackford
Knight Ridder Newspapers(KRT)
Last semester, Eastern Kentucky University Professor Gene Kleppinger had five students who copied information off the Internet and pasted it into their papers without citation.
“It doesn’t feel the same as copying something out of a book,” he said. “They look at it on the screen and think it’s public information.”
Technology has certainly opened up a new world in academia, but it has a seedy underside -cheating made infinitely easier with reams of information available on computer screens. As a result, universities and high schools are exploring new ways of curbing the temptations.
For example, Kleppinger found the plagiarists through a new online tool that EKU adopted over the summer, called Safe Assignments. It works through the school’s online course management system with a database of student papers turned in all over the country, and those turned in by EKU students as well.
With that system, Kleppinger found two more students who had turned in papers turned in by EKU students the year before.
That is an even more serious case. Kleppinger and others acknowledge that sometimes students don’t know the actual definition of plagiarism, or don’t know rules of citation.
Safe Assignments works “disturbingly well,” he said.
The University of Kentucky has not yet adopted any online checking systems. As several professors pointed out, the tools that make it easier to cheat also make it easier to catch.
“There’s generally a tip-off,” said Ellen Rosenman, chairwoman of the UK English department. “Something is clearly not in the student’s own voice, suddenly there’s a part of the paper that’s much more sophisticated.”
Western Kentucky University recently started a pilot program in which 30 professors use a site called www.turnitin.com. Once a student writes a paper, they submit an electronic version to the site.
The site then checks that paper against a database of 6 billion pages of student papers, published papers, and books licensed from publishers.
If it finds a match of a paragraph, or the whole thing, it sends a message to the professor to report the similarities.
In addition, that paper is now included in the database so it can’t be passed on to anyone else without detection.
Turnitin.com is currently used by 4,000 universities in 60 countries and receives 40,000 papers a day, says founder and CEO John Berry. It’s also finding a new market in high schools.
“It serves as much as a deterrent as a method of catching plagiarists,” said WKU history professor Andrew McMichael, who is part of the pilot program.
He describes plagiarism as a lazy person’s sport that can be easily tripped up by search engines such as Google.
The Internet has also produced a slew of paper mills, where students can buy entire papers. Those can be more insidious because “you have to subscribe to know what’s in there.”
But many of the papers issued by paper mills are already in services such as turnitin.com.
“Term paper mills stay in business by selling the same papers over and over,” says Berry. “What we have is a massive deterrent because we have enough papers to find one-third of all cheating.”
There’s another side to technological cheating: the increasing use of cell phones with text messaging and personal digital assistants to cheat during tests and exams.
But there’s an easy way to stop the use of that kind of equipment – simply banning it from the classroom.
What’s really needed, say some experts, is a re-evaluation of university policies and teaching on issues such as cheating and plagiarism.
EKU recently convened a committee to study and rewrite the schools’ academic integrity policy.
“One of the major issues is that students aren’t necessarily aware of plagiarism and we need to do a better job of telling them what it is,” said Judy Spain, associate professor of management who is on the committee.
Laura Smith, a UK freshman, said she thinks Internet cheating was much more prevalent at her high school than in college because the penalties in college are much more severe.
Getting caught at most schools could result in a zero for the assignment or for the course. Most of the time, the issue is resolved between professor and student, with more difficult cases moving up to department chairs and deans.
“I don’t really see it here,” she said.
And techno-savvy students are just as aware as professors of how easy it is to Google similar phrases.
“I always figured it would be just my luck to get caught,” said Dustin Taul, another UK freshman.
Still, cheating is looming larger on the academic landscape, and more and more schools are already exploring the issue.
The EKU group has gotten a lot of help from the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University. Its Web site, www.academicintegrity.org, is well-traveled.
But the members soon learned just how complicated the issue really is.
As they quickly found out, www.academicintegrity.org is actually a paper mill.
(c) 2005, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.