Opinion
Education Opinion

Friday Guest Column: Searching for the End to Plagiarism

June 27, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Dorothy Mikuska founded ePen&inc, developer of PaperToolsPro and PaperToolsPro Online.

Imagine my shock when I read the newspaper headlines that a principal of a nearby high school had plagiarized his entire graduation speech and its valedictorian’s speech had eleven instances of plagiarism. Though extensive evidence of students plagiarizing may be startling, professional writers and educational leaders are also found plagiarizing. The integrity of the word is the basis of education and communication; steal or abuse words and learning is compromised. Schools have three choices to stem the growing prevalence of plagiarism.

First, and most popular, is directly teaching students what plagiarism is, why it is unethical, and its consequences, as stated in each school’s honesty policy. Increasing incidents of toxic text shows that students’ behavior for the most part has not changed. (Incidentally, the online honesty policy of the University of Texas at San Antonio was plagiarized word for word from another school’s policy without attribution.)
Believing that many students are both unethical and lazy and that teachers are too overworked to authenticate plagiarism, many schools employ Internet detection services, such as Turnitin, to police students by comparing papers to the contents of the software’s databases. Although these databases are extensive, they cannot compare student writing to text from websites requiring passwords, paper mill sites which email purchased papers, non-electronic sources such as books, or papers written by friends, classmates or Mom.

Preaching the school’s ethical code has proven ineffective and policing student work has taught students not to get caught by tinkering with challenged passages.
To address plagiarism effectively, its causes must first be identified. Plagiarism is an educational problem for which schools need an educational solution that provides appropriate instruction and support to overcome the four main causes: disengaged learning; poor reading skills; lack of organizational and metacognitive skills; and careless documentation.

I have watched students easily distracted while doing research, leading them to read only for main ideas, a skill they mastered in middle school. Mies van der Rohe said God is in the detail; my attorney tells me the devil is in the detail. Either interpretation tells me that details have got to be interesting—where real learning occurs, where motivation to be engaged occurs. But students skim too quickly because they value speed over reflection, simplification over synthesis, and brevity over complexity. In-depth long-term learning occurs when students analyze and synthesize information, when they organize it and reflect on their own learning, and when they evaluate and document their sources.

In the days before computers and copy machines, students recorded information on note cards with the source and page identified. Our millennial students no longer communicate with pen and paper but on a keyboard. They no longer take notes, but merely copy/paste from online sources without reflecting, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating their information. Research has become as mechanical as the computer. If students genuinely understood their information, plagiarism would be eliminated.

Since students do most of their research online, educators need to provide software to assist proper learning. Citation management programs like Endnote and RefWorks create bibliography entries and citations as well as the opportunity to annotate a source. PaperToolsPro, a research management tool, has created an integrated package for note taking, citations, bibliography, organization, and synthesizing information.

Schools need to rethink the causes and solutions to the growing plagiarism epidemic, beyond simple solutions, beyond just writing an honesty policy for a school, even if it is not plagiarized.

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Cultivating a Climate of Care and Connection in Schools
Help every student belong in school with these practices for school climate.

Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
The effects of unpredictable stretches at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.
4 min read
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Richard Drew/AP
Education 'Widespread' Racial Harassment Found at Utah School District
The federal probe found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets, and harsher discipline for students of color.
1 min read
A CNG, compressed natural gas, school bus is shown at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. After a winter with back-to back episodes of severe pollution in northern Utah, lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will discuss clean air legislation and call for government and businesses to convert to clean fuel vehicles.
Federal civil rights investigators found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students in the Davis school district north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP