Schools confront copy-catting

Schools confront copy-catting

Dominic Sisti, a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, is analyzing the results of a survey he conducted during the ‘004-‘005 school year of how high-school students justify plagiarism. (The study, part of a larger study by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, was funded by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, of which he is a fellow.) He shared some of the respondents’ reasons in an e-mail:

• "What I find on the Internet can be found in thousands of places. Do you expect me to give you a list of thousands of sources?"

• "Their ideas sound better than mine."

• "I never used a lot, maybe a few lines."

• "It’s easier."

• "Too much expected, I can’t do everything, and people only care about As."

• "During that time I had to do two essays and a report for Bio. It became easier if I quickly copied the section of mitosis."

• "I had no other way to write the phrase so I just copy and paste."

"Really what this means," Sisti said, "is that students often don’t understand the larger implications of plagiarism or are reckless. But it also points to teachers who are not teaching in a way that is engaging or offer students creative learning experiences that would in fact be impossible to plagiarize."

Sisti also made a suggestion that sounds somewhat like the time-tested Jewish mode of studying with a partner, called a chevruta, brought into the Internet age: "With regard to copying other students’ work," he said, "now more than ever, students can work easily in groups — using e-mail or [instant messaging] to complete assignments, and they share their sources and content. This should be recognized and, in my opinion, group assignments could be developed effectively, such that students are not in fact cheating when they use each other’s work." –RKB

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