Each night, University students have a choice – hit the book or hit the bars. They face the same question as other students across the country: Work or play? Body paragraphs or body shots? Increasingly, however, students have been choosing a third option, one that lets them finish their writing assignment, while leaving time to hit the clubs: Internet plagiarism.
Internet plagiarism is the practice of taking all or part of an essay from a website. Whether the student “cuts and pastes” passages from public web pages, or patronizes one of the many free or for-profit essay sites, there is a wealth of resources available for the savvy on-line cheater.
The growing popularity of Internet plagiarism can be seen in the number of ready-to-download essay web pages available. By using an Internet search engine like Google, one can find dozens of such sites. Each page contains essays that can be downloaded and printed, or used in part to add to a student’s own writing. One site, DirectEssays.com, claims to offer more than 100,000 essays on topics ranging from “A Medical and Moral Look at Ectopic Pregnancy” to “Gottfried Wilhelm Von Leibniz”.
Many sites are strictly for profit, usually charging about $20 for a month of unlimited downloads. Others see their purpose as more philanthropic, providing free essays to students. One free site greets users with, “In a jam? Can’t seem to come up with any ideas for that essay or term paper you have due tomorrow? You’ve come to the right place!” Such sites often rely on student submissions.
Most essay websites urge students not to hand in downloaded papers as their own. DirectEssays.com has an entire section titled “Acceptable Use Policy.” In it, the sites’ owners state that their papers are “for research purposes only.” They stress that their papers are not to be downloaded, adding, “You may not turn in our papers as your own work! You must cite our website as your source! Turning in a paper from our web site as your own is plagerism (sic) and is illegal!”
Other sites make no attempt to persuade students not to plagiarize.
Students acknowledge that Internet plagiarism is present on campus. LSA freshman Ariel Britt said one of the main reasons students plagiarize from the Internet is their certainty that they won’t be caught.
“Not too many people worry about it because they think the Internet is so huge,” Britt said.
LSA freshman Eric Kruske has witnessed the practice firsthand. “I’ve definitely seen people cut and paste. I mean, it might just be on a simple homework assignment, but still, it’s plagiarism,” he said. Kruske attributed the popularity of the practice to the pressure put on students to get good grades, saying many plagiarize “so they can get the GPA to go to graduate school.”
He cited the ease of finding and downloading papers online as a major reason for plagiarism. “People can always just go online and get some random essay or something that’s already been written by someone.”
LSA sophomore Rami Fetouh placed most of the blame on the students themselves. He acknowledged the pressure on students to achieve good marks, but he also sees the “lack of preparation that combines with that pressure” as a primary reason students turn to Internet plagiarism
Susan Gass, an LSA academic advisor, said students are well aware of plagiarism on campus and that this “creates a real atmosphere of, not only distrust but … of unfairness.” She acknowledged that the availability of resources on the Internet makes cheating more tempting.
To make plagiarism less attractive, the University has punishments for those caught cheating. In LSA, there are a number of options ranging from a letter of reprimand to academic probation to permanent expulsion.
The punishment is decided on a case-by-case basis. Each school and department has different guidelines, but they usually allow for the same types of punishment.
In order to prevent plagiarism, Gass said the issue needs to be addressed more directly. Last year, she co-organized a town hall meeting to discuss plagiarism and raise awareness about academic integrity.
In addition to events like these, Gass believes that departments need to be “a little more proactive” in denouncing plagiarism and emphasizing the importance of academic integrity. “Each department really should take it upon themselves to have some kind of statement and make sure students know it’s important to the integrity of the whole college that there not be widespread cheating,” she said.
Students also are taking action to stop the practice. Jesse Knight, an LSA senior and head of the Honor Code Implementation Task Force, sees an honor code as one way to put the brakes on Internet cheating. LSA Student Government created the task force to suggest ways to update the LSA academic integrity statement to an honor code.
Knight said an honor code would provide an increased climate of academic integrity on campus and would be “a bit more reactive to students’ needs” than the current statement.