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TECHNOLOGY HELPS CHEATERS, STUDENTS SAY

Internet is an easy source for plagiarism
August 11, 2012

With all of the recent technological advances, it is easier than ever for students to cheat. Teachers know this and are taking steps to try to stop it.

For example, Barbara Christe, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, sets up fake Web pages, called honey pots, that contain information seemingly pertinent to questions in her assignments. However, this information is out-of-date or just-plain wrong, making it easy for Christe to spot those students who have cut-and-pasted answers.

Nevertheless, students will always be a step ahead of teachers when it comes to finding educational shortcuts. With every new development — from new Internet sites that abbreviate research to smartphone apps that allow secret data storage and communications — students find more creative ways to cheat and help their peers cheat.

Recently, a group of students gathered to talk about their cheating ways. Their names have been changed to encourage their candor and protect their privacy.

Peter is now in college and says his cheating stopped in high school. Ruth is in high school and Ann is in middle school. All live in the Indianapolis area.

The students have similar definitions of cheating. “It’s getting external help without crediting it,” Peter said. “It’s just going against the rules, or even the spirit of the assignment that you’re given.”

Motivations for cheating can be anything, from not understanding an assignment to running out of time to just being lazy. Ruth says all of those reasons apply to her, but for Peter and Ann, lack of time was the main reason for cheating. “In high school it was mostly just to save time because I was doing so much.  It was like ‘I don’t have time to sit and actually do all the work myself,’ and I knew that I knew the answers,” Peter said.

While Peter and Ann admitted to occasional cheating, Ruth acknowledged that she has cheated on most every type of assignment. “I mean I’ve cheated on homework.  I’ve cheated on tests, quizzes.”

For Ann, cheating is generally limited to homework or papers. “I cheated a lot on homework and stuff,” she said. “Like I have my geometry friends pretty much do most of my algebra homework.  But I don’t really cheat very much on quizzes or tests. I normally help other people on quizzes and tests.”

Peter’s biggest offense was plagiarism, he said. “I’m good at finding stuff on Google … it’s like you can just lift stuff.”

However, teachers like Christe are getting savvy about such copying. Plagiarism is the most common form of cheating they see, they said.

Susan Kaspar teaches English at Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township. Scott DeRosa teaches English and journalism at Franklin Community High School in Franklin, Ind. Both said the easy information on the Internet is often too tempting for many of their students.

 “The Internet has had a far more pervasive impact on students' attitudes about copyright protections, which has made it difficult to instruct them on their responsibility to attribute sources,” DeRosa said.

Sabrina Williams says her eighth- and ninth-graders at Monument Lighthouse College Prep Academy, a charter school on the Eastside, are often confused about how to handle the information they find on the Web.

“My students think cheating is like when you’re outright looking at another student’s answers on a quiz, or if you have like a little cheat sheet in front of you on a quiz or a test. I don’t think that they really understand cheating to be taking answers from the Internet, or taking whole sentences and paragraphs and using them as their own, from the Internet or from a book,” she said.

But students do realize they are doing something wrong when they simply copy information into a paper without citing where it came from. And teachers say they compound the offense when they change a word or two in an attempt to camouflage their wrongdoing.

DeRosa says he has encountered a new form of cheating this year. In two instances, groups of students shared an essay that one person had drafted. “One recipient copied the essay and changed a few words, then turned it in. The other recipient shared her classmate's work with her boyfriend, who plagiarized it.”

The students who copied the draft each received a zero on the assignment and a disciplinary referral, in line with school policy. “Our school considers both sharing and taking work as cheating, but teachers do have discretion to consider whether a student intended to help someone cheat by showing someone else a draft,” he added.

 In general, the students agreed that there is a lot less guilt and danger associated with cheating on papers and homework than on tests. “Tests are usually worth more points and are more closely monitored by teachers or supervisors, and there’s just a lot more at stake,” Ruth said.

Still, teachers have seen it. “I’ve experienced students cheating on a quiz by looking at another student’s answers or by mouthing words to one another, or passing notes.  I’ve had students use texting to coordinate a time and a place to meet with another student in another class to get answers,” Williams said.

“I have confiscated a smartphone during a test, which meant a zero on the test and the loss of his phone until the next day,” added DeRosa. 

The students acknowledge that technology makes it even easier to cheat. “Everything is at our fingertips, it’s simply so easy to do,” Ruth explained. “Why would you go through all the process of doing that entire assignment, or reading that entire chapter, when you can read the five-minute version of it online?”

They are not alone. According to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children and parents safely navigate the Web, a nationwide poll of teenagers revealed that about 35 percent of them said they have used their cellphones to cheat at school.

That seems low to Williams, who would peg the number closer to 60 percent because of the pervasive use of cellphones. However, she says banning cellphones in school would not work. “Everyone who has a phone sees that as like an appendage, a part of them,” she said.

However, improvements in Google and the proliferation of services like turnitin.com make it easier to spot copycats. Many schools are requiring students to submit papers to such authentication services before they accept and grade them.

“The Internet makes it very easy to plagiarize, but it's also easy to catch. It only takes a minute to Google a suspicious-sounding sentence. I can almost always immediately find the source they got it from,” Kaspar said.

Assistant editors Darius Jordan, 16, and Izabella Robinson, 14,  contributed to this story.

Copyright 2012 Y-Press

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