The New York Times ran a piece on Sunday, August 1, 2010 that highlighted, as it were, research on the tendency of students today to cut and paste information from the Internet without attribution.Â The Times discovered a phenomenon with which those of use in the academic world are all too familiar.Â To students today, “cut and paste” is the way to writeÂ papers! Â Â Cuts way back on the nastiness of footnotes and sources.Â About 40% of students admit to copying othersâ€™ work for assignments and only 29% believe that Web cut-and-paste is â€œserious cheating.â€ And the Times also discovered that, when discovered,Â students are not particularly remorseful about their â€œwritingâ€ strategies.Â One student in the article, when confronted by a professor about his cut-and-paste paper, Â thought the professor was concerned that the color of the ink was purple, fresh from its Internet origins, and offered to change it to black if the good prof would help him with that Word skill.Â The Barometer has experienced something similar â€“ a student on her cut-and-paste hot seat, Â apologized, not for the lifting, but for still having the pink background in the text of the paper.Â She was very willing to remove that formatting problem if I could just provide a tutorial on that skill.
Anthropologists have plenty of explanations, though the justification debates rage on.Â One reason students are so comfortable with the cut-and-paste approach is that they are working from the computer, a tool they have used for years to download copyrighted music, mostly without paying. Other students feel that they are just getting through a course.Â That is, they are not interested in setting the world on fire; they just want credit for the assignment. Â Processing the work of others and then putting it into the context of their own analyses, insights, and observations is darn hard work.Â Yet another reason is the cultural acceptance and tolerance.Â Think back over the past few years and the writers who have simply said, â€œOh, well,â€ and marched onward and upward in their careers:Â Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Charles Ogletree, Laurence Tribe, and teen writer Helen Hegemann, who quite nearly got an award for her book. We adults are not doing a crackerjack job on enforcement.
The New York Times ethicist, Randy Cohen, wrote of a fascinating ethical issue on April 12, 2009.Â A professor required his student to submit their papers to Turnitin.com, a site that checks for plagiarism.Â A mother of one of the students wrote to â€œThe Ethicistâ€ asking whether it was ethical for the professor to require this step without an advance announcement because the students should needed a chance to â€œclean up their workâ€ before turning their papers in to Turnitin.com.Â Funny how cleaning it up with sources is not a given when it comes to assignments!
Ms. Christine Pelton, a former high school science teacher in Piper, Kansas, had warned the students in her sophomore class not to use papers posted on the Internet for their projects.Â When the projects were turned in, Ms. Pelton noticed that some of the studentsâ€™ writing in portions of the paper was well above their usual quality and ability.Â She found that 28 of her 118 students had taken substantial portions of their papers from the Internet.Â She gave the students a â€œ0â€ grade on their term paper projects.Â The result was that many of the students were now going to fail the semester in the course.
The studentsâ€™ parents protested and the school board ordered Ms. Pelton to raise the grades.Â She resigned in protest. Canâ€™t expect compliance if there is no enforcement! In fact, 90% of students believe that those who do cheat in school are never caught.
Â So, we adults may have to work a little harder than just simply providing ways to remove the pink background or change the ink color to purple. Â We may have to require students to undertake that difficult struggle of researching, reading, studying, thinking, and THEN writing a piece that provides their unique insight into a question or topic that they have taken the time to understand.Â Therein lies the root cause for the cut-and-paste approach â€“ research, analyses, and understanding are hard work. Â And therein lies our concern about cut-and-paste:Â The hard work of learning has not been done but both student and professor are passing off as if it has.Â We thereby deceive those who buy into the imprimatur of completed courses and degrees.Â Employers who hire our little cut-and-paste cherubs assume skill sets that may not actually be there.Â Sounds a bit like the investment banks who assumed the folks writing the mortgages that they were then bundling had looked into things such as income verification, appraisals, and credit risk.Â Oops â€“ they just did a quick look-see and passed it all along to others who were harmed.Â Oh, how little missteps hurt so many.
Helen Hegemann is a proponent of a new view of plagiarism, â€œThereâ€™s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,â€ or it all depends on the meaning of the words â€œoriginalityâ€ and â€œauthenticity.â€Â Oh, what a world this would be sans original thought.Â Thank goodness there are those who continue the good fight to preserve it (and it was Paul who first coined the phrase, â€œFight the good fight.â€ 2 Timothy 4:7)Â Amen.Â (various sources)