New York Times Article For Discussion Board #2

Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age

At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness — and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.

But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.

It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.

Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students — who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking — understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.

“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”

Professors who have studied plagiarism do not try to excuse it — many are champions of academic honesty on their campuses — but rather try to understand why it is so widespread.

In surveys from 2006 to 2010 by Donald L. McCabe, a co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University, about 40 percent of 14,000 undergraduates admitted to copying a few sentences in written assignments.

Perhaps more significant, the number who believed that copying from the Web constitutes “serious cheating” is declining — to 29 percent on average in recent surveys from 34 percent earlier in the decade.

Sarah Brookover, a senior at the Rutgers campus in Camden, N.J., said many of her classmates blithely cut and paste without attribution.

“This generation has always existed in a world where media and intellectual property don’t have the same gravity,” said Ms. Brookover, who at 31 is older than most undergraduates. “When you’re sitting at your computer, it’s the same machine you’ve downloaded music with, possibly illegally, the same machine you streamed videos for free that showed on HBO last night.”

Ms. Brookover, who works at the campus library, has pondered the differences between researching in the stacks and online. “Because you’re not walking into a library, you’re not physically holding the article, which takes you closer to ‘this doesn’t belong to me,’ ” she said. Online, “everything can belong to you really easily.”

A University of Notre Dame anthropologist, Susan D. Blum, disturbed by the high rates of reported plagiarism, set out to understand how students view authorship and the written word, or “texts” in Ms. Blum’s academic language.

She conducted her ethnographic research among 234 Notre Dame undergraduates. “Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them,” she wrote last year in the book “My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture,” published by Cornell University Press.

Ms. Blum argued that student writing exhibits some of the same qualities of pastiche that drive other creative endeavors today — TV shows that constantly reference other shows or rap music that samples from earlier songs.

In an interview, she said the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

She contends that undergraduates are less interested in cultivating a unique and authentic identity — as their 1960s counterparts were — than in trying on many different personas, which the Web enables with social networking.

“If you are not so worried about presenting yourself as absolutely unique, then it’s O.K. if you say other people’s words, it’s O.K. if you say things you don’t believe, it’s O.K. if you write papers you couldn’t care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade,” Ms. Blum said, voicing student attitudes. “And it’s O.K. if you put words out there without getting any credit.”

The notion that there might be a new model young person, who freely borrows from the vortex of information to mash up a new creative work, fueled a brief brouhaha earlier this year with Helene Hegemann, a German teenager whose best-selling novel about Berlin club life turned out to include passages lifted from others.

Instead of offering an abject apology, Ms. Hegemann insisted, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” A few critics rose to her defense, and the book remained a finalist for a fiction prize (but did not win).

That theory does not wash with Sarah Wilensky, a senior at Indiana University, who said that relaxing plagiarism standards “does not foster creativity, it fosters laziness.”

“You’re not coming up with new ideas if you’re grabbing and mixing and matching,” said Ms. Wilensky, who took aim at Ms. Hegemann in a column in her student newspaper headlined “Generation Plagiarism.”

“It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people — authors and artists and scholars — who are doing original work,” Ms. Wilensky said in an interview. “It’s kind of an insult that that ideal is gone, and now we’re left only to make collages of the work of previous generations.”

In the view of Ms. Wilensky, whose writing skills earned her the role of informal editor of other students’ papers in her freshman dorm, plagiarism has nothing to do with trendy academic theories.

The main reason it occurs, she said, is because students leave high school unprepared for the intellectual rigors of college writing.

“If you’re taught how to closely read sources and synthesize them into your own original argument in middle and high school, you’re not going to be tempted to plagiarize in college, and you certainly won’t do so unknowingly,” she said.

At the University of California, Davis, of the 196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office last year, a majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.

Many times, said Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the campus of 32,000, it was students who intentionally copied — knowing it was wrong — who were “unwilling to engage the writing process.”

“Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice,” he said.

And then there was a case that had nothing to do with a younger generation’s evolving view of authorship. A student accused of plagiarism came to Mr. Dudley’s office with her parents, and the father admitted that he was the one responsible for the plagiarism. The wife assured Mr. Dudley that it would not happen again.


10 responses

  1. I do believe that students living in the digital age era do not know the line between citing a source and full blown plagerism. I know that plagerism is when you copynsomething from another source and dont claim it as your own, but I’m a bit confused when it comes to writing information you already knew, prior knowledge. If its something that is common sense or prior knowledge, why dont we have to find a source that says the same thing we said? But other than that, I do agree with dr. Dudley that writing is difficult, but it yoiu research, practice and take your time, you could be the person than people have to cite sources from.

  2. […] you haven’t done so yet, please read the article from the New York Times (below) and comment on the correct discussion board for your […]

  3. I think there is no excuse for plagiarism. The only one I could think of is not knowing how to cite sources and even in that case there are so many places to go and people to see on how to cite your sources. They mentioned it being the digital age and I think if it so easy to plagiarize then it should be equally easy learn how to cite your source. People know how big of an issue it is so why would they even attempt to make it seem that they plagiarized. People know right from wrong and the lazy people who rather just use other peoples information and not give credit should get punished. I agree that middle and high schools should prepare students more for college type writing because that is the goal people want for students is go to the next level so why not prepare them to the fullest capacity. I don’t understand why if people know what is expected in the next level of learning why would not they want to help students out and prepare them so they can cut down on so much of this plagiarism going on.

  4. Jasmine Howard

    I can agree that the students of the Digital era do not have a respect for others works, however, not all the blame can be placed on them and them alone. Many students, unfortunately, do not know the proper form of an essay. That includes that they are responsible for citing the information they use that is not of their own knowledge. Not only this, but many also do not know the proper form of a bibliography page. It is very unfortunate, but some teachers, before entering college, do not require a bibliography page or do not care for where the information is obtained. All that said, there is no excuse for plagiarism. It is essentially stealing and should be against the person’s code of ethics. Unfortunately, with sources that are internet based, this is almost never the case.

  5. I agree that plagiarism is wrong, but at the same time I feel like many students don’t try to do it on purpose. There’s a lot of known knowledge and when we incorporate our own common sense into our papers we get accused of plagiarism? I don’t think that’s fair. Another example, at times there will be situations where there is just random information floating around in cyber space, there’s no author, it’s not all fancy and “legit,” so then how are we supposed to cite that? Many students do not. I feel that if we would’ve been taught from the beginning the ins and outs of plagiarism, we wouldn’t face the issues we face nowadays with students “plagiarizing.”

    (12:15 class)

  6. Shakiyla Brockenbrough

    I strongly believe that the “Digital Age and or Era” of today are ignorant to plagiarism. As a child one is often told not to copy off another’s paper or not to do something, unless that child is given an explaination, he or she will continue to do it because they do not know the consequences. I feel that most students today are not forsure how serious the consequences are for plagiarism, so they take advantage of ever plagiarism opportunity that they see.
    Also in the same breath, others plagiarise because it’s an easy A, and they feel that if the information is there then why not just take it and write their name above it. I feel that it’s disrespectful to the person who worked so hard to retain that knowledge, and was kind enough to share it with us. As my mother always told me ” Never bite the hand that feeds you!” Who’s to say that the internet will be around for long? When the internet goes, where will all the plagiarist easy A’s come from?

  7. There is absolutely no excuse for plagarism. Everything written should be from you and only you. Plagarism in my idea can be a form of laziness so that the student doesnt have to put as much effort into their paper as they need to. In the “Digital Era”, it is simple to do a little copy and paste here and there to get a paper done more quickly. Using others ideas not only doesnt help you as a student but it also shows that your not able to have a mind of your own. Computers now a days are a great source to help with our work, but putting our sources to a prohibited use is not okay. I think everyone should just do their own work and stop being lazy.

  8. I believe that plagiarism is a problem and actually I think that it’s most likely not going anywhere. Some people tend to copy and paste on purpose while others just don’t know the proper way to cite someones sources. I know personally that I have had issues with plagiarism in the beginning of high school because it was not taught to me how to cite sources. I never actually just copied and pasted something off a website or book I just thought putting what they said and switching it around a little would make it okay. But after my senior year I realized that wasn’t okay because I was still using and displaying thought that were not mine. I think that if someone gets caught plagiarizing they should have to take a works cited class or something as a first offense because then they will have learned and then have no excuse.

  9. Paulette Carter

    It is true that everyone who attends school was taught that plagiarism is wrong. Without going in depth on exactly what plagiarism is, one can not know that they have plagiarized by copying or restating one harmless sentence. I always had the mindset that plagiarism was when you copy and pasted an entire text and tried to use it as your own, apparently i am wrong. I totally agree with Ms. Helen Hegemann when she says “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” because if you really think about the definition: Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as “the wrongful appropriation, close imitation, or purloining and publication, of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions, and the representation of them as one’s own original work.” ( and you think on the process of learning and adapting you can not help but understand that there is a strong connection between the two. If you here your teacher make up a word to describe something in class and you have a new found interest in the word and you decide you want to begin to use it outside of the class room are you plagiarizing? When you are assigned a list of spelling words in english class and you are told to define each and use it in your own sentence can that be a form of plagiarism. My point is in life everything is “plagiarized” if that is the case because you can not learn nor teach without using information from someone else or some other source. As far as writing papers if every last sentece in the paper is the exact same lines as someone else’s then you should be punished for not using your mind skills and for claiming the knowledge instilled by someone other than yourself, but if you look something up on and you find a very detailed and nicely organized quote or sentence you know you could use to make your paper stand out and shine i believe you should have that right whether or not you give reference to wikipedia. You don’t go around talking and every time you finish a sentence you give reference to a site or some source you may have learned the information from. I believe plagiarism should be specifically explained in class so that students will have a perfect understanding of what it is that is expected when you are given a task of writing a paper or speech or conducting an experiment of any sort.

  10. Larrisa Murphy

    I think that this “digital era” does not respect the fact you must cite information. The internet has made it extremely easy for us to access information and it is used as an easy way to add a couple extra words to a paper. As students, especially, we know the consequences but we figure we won’t get caught or the teacher will never figure out that the words aren’t ours. If we throw a couple of our own words in, then the words automatically become ours. In fact, they are not. They are still words that you have stole from somebody who put a lot of effort into getting their work at a place for it to be seen where they saw it.
    I also believe that schools should stress teaching students how to cite information they find from other sources. A lot of students today still do not know how to include cited information into their papers. Unfortunately, this will just be an ongoing issue because a person is just going to do as they feel. What institutions and teachers need to do is show us how to write papers and be creative, so that we don’t need to go and copy someone else’s work.

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