Apple Archive

The Internet, Research, and Plagiarism

- 2002.05.24

Having computers and Internet access in school allows students to do research easily for essays, presentations, and projects. However, the Internet also makes it easy for kids to cheat - and makes it seem as if answers are obtained with the click of a mouse.

One of the problems is that having access to the Internet and encyclopedias online can help students cheat when writing essays and presentations. With sites that give students full access to term papers and other essays on hundreds of topics, a student only needs to copy and paste portions of that essay into his or hers to have a complete paper. Students didn't expect teachers (many of whom were not computer savvy) to go through books in the library and search the Internet for "borrowed phrases" - ones not cited with a source.

And for a while, the teachers didn't.

However, teachers are becoming more and more aware of what is happening on the Internet and around them. Many schools now send all of their essays through systems that compare them with thousands of others listed in a database to determine if any phrases were copied and not cited. The Internet, which had helped the students cheat, is now helping teachers determine who cheated and how. Sites like TurnItIn.com, which compares a paper to a database of other papers, help determine if the student has cheated.

The Internet also makes it too easy to plagiarize phrases and ideas from websites. Students often don't realize they are doing this. People get bombarded with millions of messages and phrases every day. A student might write down a phrase and then ask, "Are those my own thoughts, or did I see it somewhere the other day?" Not everything is easy to remember, and for students who often do 3 to 5 things at a time (check email, chat with friends online, look up the news online, and watch TV), it's even more difficult.

Sometimes it's impossible to completely cite a source. Links may work one day and not the next. When the teacher goes to the site and doesn't find the specified article, that can be a mark against your grade. Other times, a site may have an article with no title by an unknown author and with an unknown creation date. This leaves you with nothing more than a Web address to cite the article with - something that some teachers don't like.

The other problem I notice is that kids are looking toward the computer as the "automatic answer machine." Instead of looking at it as a tool that might possibly give them access to a bit of information, they assume that it will give them the answer outright, allowing them to simply copy and paste information and be done with the paper. So when it comes time to research for a paper, the computers in the library are the first things to fill up - with people combing Google, Teoma, Excite, and other search engines in hopes that one link will show up that will pretty much write their paper for them.

Fortunately, we have these things called books. These books are useful little creations, often coming complete with a hard cover to protect the pages inside - these pages probably contain some of the information that these computer crazy kids are trying to find. Yes, it takes a little more work to look through the index of a book and find the correct page, and it's not as fun as clicking colorful little icons on a computer screen, but it may produce more satisfactory results than the computer.

I can hardly believe I said that, because a year ago I would have gone along with all the other kids in hopes of finding my information already compiled and ready to use. However, I now know that this is not practical, and while the computer is an excellent tool for finding information, I still find that nothing beats good old fashioned book.

For those of you trying to find information on the Internet for a project or some sites to recommend to students, there are two that I find very useful. One is called RefDesk. It contains little bits of useful and not-so-useful information for you to look through. You can get instant access to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and links to hundreds of other websites in many different categories.

The other site I like to use is from Apple, the Apple Learning Interchange. It contains links with information gathered from other schools, teachers, and often has some interesting feature stories.

Check them out, but please remember: When looking for information on the Internet, don't think that the computer will give you all of the answers, and please cite your sources properly.

With that said, some of the information on plagiarism in schools was obtained from All Things Considered, an NPR program. Local broadcast times can be obtained online.

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