A culture of copy-and-paste
When US students see their degree as little more than a route to a job, is it any wonder that plagiarism is rife?
The UK Plagiarism Advisory Service recently reported that one in four British students admits to copying and pasting material from the internet then presenting it as their own (1). Across the Atlantic in the USA, where I am a student, internet plagiarism is even more rampant.
A national survey published in Education Week asserts that 54 percent of American students admitted to internet plagiarism (2). This includes everything from students who copy and paste a few sentences, to those who fork over premium beer money for custom-made papers. University officials believe the rise in plagiarism is driven by the internet’s accessibility. Phil Anderson, director of the honors system at Kansas State University, says: ‘The internet is the main driver because it is so easy.’ (3)
However, the growth of plagiarism is not just a result of the internet, or of American students’ laziness – it also comes from students’ new perception of education. Most American students do not attend university to embrace knowledge; university is just a gateway to a successful career.
Once an American enters high school, he or she feels pressure from parents and teachers to attend university. Students are told that college is the only way they will get a ‘good’ job. American university student Maureen Kellner did not feel she had a choice about whether or not to attend university: ‘I went to college because I had to. There is absolutely no way I could start a career without a degree. I couldn’t really care less about what I’m learning except if it has something to do with what I’m going to do later on in life.’ Kellner says she memorises what she needs to know for tests in order to receive high grades, and then she forgets the material that does not involve her major.
Other students also see college as a route to a job. Some do not try to perform exceptionally well in their courses; they just aim to pass in order to receive their degree. It is this that provides the market for internet plagiarism.
Searching for a term paper online is easy. Within seconds of googling ‘buy term paper’, hundreds of websites appear, from cheathouse.com to oppapers.com. Most websites like cheathouse.com require students to submit papers of their own in order to gain access to thousands of free papers. The website’s staff reviews papers for quality, and within three to seven days, writers of ‘quality’ papers are given access to the site. Here they can find papers on a variety of topics, including the political system of Australia, the depiction of women in modern art, and a brief history of tattoos.
However, these free papers seem to be of low quality. Sample introductions often have misspellings like ‘atractive’, and poor punctuation such as ‘a persons surroundings’ (4). Even if students fix spelling and grammar errors, the papers often lack a coherent thesis. An essay on Oedipus Rex on oppapers.com begins: ‘Oedipus is guilty because, despite knowing the prophecy that he will commit parricide and incest, he yet kills an elderly gentleman and sleeps with an elderly women.’
Students can also pay for custom-made papers. On oppapers.com, a custom-made paper costs $3.95 a page for seven-day delivery and $8.95 a page for overnight delivery. Other sites like essaysfree.com charge $22 per page for papers delivered in seven days and $55 for ‘emergency service’. Additionally, the student must pay for the paper before they see it, but some websites like perfecttermpapers.com offer unlimited free revisions.
By paying for custom papers, students ensure that professors will have a harder time tracing the paper. But in general, the internet has made it easier for professors to spot plagiarism. Dr Stephen Lambert, a writing professor at Hillsborough Community College in Florida, says that online searches take seconds, while searching through books in the library would take ages (5). Additionally, many schools subscribe to anti-plagiarism software such as turnitin.com. Teachers upload suspected papers on to turnitin.com, and the software searches the web, its own database of papers, and published works for signs of plagiarism.
Nonetheless, professors could perhaps avoid subscribing to such services by injecting enthusiasm into their lectures. ‘If my professor is engaging, I want to learn. I put a lot of effort into those classes. However, if a professor isn’t putting effort into teaching, I don’t want to put too much effort into that class’, said American university student Michelle Pilson.
Additionally, society needs to promote the value of learning over a degree’s increased job potential. The current emphasis on careers training leads students to overlook the fact that knowledge has intrinsic value – in broadening their minds and expanding their horizons. Some students do realise this and take advantage of the opportunities that university offers. American university student Brandon Bodow commented: ‘I went to college to learn and to become a better person – more educated in all facets, more experienced, and more intelligent.’
Jessica Durkin is a student at Boston University, and worked as a spiked intern.
(1) Quarter of students plagiarise essays, Guardian, 30 June
(2) See plagiarism stats
(3) Ed Finkel. ‘Sticky Fingers on the Information Superhighway’, Community College Week, 28 February 2005
(4) See oppapers.com
(5) Ed Finkel. ‘Sticky Fingers on the Information Superhighway’, Community College Week, 28 February 2005
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