Is Plagiarism on the Rise or just being Disregarded at Online UniversitiesBy Debra Leonard Mertz
Is plagiarism on the rise or is it just being ignored in online universities? A recent NY Times study (2003) on plagiarism involving 23 institutions within the US, results found, cut-and-paste plagiarism is accessible with the Internet and appears to students not to be considered cheating. Where have ethics in higher education gone? Plagiarism seems to not only be increasing in online universities, but also, in many traditional universities with little concern or so it seems. Is this because faculty do not want to become involved or is it because when they do become involved that there is so much hassle to go through to present a case of plagiarism that it is ignored.
I currently teach and have taught online classes for several years now. Prior to that I was an online student myself. It amazes me that it never once occurred to me to cheat on any of my assignments. There must be something wrong with me but it just was never an option. I had to pay for every bit of my higher education and will be paying for it probably until I die. Higher education was not something easily attainable because I grew up in a low-income family and then was orphaned by the age of 15. I always wanted to learn everything about everything, to be smart, and show the world I was not a victim of society. Getting an education and paying for it myself meant more to me because I put blood, sweat and tears into it, never mind the stress, fears of how to pay for it, or other opportunity costs involved while putting my life on hold to complete my degrees.
A recent NY Times study (2003) on plagiarism involving 23 institutions within the US, results found,
Thirty-eight percent of the undergraduate students surveyed said that in the last year they had engaged in one or more instances of ''cut-and-paste'' plagiarism involving the Internet, paraphrasing or copying anywhere from a few sentences to a full paragraph from the Web without citing the source" and that "almost half of the students said they considered such behavior trivial or not cheating at all (Rimer, 2003, para. 2).
When I first encountered plagiarism online I was appalled, not only because it was happening, but also, because the student (adult students) thought he/she could get away with it. I became angry to think that adults could be so lazy and lax in completing their education. Did it not mean anything to them? What happens to the integrity of the degree that I worked so hard for? I did not pay a fortune for my higher education degrees to only have it looked upon as a cheap piece of paper, or just another diploma mill trying to get students for profit. Where have ethics in higher education gone? Plagiarism seems to not only be increasing in online universities, but also, in many traditional universities with little concern or so it seems. Is this because faculty do not want to become involved or is it because when they do become involved that there is so much hassle to go through to present a case of plagiarism that it is ignored.
Plagiarism on the Rise
Plagiarism appears to be on the rise today. Not only in education or online universities, but also, for instance, if you recall the case with the New York Times reporter, Jayson Blair (2003) who stole articles that appeared in other newspapers and reported them as his work. More recently though, a case in the UK as reported by the Labi (2004) where a student is suing the institution because the institution did not stop him from cheating (plagiarizing) on homework assignments. The student stated, "I did plagiarize. But I always used the Internet, cutting and pasting stuff and matching it with my own points, he continued. It's a technique I've used since I started the course. I never dreamt it was a problem" (Labi, 2004, paras 2; 3). The student is currently suing for his total cost of the student loans. This could become a major precedent if universities do not wake up and realize the seriousness of this offense. Who is responsible-the student or the university, or both?
Most online universities offer degree programs to older adults who have busy lives, work full-time jobs, have families and many other responsibilities to deal with on a regular basis. Add to that another dimension of online education and the complexities and challenges become increasingly heavy. This does not or should not make cheating a right or even a possibility. Do students not realize what plagiarism is, or what it entails or is it that they do know and figure they can easily get away with it?
I currently work for a major institution that has both onground and online programs. Furthermore, I have worked online for several years now and while plagiarism seemed to be on the rise, at least within the classes that I had taught, it still seems quite prevalent today or maybe the easy way out. I wonder if it is the lack of knowledge that students think it is ok to cheat or is it because of ignorance on their part to what plagiarism really is? How can adult students in MBA programs not really know the difference between right and wrong? Where are our ethical standards? Do they not matter any longer? Do we have to spoon-feed adult students so that plagiarism does not happen? Why? What happened to adults taking responsibility for their individual actions? How did these students get to this point in their life if they do not understand plagiarism? Were they not taught about plagiarism in high school or even in their undergraduate education?
"There are a lot of students who are growing up with the Internet who are convinced that anything you find on the Internet is public knowledge and doesn't need to be cited, Professor McCabe said" (Rimer, 2003, para 5). Online learning unfortunately opens the doors to many venues, of which students believe they have rights that they really do not have. Rather than realizing the dangers of cheating online, this now becomes a new opportunity. It should neither be an opportunity nor a right for anyone-where are their ethics? "In distance learning, the most challenging issues are also the ones that offer the most opportunity" (PBS, 2003, para. 1). The Center for Academic Integrity (2003) noted "Too often, faculty who try to enforce standards regarding cheating and plagiarism do not get support from the administration" (PBS, 2003, para 2) so it appears that turning ones head on the issue is the easy way out.
McCabe noted (2003)
Students will say they're just mimicking what goes on in society with business leaders, politicians. I don't know whether they're making excuses for what they've already done, or whether they're saying, 'It's O.K. if I do this because of what's going on' (as cited in Rimer, para. 14).
Society does not make individual choices. Students make individual choices and yet, most online students are adult students. What happened to critical thinking and learning prior to cheating? Does society and excuses make us think it is ok to cheat?
Impact of Plagiarism
Plagiarism is a serious offense and should be. What right does anyone have to borrow another person's work without giving proper reference or citations to? Penalties vary depending upon the institution and/or country. For instance, many universities in the U.S. will allow the instructor to give a failing (F) grade on the assignment and/or a grade of failing (F) for the course. If there is a second offense, penalties also vary from expulsion from the university and or a marked transcript representing the blemish on the official transcript of record. Some institutions even post warnings on plagiarism and suspension from the university (http://www.sauder.ubc.ca/imba/policies/plagiarism.cfm).
Role of Student
When should it be the student's responsibility to take full claim of what he/she is doing in higher education? Why are there not standards at all institutions that are in alignment of the other? Do all universities match up to all their standards? Probably not. I am sure that a domestic university is more stringent from an international university because of my current involvement with one of those institutions. U.S. standards in higher education seem to be more critical than international universities. There are variances that make placing one standard seem almost impossible. But does this standard come from a higher education accrediting authority or should it come from society and ethics?
In conclusion, please realize that all students are not unethical students. Adult learners for the most part do want to learn and work very hard for their degrees. There are very serious adult learners who want to learn, get ahead and do it with great pride. These adult students should be commended for what they are doing because they want to get ahead in life, contribute and make society better while attaining a creditable degree. Of course, on the other hand, I have observed adult student learners, who while they do want to get ahead and need the piece of paper to show they are worthy of doing just that, feel that it is their right to have a degree and if it means doing it by cheating rather than ethically will do just that. Matter of fact, I was once asked (by both the student and institution) to change a grade where a student plagiarized because if I did not, the student would not get full reimbursement from his employer because his grade was not an A.
Unfortunately, it is those like mentioned in this article that make the situation worse for all of us. This makes the degree we are going after shameful with less value than it should be. It discredits those of us who are worthy of our degrees and who take great pride in earning them. I worked extremely hard for my degrees and I did it with great pride. I do not wish my degrees to be seen of less value all because online universities might look the other way and ignore the plagiarism issues today.
Adult students must begin to take full responsibility for their actions. Students should know about plagiarism before they get into college. More so, students surely must know about plagiarism before they get into an MBA program. How could they get this far without knowing it is wrong, unethical, and against all policies? There comes a time when the responsibility for ones actions should hold true to the severity of the punishment. If more students were punished by the action of plagiarism, I am sure that it would not be running as rampant as it currently is. Plagiarism is plagiarism and one does not perform half plagiarism just as one cannot be half pregnant.
Labi, A. (2004). British Student Says University Was Negligent for Not Stopping His Plagiarism. Retrieved 6-25-04 from http://chronicle.com/prm/daily/2004/06/2004060404n.htm
Lee, F. R. (2003). Are More People Cheating?; Despite Ample Accounts Of Dishonesty, a Moral Decline Is Hard to Calculate (NYT) Late Edition - Final, Section B, Page 7, Column 5.
McGrath, D. (2002) Apathy in online education. Special to the Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 6/6/04 from World Wide Web at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/technology/chi-0210010171oct01,0,6409570.story?coll=chi%2Dtechnology%2Dhed
New York Times (2003) May 11, Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception. Retrieved on 6-6-04 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/national/11PAPE.html?ex=1088308800&en=a2220c0aa1ded476&ei=5070&th
PBS Adult Learning Service, (2003) April 3 Edition. Critical Challenges in Distance Education Series Cheating and Plagiarism Using the Internet. Retrieved on 6-6-04 from World Wide Web at http://www.pbs.org/als/programs/crcd0103.htm
Rimer, S. (2003). A Campus Fad That's Being Copied: Internet Plagiarism Seems on the Rise. New York Times Late Edition - Final Section B, Page 7, Column 1, Retrieved on 4-30-04 from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60F10F9395C0C708CDDA00894DB404482
University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business. Retrieved from WWW on 6-12-04 from http://www.sauder.ubc.ca/imba/policies/plagiarism.cfm
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