Internet plagiarism on the rise at CSUN

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With Internet resources making it easier for some students to cheat, the number of incidents of plagiarism increased on campus since 2003, according to an official from Student Affairs.

“The numbers regarding how many plagiarism incidents have occurred on campus haven’t been recorded yet, for the years of 2003-2005. But it’s safe to say that they’ve definitely increased,” said William Watkins, associate vice president for student life in Student Affairs.

Although students are more likely to plagiarize because of the accessibility of the Internet, they are also more likely to get caught because professors also have access to the resources students use on the Internet, Watkins said.

Professors have ways of catching students that plagiarize, Watkins said.

Some professors use Google and other Internet search engines to type out specific passages of a student’s work that reads suspicious or does not sound like something the student would write.

“Google is a good tool for catching students on plagiarism, since they most likely used Google to begin their work,” said Amy Reynolds, English professor. “Some of my colleagues have mentioned how good TurnItIn.com is, but I haven’t used it yet.”

TurnItIn.com is a paid service on the Internet – CSUN pays for faculty to use the service – that can help detect plagiarism.

“I’ve used it last summer, and I’m using it this fall. It’s really helpful,” said Anna Tripp, English professor.

“I use two components on that site – the discussion board and a component that potentially identifies plagiarism,” Tripp said. “You can run through a student’s work on the site, and it’ll tell you how much of the written work is comprised of non-author sources. You can then play around with the options on the site, and see if they cited sources for the appropriate passages and quotes.”

According to Reynolds, during each semester a professor will become familiar with a student’s writing style because he or she works closely with the student. The professor knows that a student could not have improved so greatly in writing such profound passages in a short amount of time, Reynolds said.

Some professors work around the student’s knowledge of the subject matter that was “researched” for the paper.

“Both myself and my colleagues ask students about the subject. We’ll ask trick questions to see if they know what they’re talking about,” said Patrick Hunter, English Professor.

“Say if a student researched a particular person, we’d ask him or her why they didn’t include the works (such as poems) of the person in the paper,” he said. “The student will give an answer like, ‘I didn’t feel like putting it in’ or ‘they weren’t necessary.’ “

“Our response to those excuses would be, ‘Well, that person didn’t do any poems to begin with,’ and eventually they have nowhere to run and begin to admit what they’ve done,” he said.

According to “What Students Should Know” and “What Every Faculty Member Needs to know” a presentation by Journalism Professors Linda Bowen and Bobbie Eisenstock, more than 75 percent of college students nationwide admit to some form of cheating on tests or written assignments when they were caught.

“It’s not very effective serving as an enforcer and scaring students by saying, ‘Oh, plagiarism is bad. If you do it, you’ll fail out of college.’ ”

“A better approach would be to explain and educate the students on the subject of plagiarism, as some students are confused. Sometimes, they don’t even know they plagiarize,” Bowen said.

The most effective method used among many faculty members is to ask students to submit a writing sample at the beginning of the semester, Bowen said. The professor then tracks each student’s writing style throughout the semester to see if it changed, she said.

Both Bowen and Eisenstock created a plagiarism program to educate students and faculty on the subject of plagiarism. This program was created because both Bowen and Eisenstock share the concern of plagiarism, Bowen said.

She said from their past experiences with plagiarism has increased within the last two to three years among the students she and Eisenstock have taught.

“We’re not in the ‘gotcha!’ business here where we see how many students we can catch,” Bowen said. “We want students to learn that plagiarism is a major problem. Not just in schools, but everywhere in the world including the work field.”

While plagiarism is a big issue for faculty members, plagiarism is a topic that does not really cross the minds of some students on a daily basis.

“When professors bring up plagiarism warnings in the beginning of the semester, I get bored,” said Jason Bishop, theatre major. “Plagiarism is something that I don’t really care about, since I don’t do it. But I think those who do it and get caught should get punished severely.”

“I find it funny that people plagiarize,” said Nicole Couverley, theatre major. “You carry more stress in hoping not to get caught, compared to if you just did the research yourself.”

Mark Solleza can be reached at mark.solleza.950@csun.edu.