More education issues: plagiarism

An aspect of the Internet that isn’t discussed much in the general media, but is an increasing point of concern for adult educators is that it’s incredibly easy for lazy or intellectually dishonest students to dig up essays and papers on just about any imaginable topic online. For example, you’ve been assigned to write a paper on Poe’s immortal The Cask of Amontillado? No problem! A quick google of the topic reveals dozens of different essays, ready to go, from sites like,, and No kidding.

Fortunately, us educators have at least one tool in our toolkit to combat this ever-growing wave of cheating, the fascinating and brilliant service.

A free service that should probably be subsidized by the Department of Education (as in “no cheater let advance”, the corollary to “no child left behind”), Plagiserve lets educators upload essays and then phrase-by-phrase compares the uploaded document to known essays posted on the network. The result is a score rating its likelihood of being plagiarized, from 0-100.

Do educators talk about this stuff? You bet. Here’s a sample:

After noticing a great disparity in writing style/quality between the ‘daily’ postings and a recent paper by a student in my current graduate class (which began on 02/27/03), I submitted her paper to Plagiserve – It just came back with a 100% score for plagiarism.

excerpt deleted for privacy

I am now also seeing the same disparity in her daily postings and DQ responses in general – Sometimes they appear to have been written by an 8th-grader, and other times by a Rhodes Scholar.

There are ethical and moral issues underlying this form of cheating, too, and I have to say that I don’t really understand why students won’t ask for help, won’t use the school writing lab, and won’t ask themselves the basic question “is this class really for me if I can’t actually answer the question?” but they’ll happily find some (typically poorly written) essay online and submit it, often without a single change (a score of 100% means that it’s verbatim the same document).

Eventually, teachers will insist on digital copies of all essays and will automatically feed it through a system like plagiserve. Certainly for online education various benchmarks could be automatically generated and attached to essays as submitted, so the instructor had a readability skew value (that is, the readability score of the essay compared to group postings) along with a plagiserve score.

But wouldn’t more honest, more ethical students be a better solution??

2 comments on “More education issues: plagiarism

  1. but what if this ‘essay cheating’ act was commited bt accident and the person regrets it. will they get another chance???

  2. It’s hard to believe that someone would wholesale copy material from another source, without citation, as an “accident”. Regreting it is a different issue, but just about every academic course has an explicit stated policy on plagiarism and cheating, so, no, the only second chance that seems logical is for them to get a second chance to take the course, using their own original answers.

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