Rutgers Tests Internet Plagiarism Software
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.
Alarmed by reports that the Internet is making it easier than ever for students to cheat on term papers and research, Rutgers University is trying out anti-plagiarism software. The university bought the package from a California company, turnitin.com, which gives institutions access to a huge database it can scan to identify material lifted from the Internet.
Rutgers spokeswoman Sandy Layman says the university hasn’t decided whether to employ the $4,000 software yet. “We’re testing the software and exploring it for possible use,” she says, adding that there is no evidence of widespread plagiarism at Rutgers.
The program’s promoters say it’s a powerful deterrent to academic fraud, adding that it’s needed in an era of eroding honor codes and widespread cheating. Earlier this year, the University of Virginia campus was rocked by a cheating scandal in a popular introductory physics course. When a student complained about getting a poor grade on a paper and accused better scorers of cheating, the professor set up his own computer program to detect plagiarists. As a result, 122 students were accused of cheating on term papers.
“Our service is like a proctor at an exam — to keep everybody honest,” says turnitin.com founder Dr. John Barrie, 33, who has a doctorate in biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley.
Students can purchase papers from a growing number of online term-paper mills. Dr. Don McCabe, a professor of organization management at Rutgers-Newark, says cheating is on the rise, largely due to the Internet.
“It’s anonymous, and it’s just so easy,” he told The Star-Ledger of Newark. “Click around a few places, bang together a few paragraphs.”
He noted that many students don’t consider that cheating.
McCabe said he recently completed a survey of 4,471 students at 25 high schools around the country. When asked if they ever submit papers downloaded in whole or in large part from the Internet, 15 percent answered yes.
Dr. Cheryl Wall, chair of the English department at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, says some students have always cheated. “It’s new technology, but an old problem,” she says. “I guess one difference between Internet plagiarism and the old variety is that the old variety was usually taken from some published material. If you’re dealing with, say, the theft of other students’ writing, it may not be as immediately obvious.”
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