The two papers were identical. There was no question about
it. Word for word, paragraph by paragraph, the assignment turned in by
the two young men was the same.
`My first thought was that they had collaborated on the assignment,”
Morray- Jones, who taught the introductory religion class at the
University of California at Berkeley.
Actually, the students didn’t know each other at all: They had
independently gone to the Internet and downloaded the same report.
Across the United States, universities — and even in some cases, high
schools — are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for
cheating from the Internet. Wire up, plug in, and log on: Technology
on The Gate.
Once, in the days when computers took up a mere floor in
the science building, cheating students often looked for illicit help
from old tests tucked away in fraternity houses. Now, however, students
can plagiarize from their laptops, pointing and clicking their way
into a term paper treasure trove.
“This is the same basic thing as the frat house term paper file,
except that it is much more high tech, much more convenient and
therefore much more tempting,” said Doug Zuidema, manager of the
Office of Student Conduct at UC Berkeley.
“You don’t have to walk up to someone and ask for the paper . . .
You’re anonymous and you can access this material much more quickly and
In October, Boston University took action against several Web sites that
had sold term
papers to a school employee posing as a student. The Web sites were all
charged in federal court with wire fraud, mail fraud, racketeering and
violating a Massachusetts law that bans the sale of term papers.
But California doesn’t have a law dealing with fake term papers,
which means that teachers and professors have to rely on instincts,
experience and sometimes, a little luck, to catch offenders.
In the Berkeley case, Jones said it was pure coincidence and long odds
that the first two students turned in the exact same paper. The students
had a choice of 10 books for review and the reports were read by two
“They were actually pretty unlucky,” he said. Eventually, Jones
found another student who had turned in a paper he had downloaded from a
Web site, and a fourth who had partially plagiarized his report from
material taken from the Web.
“There may have been a few others, too, but we couldn’t prove it,” he
“NOTHING can be taught without stepping on somebody’s sensibilities.”
–a comment from the What should schools teach? topic in the The Gate
Jones said his type of course was particularly vulnerable to the
temptations of plagiarism because of the composition of the students
and size of the class.
He said there were 132 students in the class. Nearly one-half of the
students in the course were science and engineering students taking it
to complete a humanities requirement. In other words, there were a lot
of students enrolled in the class who may not have wanted to take it
but needed it to graduate.
“I’d say there were a fairly large number who were both highly
computer literate and may not have been very interested or have much
understanding of what goes on in a humanities course,” he said. The
penalties imposed on the students, all first offenders, were stiff. One
who partially plagiarized his report was failed on the paper, but
allowed to finish the rest of the course.
The other was failed for the course and along with the first two
students was given a censure, a black mark on their record that will be
available to graduate schools and
employers for five years from the time of the offense.
The plagiarism problems are not limited to universities.
`If doesn’t take that much to find what you want and when you’ve got a
kid who is under stress and who is a high achiever there is a
temptation to take a shortcut,” said Clarence Bakken, a physics teacher
at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.
“We had a situation where someone had copied something off the
verbatim. The teacher was checking the citations and son of a gun,
there it was on a Web site.”
Jane Healy, an educational psychologist who has written several books on
students and computers in education, said that junior high and high
school students are more likely to crib copy from CD-ROM encyclopedias
or take pieces of research whole cloth off a Web page rather than buy a
“It’s easier for younger students to cheat than it once was, but the
warning signs are what they’ve always been and good teaching habits can
deter this,” she said.
Healy said a good teacher knows the quality of a student’s work and
should be able to
easily detect anomalies in the child’s assignments. “If you know your
kids it’s hard to slip something past.”
Thomas Rocklin, director of the Center for Teaching at the University
of Iowa, said that
plagiarizing work, no matter how it is done, “is an act of
The difference between this and simply copying something out from a
book is that these papers arrive in an electronic form that you can
massage very easily to make it look original.” Bill Rukeyser, director
of Learning in the Real Worl (www.realworld.org), an informational
clearinghouse for educators, said some students try to rationalize
copying or buying material from the Web as just another form of
“But there is a big difference between just downloading a paper and
turning that in and going out on your own and assembling your sources,
synthesizing ideas and producing your own idea,” Rukeyser said. “All
this is doing is moving copy from your eye to your fingertip to a
keyboard and to paper. That process doesn’t disturb the cerebral cortex
– Ramon G. McLeod, Chronicle Staff Writer