J-Board: Plagiarizers take notice
Preempting student temptations to plagiarize or cheat on
exams during the final weeks of the semester, the Judicial Board reminded
the student body last week that repercussions for academic dishonesty
are consistently severe. Tara Talbot '02, Judicial Board Chair, wrote
in an all-students email last week that " 'Panic' and 'ignorance'
rarely, if ever, constitute mitigating circumstances in cases of academic
The message came two weeks before the beginning of final
exams, "the time when," Talbot wrote, "academic pressures
most tempt students to resort to
plagiarism, faulty citation, dual
submission and other forms of cheating."
The Judicial Board heard just over a dozen cases of suspected
academic dishonesty in each of the last two academic years. Board member
Laura Hilburn '02 said that many of those cases involved students' misuse
of the Internet as a research tool.
The Internet was "involved in almost all of the cases"
last year, J-Board chair Tara Talbot '02 said. In the 2000-2001 academic
year, the J-Board entertained eight plagiarism cases.
For some institutions of higher learning, the year has been
clouded by debates over the juncture of academic dishonesty and technological
tools. Faculty members are concerned that students find copying and pasting
quotations, arguments, or whole papers so easy that the temptation not
to cite or avoid such use is overwhelmingly strong.
Their fears have, in some cases, been grounded. At the University
of Virginia, Louis Bloomfield, a physics professor, wrote a computer program
to scan the 1800 papers he received in five semesters of teaching an introductory
'physics for poets' class. The program looked for duplications of strings
of six words or more- indications that students had somehow copied other
Bloomfield found well over a hundred papers in which 500
words or more repeated. He referred the cases to the University's Honor
Committee, which expelled most of the students.
The Office of Student Affairs has considered subscribing
to an online service, Turnitin.com,
which offers to scan the Internet for text matching that in papers submitted
by professors. But that decision has not yet been made, and administrators
sounded skeptical that it will be, citing cost concerns as well as the
danger that students might feel their professors mistrust them.
The University of Virginia's experience has reverberated
on campuses across the nation. Haverford, a Quaker school in Pennsylvania
famous for its honor code, published an article in its fall magazine on
the subject. The author, Robert Boynton, a journalism professor at New
York University, complained of the "Napsterization of knowledge-
the notion that ideas
are little more than disembodied entities
available to be appropriated electronically in any way users wish."
From the Judicial Board's perspective, the Internet cuts
both ways. Students and faculty alike realize that the simple act of plagiarism
is now a few mouse clicks away. But some J-Board members noted that professors
are finding out about Internet plagiarism just as easily as students are
committing it. "Professors might type the first sentence of a paper
into a search engine," said Hilburn.
Peter Schilling, director of Bowdoin's Educational Technology
Center, said that the Internet can be a valuable research tool for students
looking for a broad level of information on a topic. Talbot agreed. "Most
students, including me, find themselves doing more research on the Internet,"
But Schilling noted that Internet searches often turn up vast amounts of potentially relevant material, and "there's more effort needed to winnow through it that students don't always make."