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Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9%

2011 February 4

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgResearchBlogging.orgIn a study of 1222 undergraduates, Selwyn[1] examined differences in cybercheating levels between a variety of majors and student types.  Overall results?  61.9% of students cybercheat.

Before getting into this, it’s important to distinguish cybercheating/online plagiarism and cheating in online courses. These are not the same. Cybercheating can be defined as cheating enabled by the internet – so cybercheating can occur in any course. For example, one variety of cybercheating is the use of “paper mills.” These websites employ people to write papers for undergraduates for a fee. A student might pay $2 per page for a term paper, for example. But such papers can be used in either in-person or online courses. This is not in any way unique to online courses.

According to Selwyn, estimates thus far vary a great deal as to what percentage and types of students engage in cybercheating, but they are all a little depressing:

  • In a US study, 50% of students admitted to cybercheating at some point while they were in college.
  • In another 30-40% of students admitted to copying text from the internet into their own work without citing the source.  10-20% did so for large sections of their assignments (i.e. more than a sentence here and there).
  • About 25% of graduate students engage in these same behaviors.
  • Typical profile of the most likely cybercheater: young male underclassmen experienced with the Internet

There is some disagreement as to why students engage in these behaviors.  Some blame higher expectations for high grades, while others blame a changing youth culture where the copying of intellectual property is simply not seen as an important concern.

So how bad was it in Selwyn’s sample?  61.9% (757 students) admitted to engaging in online plagiarism.  59% copied a few sentences, 30% copied a few paragraphs, 12% copies a few pages, 4% copied entire documents, and 3% purchased essays.  22.3% admitted to engaging in such behaviors regularly.

Cybercheating rates were higher for males and for poor students.  Contrary to prior research, rates were higher for more experienced students.  Perhaps most interesting to me was the rate breakdown by field of study.  Here they are in rank order of prevalence of at least a few sentences copied:

  1. Engineering and technology (72%)
  2. Computer sciences and mathematical sciences (71%)
  3. Social studies (64%)
  4. Business and administrative studies (63%)
  5. Law (62%)
  6. Creative arts and design (61%)
  7. Architecture, Building and Planning (60%)
  8. Medicine (58%)
  9. Natural sciences (57%)
  10. Humanities (46%)

Students with greater perceived Internet competency were also more likely to cybercheat, though not by a wide margin (about 8 percentage points across 4 categories of expertise).

The study also examined “traditional” plagiarism and found similarly high levels – again, 61.9% of the sample reported some type of plagiarism, though this time from books and articles.  I am not wholly convinced that the researchers adequately differentiated “online articles” and “offline articles” (students may consider these to be the same thing), but there is not enough detail reported on their method to be sure either way.

I find this quote from a student particularly interesting (from p.473):

Things are a lot easier to get away with on the internet if you wanted to (giving false information for example.) But copying work without sourcing it is easier from books in my opinion, as universities have methods of screening essays for plagiarised work through the internet. (Female, 19 years, social studies, year 1)

It seems like this student has taken the time to reason through how she might cheat in the course and the relative risks of being caught.  This is not a desperate student driven to cheat with a paper due at the last minute; this is premeditated.

We also get a window into why faculty are so bitter about online education in general.  Consider these students (from p. 475):

… it’s easier to claim ignorance on a computer if you get caught doing something bad. (Male, 20, humanities, year 2)

As more and more people are using the Internet illegally (i.e. limewire etc.), I feel that the chances of being caught or the consequences of my actions are almost insignificant. So I feel no pressure in doing what ever everybody else is doing/using the Internet for. (Male, 19 years, engineering, year 1)

Again, purposeful deception, and not much regret over it.

All in all, these results are not all that surprising given previous research in this domain, but it does not seem as if things are getting any better. People wonder why I worry about cheating on hiring tests; well, where do you think these students go after they graduate?

  1. Selwyn, N. (2008). Not necessarily a bad thing…: A study of online plagiarism amongst undergraduate students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33 (5), 465-479 DOI: 10.1080/02602930701563104 []
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45 Responses leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011

    I’m not going to defend students in this matter, it is wrong inorder to steal work from other source’s with out citing. I mean paying someone else todo this for you is also wrong(with in reason*)
    It’s just not fair on committed students who work hard, get into larger debt for students to cheat and potentially get a better grade.

    * I do however, agree with people writing for a student with the accurate knowledge, I mean there are many talented people who have little skill with writing professional studies and case reports so why should they be examined on their english and ways in which they explain things in say Computing Sciences?

    I know many people with great english skills who could write and scrap by a essay with very little knowledge and I also know people with exceptional knowledge and very troubling english skills. Should the person who studies hard, knows things, get a lesser grade? Or possibly fail? I think not.

    I think that people should be able to be employed with writing essays so long as it’s from the students explanation and it’s totally used from the student. So it should be regulated and control by universities.

    Just my 2 cent’s

  2. February 8, 2011

    While I can’t say I like the idea of people cutting and pasting instead of thinking up their own answers, it does need to be understood that this is a pretty strict standard. Have they ever cut-and-pasted a few sentences at any time in their entire college career?

    A more valuable survey would somehow identify those people who cheated enough to make a noticeable difference to their grades.

  3. Chris Arthur permalink
    February 8, 2011

    “Cybercheating rates were higher for males and for poor students.”
    This statement is actually much more interesting to me because of related factors that might give some insight into the reasoning of the cheaters. I was poor student and I had to work 2 jobs while trying to go to school full time. It was a pretty normal week if I worked 60 hours and then still had homework and papers to do. I didn’t cheat in the plagiarism or cybercheating sense, but I did lookup synopses to reading materials and such. I was frequently up until 3-4am working on turn in materials for the next day. Luckily I was an adult student (27 years old), but I could see how restrictive this becomes for normal aged students. This alone is a reasoning I can at least understand. As for being male, well in the US at least there seem to be a lot more opportunities for non-repayable financial aid for women. I don’t think that either of these things are “good” reasons at all. I just see them as possible explainable situations and think that particular set of statistics would be interesting and enlightening.

  4. Aaron permalink
    February 8, 2011

    I think lying and cheating are wrong. It’s a simple truth. That being said, using the internet to cheat in school is just taking the next step in cheating. Let’s not pretend that cheating in school didn’t happen before the internet. What do you think the filing cabinets in frat houses are filled with? That’s right, old tests and papers, free for the using.
    And lets also not pretend that nobody has ever lied on a resume before. THAT is ridiculous!

    Cheating came before internet, just like guns came before video games. Blame shifting isn’t solving anything.

  5. Name: (required) permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Yay for baseless hyping. This study looks like it is academic only by virtue of studying students; it showcases a misunderstanding of the things it seeks to study, perhaps through a-priori assumptions. Such as: Presenting “the internet” as some ubiqutous boogeyman, lavishly labeled with “cyber” this and “cyber” that. Because the cyberinterwebz are weery skary, dig?

    Only to have this article admit in the very next paragraph that this in fact is in no way unique to the internet. So what does the “study” offer, beyond meaningless numbers how “teh cyberintarwebz” are really wery skary? Well then. Why don’t we just shut down all our research networks because they’re obviously causing widespread cheating? What useful advance of science does this bring us?

  6. (required) permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Slow news day? Make up a new word.
    “Cybercheating”…give me a break. Plagiarism is nothing new.
    I hope no taxpayer dollars were used to fund this waste of time.

  7. Gabriel J. Michael permalink
    February 8, 2011

    I just skimmed the original article (which is from 2008, btw), and I see little reason to distinguish “cybercheating” from cheating in general. Neil Selwyn seems to agree, noting that respondents indicated they engaged in “cybercheating” in virtually the same proportions as they engaged in other forms of cheating.

    Plagiarizing from a journal article, book, or encyclopedia is cheating, irrespective of whether you look it up in the library stacks or whether you get it from Academic Search or Google Book Search. Why call it “cybercheating” as if it is so much different? The only reason I can see to give it more attention is that, yes, the Internet makes it easier to do. On the other hand, the Internet makes it easier to get caught. No one is going to go to the microfilm reels and pore over them to make sure you cited your sources properly, but it’s very easy to Google that similar sounding sentence that turns up in a few of your undergraduates’ essays.

  8. February 8, 2011

    While I have been known to take severe action against those who plagiarize, several of the points in this blog are misdirected or misinformed. For example, you write that we “get a window into why faculty are so bitter about online education in general”. What, if anything, do these two quotations from students have to do with either (a) faculty feelings, or (b) online education?

    Secondly, does “cybercheating” really have anything to do with the internet? Such plagiarism could just as easily have ripped off printed sources. Sure, the internet makes this type of plagiarism easier, but is that really the point?

  9. redstorm_ permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Generally, I could care less if someone cheats especially in college course—after all, they are cheating themselves as they are paying for the education and benefits that come with it through hard work and pushing past difficult assignments. The whole point of school is not simply turning in assignments but going through the process too. My concern are people cheating in medical fields and other specialties where, ultimately, your future work is working with people and their lives. Nearly 2/3 of students on medical areas cheat? That does NOT give me a warm fuzzy about the future of medicine and would explain a lot of the incompetence we see today. Lazy students, students unwilling to truly learn their craft, and students willing to steal from others and claim the work fully as their own–very disturbing especially in certain majors in my opinion.

  10. February 8, 2011

    It’s a principle of law, I think, that if the plaintiff can’t show that he was actually harmed, the case should be dismissed. Some of this so-called “cheating” harms no one. Whether you rephrase it or drop it in intact you lean it just the same, credited or not.

    It has been said you don’t truly understand an organic chemistry course unless you can successfully dry lab, i.e., fool the TA with an authentic-looking, successful lab report even though you botched the experiment.

  11. February 8, 2011

    Man, you folks are sensitive. Cybercheating is cheating by using the Internet, just as cyberlearning is learning via the Internet ,and cybersex is sex via the Internet. None of the terms imply the Internet causes anything, including cheating. You are committing a classical logic error: correlation does not equal causation. Neither I nor the original author claimed that the Internet caused cheating – only that students were using the Internet to cheat.

    The advance that this article brings is quite straightforward: it identifies that cheating occurs and is widespread, which is not something necessarily agreed upon or believed, especially by faculty. My colleagues, for example, believed that the cheating rate was around 5% before I showed them this and a variety of other sources confirming numbers about this high. That is the value here.

    @Gabriel – I just find it more convenient. It is easier to say “cybercheating” than “cheating using resources found on the Internet.” A word does not need to describe a wholly unique concept to be a useful word.

  12. February 8, 2011

    How this study was done is highly suspicious. They probably asked questions about how people use internet and labeled some behaviours as cheating afterwards. Otherwise their 62% cheating rates are impossible. They probably labeled normal learning using the internet as cheating. People do learn large amount of information while using the internet. When the information learned while interacting in the internet is used, I doubt most people would not cite the source of the information (it comes from random person on the internet, so it’s impossible to do correct citation). I’m sure many people would use information found from the internet in school assignments too — but after learning it from some random person on the internet. The key in avoiding cheating in these situations is that you learned it yourself, instead of just copy-pasting it from a web site without reading the content.

    Internet makes the original source of the information disappear. Normal internet communication do not mention where the information originally comes from. One person reads a book in his free time, mentions information from the book to another person in irc channel or web site or blog, other people learn it and use it in school assignment. The source of the information is lost. People have learned the information coming from random unknown original source. While we could forbid any information learned from the internet to be used in assignments, most people would just consider it as their existing experience.

  13. February 8, 2011

    @tp – I posted this piece precisely because of the sort of denial evident in your post. Pay special attention to these sentences from my original:

    “61.9% (757 students) admitted to engaging in online plagiarism. 59% copied a few sentences, 30% copied a few paragraphs, 12% copies a few pages, 4% copied entire documents, and 3% purchased essays. 22.3% admitted to engaging in such behaviors regularly.”

    This is very different from, “I browsed the Internet, found some interesting information, and then wrote about it.” This is copy/pasting others’ intellectual property or paying others to produce unique, but mis-attributed, work.

    And for the record, APA has citation styles for a wide variety of electronic sources, all the way down to comments in blogs. You can cite anything, even if it doesn’t exist anymore.

  14. Beans permalink
    February 8, 2011

    What this says to me is that 61.9% of undergraduate students don’t find enough value in what they’re learning to bother doing their own work.

    People, especially kids, dont’ go to school because they can’t get enough time in class. They go to school to get a degree that will hopefully lead to a job. Earning an education is a labor of necessity rather than a labor of love. I’m sure that’s not true for all students, but I’d bet it’s at least partially true for roughly 61.9% of them.

  15. William Bailey permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Cybercheating? It’s just the same old cheating using new tools. As a resourceful student back in the late 80’s, I used the same techniques minus the “cyber.” Got a paper due on McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare (yawn)? Get three books on the subject from the public library (instead of the university library), scan them for the best/most relevant passages or chapters, copy verbatim, and then create a fake bibliography with phony book titles and authors. Given your typical educator (in my experience), it was the formula for an instant A paper. In fact, I’m reasonably certain that 95% of my university papers were never actually read by anyone with a graduate degree.

    If anything, the advent of the Internet and Google have made this kind of plagiarism more difficult, because now a suspicious educator is able to Google book titles and authors to find fakes, and Google even entire sentences/passages from a paper to see if they are part of another work. Of course, it’s not likely that many take the time to actually do that anyway.

    As to this new generation of remorseless cheaters – yeah, not so much. Cheating in academia has existed as long as colleges and universities have awarded degrees based on the completion of course credits in a collection of arbitrary fields of study (in the lofty name of “rounded education” but in reality, to increase their bottom lines). If I’m taking a course just to fulfill a credit, versus actually learning useful material in my chosen field of study, how remorseful do you think I’m going to be about cheating to complete a few papers? Especially, when I resent the hell out of the profit-driven education system for making me write them in the first place?

    Perhaps you may find me ethically lacking. Perhaps I may find those that “play by the rules” stupefied, witless suckers rolling the dice again and again, unable to discern that the game they’re trying so hard to win is in fact, rigged. Is it really any wonder that our modern American university system seems to churn out class after class of linear-thinking “graduates” who lack anything resembling critical thinking skills? The out-of-box thinkers either get kicked out on ethics violations, or self-eject to become dotcom millionaires. Or, forgo “higher” education altogether thus saving themselves tens of thousands of dollars in worthless debt.

  16. Matt permalink
    February 8, 2011

    The people in this thread who are saying that the internet is not a factor in cheating are dead wrong. Saying that people used to cheat in the past and therefore internet cheating is a false equivalency. People are plagiarizing more now. Don’t fool yourself.

    Do you really think that Google and cut-and-paste technology don’t make cheating easier and hence more attractive? Of course they do, and it doesn’t take a study to prove it. And just because you don’t like this author’s phrase “cybercheating” doesn’t make it any better either. That’s a red herring.

    Cheating is cheating. No excuses. No rationalization. No false equivalencies. No distractions. If you cheat, you’re a cheat. It’s a moral failure and a slimy thing to do. You have only yourself to blame. And you’re not just cheating yourself, you’re cheating everyone else who actually did the work, belittling their efforts, inflating the overall grade system, driving pressure on Profs to grade harder, and generally screwing up the whole system. Quit.

  17. Brett permalink
    February 8, 2011

    @Scott James Bell:

    “Should the person who studies hard, knows things, get a lesser grade? Or possibly fail? I think not.”

    Absolutely they should get a lesser grade if they turn in poor material.

    First, you don’t deserve an A because you “studied hard.” You aren’t getting graded on how many hours you put into studying. College grades aren’t an “A for effort” kind of award. You’re getting graded on whether you mastered the material. If I can do that with 10 hours of studying and you can do that with 1 hour, we both deserve an A. If I put in 10 hours and don’t master it, and you put in 1 hour and do, do I really deserve the same grade simply because I put in 10 times as much effort? Absolutely not. That fails to recognize my deficiency and it fails to honor your mastery.

    Second, it’s not enough to “know things,” as you vaguely put it. Mastering material means learning it and being able to use it and communicate it. You may understand complex philosophical concepts, but if you can’t discuss them with your peers, the knowledge is useless and yes, you should receive a grade that acknowledges that. Knowledge in a bubble serves no purpose, which is why teachers ask people to write papers in the first place: it demonstrates that you know the material AND can articulate the knowledge clearly.

    I went back to school at 30. Frankly, I was absolutely floored by how many students felt entitled to a decent grade simply by virtue of paying their tuition and showing up for (most of) the classes. I think cheating is just an extension of that laziness.

  18. Terry Harpold permalink
    February 8, 2011

    “While I can’t say I like the idea of people cutting and pasting instead of thinking up their own answers, it does need to be understood that this is a pretty strict standard. Have they ever cut-and-pasted a few sentences at any time in their entire college career?”

    Er, no. Not without attribution.

    And I don’t tolerate it in my students’ work, either. There is no slippery slope here, no gradual transition. Copying from another text, or reworking its contents into another form, without plainly indicating the source of the material, is plagiarism.

    Careful citation is ethical; the whole of research and scholarship rests on its practice. Plagiarism is theft and deception.

  19. Jesse permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Cheating is not a victimless crime. As an employer, I look at many factors when considering which candidate to hire; a college degree is an important one. Not because I care how much the candidate knows about his major (technical majors excluded), but because it tells me something about the work ethic and diligence of the candidate. If he had the drive and intelligence to succeed in a tough academic program, I’ll guess that he’d do the same in his job.

    But when I meet someone who doesn’t have the skills or the work ethic, but does have the degree and the GPA, I add that school to the list of programs I can’t trust. Now that kid who busts his hump to get the grades the honest way gets dragged down by his dishonest classmates.

    Schools who care about their reputations, and the hireability of their students, need to figure this one out.

  20. Robin Green permalink
    February 8, 2011

    @Scott James Bell:

    Language skills are vital to engineers of all types. If you can’t communicate with non-engineers on a project or in a team, you’re of little value. A language requirement in post-secondary education is vital for improving those skills, and showing prospective employers that you are able to communicate effectively.

    As a manager in a large engineering firm, when I interview new hires, I require them to bring a sample of their writing with them to the interview. If they can’t write, they don’t get the job. It’s a simple matter of time spent on a task. If I can’t read your reports and understand what you are getting at on the first pass, then I double the time I spend dealing with your output. If, worse yet, I can’t get it after a second reading, that time quadruples, because now I have to contact you for followup questions and answers. Even if the other guy is half as good as you at engineering, I either break even or come out ahead by 50% on time spent.

    @William Bailey:

    Not sure if you are serious, but that’s quite a rationalization you’ve put together. Possibly the Captain Kirk school of higher education? Either way, I’ll provide a very simple explanation for the kids in the back who continually complain that “I’ll never use that stuff” when someone tries to teach them something they don’t want to learn.

    Courses in school, from grammar school to undergrad work, are not intended to be job specific. They are intended to provide two things:

    First, a general base of knowledge from which to work. This is the focus in early years. This base of knowledge helps them be “well rounded” people, and, as they grow older, allow them to have some basis when choosing a profession.

    Second, a general improvement of the mind. This is the focus in later years. A great illustration of this is the football player. When taking the field, he uses everything he’s learned about football to help his team win. The plays, strategies, ability to throw, block, run all come into play. However, off the field, his training encompasses much more than that. Certainly he practices the on the field skills, but he also lifts weights, does aerobic exercise, swims and many other things to improve his general physical condition. At no time can we expect him to huddle up and call a swimming play, but swimming helps his overall condition, so he does it.

    The same goes with those “arbitrary fields of study” as you put it. As an engineer, you may never be required to design an anthropological model of a town. But the fact that you’ve studied how to do it and force your mind to think… wait for it… outside the box of your own little universe, makes you a better rounded, better performing, engineer.

  21. Cheryl permalink
    February 8, 2011

    Did any females respond to this article? I can’t tell from the posts which all seem to be from angry young (or not so young) men, some of whom cannot spell, write well, or even think coherently. Research and writing assignments demonstrate research and writing skills such as critical thinking, communication, organization, synthesis of information, to name a few. Teachers want to see students express themselves appropriately, use source materials properly, and present a quality product on time — all qualities that future employers are going to be looking for. Assignments are not arbitrary or a waste of time; they demonstrate and measure learning. When students cheat, that measurement is whacked and without meaning…for both the cheater and his/her fellow classmates.

  22. travelsonic permalink
    February 8, 2011

    “As more and more people are using the Internet illegally (i.e. limewire etc.),”

    Another reason why this study’s credibility, IMO, is shaky – Limewike, programs like it, are not illegal – its how you use them.

  23. February 8, 2011

    @travelsonic – That was a quote from a student and does not affect the study’s credibility. It doesn’t matter whether or not the use of Limewire is actually illegal. If undergraduates perceive the Internet as a vast network of illegal activity, that may legitimize their own illicit activities. The issue is the state of mind of undergrads – not reality. I suspect the two are often quite different.

  24. Gabriel J. Michael permalink
    February 8, 2011

    @Richard: You say that “None of the terms imply the Internet causes anything, including cheating. You are committing a classical logic error: correlation does not equal causation. Neither I nor the original author claimed that the Internet caused cheating – only that students were using the Internet to cheat.”

    But the author of the original article seems to suggest that an online culture where an ethos of “information wants to be free” pervades may contribute to the high frequency of observed cheating, and I think this is what bothers some people (myself included?). Selwyn writes, “there was also a strong sense from some respondents that online copying was a common feature of general internet use and therefore diminished any moral basis for self-restraint in the specific instance of copying academic material.” (475)*

    The two responses Selwyn cites do not, in my opinion, support this assertion. The first response mentions nothing explicitly about copying, but instead points to the fact that in the respondent’s opinion, the chance of getting caught is small. The second response mentions “copying facts”, which need not necessarily be plagiarism and almost certainly is not copyright infringement, since copyright inheres in expression, not idea. There is no copyright in facts.

    But more to the point, you write in a comment that:

    “This is very different from, “I browsed the Internet, found some interesting information, and then wrote about it.” This is copy/pasting others’ intellectual property or paying others to produce unique, but mis-attributed, work.”

    Intellectual property has much less to do with plagiarism than you, or most people, think. In fact, depending on the length of the work which was copied, it’s likely that only the 4% who copied entire documents would be liable for copyright infringement. Copying a few sentences, paragraphs, or even pages would almost certainly fall under fair use exceptions (in the U.S., I realize this study was done in Britain), even if done without attribution.

    Plagiarism and copyright infringement are very different issues. Plagiarism is primarily about attribution, non-attribution, and misattribution. Often plagiarism is not strictly speaking illegal (though in the U.S. it could become an issue under the Lanham Act under certain circumstances), and the vast majority of copyright infringement is not plagiarism. (There is an entirely different issue of so-called “moral rights” in intellectual property, but I don’t think we need to get into that here)

    Plagiarism is bad, period, but I don’t think conflating it with copyright infringement helps the issue any. It certainly gets folks interested in IP like me on your case 🙂

  25. Seth permalink
    February 8, 2011

    What is the criteria used for cheating? I’ve always cited my sources. Of course, I always get copies of professors previous tests to study with. I don’t consider it cheating, but some of the previous posters seem to.

  26. February 8, 2011

    @Gabriel There is copyright in the presentation of facts, though not the facts themselves. But this is an interesting distinction – I wonder to what extent this distinguishes respondents in engineering/math/sciences from the others.

    I think it is a stretch to say Selwyn was explicitly blaming internet culture – only saying that it might be a contributing factor. I don’t think we have convincing evidence of this either way.

    As for mixing infringement and plagiarism, that is a very interesting point! But consider this – I don’t know about other fields, but in Psychology, anything written in a paper is potentially publishable (which is run by often for-profit publishing enterprises). I believe in such cases even a few sentences would be considered infringement – republishing another person’s 2-3 sentences without citation? IANA IP expert though, so that’s a guess. Undergraduate psych courses are ostensibly with the purpose of training psychology researchers-to-be, so we (try to) hold them to the same standards.

  27. Gabriel J. Michael permalink
    February 8, 2011

    @Richard: “I believe in such cases even a few sentences would be considered infringement – republishing another person’s 2-3 sentences without citation? ”

    I doubt it. One of the prime fair-use criteria in U.S. copyright law is the “amount or substantiality” of what was copied. A few sentences copied from a 15-40 page article is only a fraction. Furthermore, fair use is easier to argue in scholarly/academic/research contexts, rather than retail or commercial contexts. The only good argument for such a scenario is something called “heart of the work”, which basically says, yes, you only copied a small amount, but that part was the most important part.

    But this is why IP law is so different from plagiarism… in any academic discipline if it were shown you copied 2-3 sentences without attribution (even if they were mundane sentences), you’d probably be more severely punished (as an academic) than if you were actually liable for infringement.

    Oddly enough, even if the student is plagiarizing, it’s probably more likely that the professor is the one who has committed copyright infringement by photocopying an article or book chapter for their class. Such is the state of IP law in our times!

  28. Kisa permalink
    February 8, 2011

    That educational cheating number 61.9% is similar to an independent study I made with an online video game.

    One day the site operator ran a contest that involved submitting a screenshot publicly. 1 in 3 players made zero effort to hide the fact that they have modified their game client “to make something easier”, regardless of it being cosmetic modification or premeditated cheating, I didn’t care. Then looking for cases of screenshots that had not been taken correctly (due to modifications) brought this up to around 2/3rds of the players who had submitted a screenshot. Now, not 100% of the players would try to win a contest this way, but the fact that a substantial portion of the submissions were outright bannable offenses according to the terms of service, yet the comment above holds true “I feel that the chances of being caught or the consequences of my actions are almost insignificant.” It didn’t help that the service provider doesn’t enforce their terms of service.

    If the powers that be, held a much more severe penalty for cheating, maybe things would change. However the prevailing attitude among 12-20 year olds in that game above is that “nobody cares about cheating”, and I fear that this is the same attitude they walk into high school, college and the workplace with.

    And having had past experiences confronting employees who are cheating their metrics, the same attitude comes up, the management doesn’t care as long as their numbers are good to their bosses.

    I’m deeply concerned (see China) that we are heading into a future where college and university degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on and neither is the research. The rush to outsource and make things cheaper (Tainted Milk and pet food,) is encouraging everyone that cheating is the only way to get ahead. How many people and animals must die before cheating is punished? Cheating should be seen as incompetency, and those found cheating should be kicked out of the school classes, or transferred out of the department or even fired from jobs.

    Maybe as early as elementary school, there should be classes that focus on copyrights, stealing, cheating, and the harm it causes. There are still people I meet who think nothing of stealing digital assets (music, television, movies, books, 3d models, stock photos) as they equate the internet with the public domain.

  29. Neil Selwyn permalink
    February 9, 2011

    An interesting discussion, and thanks for taking the time to consider this article (which is one of a growing body of work looking that the same issues and coming up, generally, with the same conclusions). As most people who’ve looked back to the original article have noted, we were not conflating correlation with causation. Also, we looked at non-internet forms of plagiarism … which were generally similar. Whether ‘cyber-cheating’ is a case of ‘old wine in new bottles’ is certainly a discussion point.

    Interestingly (or not), this was part of a larger study on a number of different forms of internet ‘deviance’. A fuller paper was published on these students’ use of the internet to engage in other forms of (mis)behavior – obtaining music/films, accessing pornography, assuming another’s identity. If I remember correctly (and it was nearly 3 years ago), then most people’s online (mis)behavior mirrored their offline behavior – except for the case of accessing pornography (where the internet was noticeably more prevalent). Again, we did not draw any speculative conclusions – but the patterns were interesting nevertheless.

    If you can access it, then the other paper is …

    Selwyn, N. (2008) ‘A safe haven for mis-behaving? An investigation of online mis-behaviour amongst university students’ Social Science Computer Review 26, 4, pp.446-465

  30. February 9, 2011

    Thanks for coming by, Neil. A large part of what I’m trying to do with this blog is to bring research results to the attention of people who would not otherwise be exposed to them. So I am glad this is getting some attention, even a few years after its publication. I will certainly take a look at your linked article.

    If you happen to come back by, I was curious about one issue, which I brought up in the write-up. Did you explicitly distinguish “offline” as such? For example, one of the sample items provided (on p.467) is “copied a few sentences from a book or article into an essay/assignment without citing them.” When I read the word “article,” my conceptualization includes articles found online – research databases, articles, etc. Did you define “article” for participants any more than this sentence implies? I am just wondering the extent to which your sample might have thought the same.

  31. Neil Selwyn permalink
    February 11, 2011

    When we designed the survey there were two discrete sections – one for online activities (which was defined as activities that you used the internet for) and offline activities (which we clarified as activities that did not involve using the internet, a computer or similar device). There was also a tongue-in-cheek reinforcement for the second section for anyone who didn’t get it along the lines of ‘Some people may see these as ‘real-life’ activities’.

    As the offline question section followed the online section ones we were pretty sure that there would be no confusion – certainly it didn’t come up in the piloting stages.

    Your questions raises the primary issue of relying on self-report methods … we were surprised by the apparent lack of honesty to an anonymous survey, but of course there are other methods that could/should also be used to triangulate these findings. What the best method is to research (dis)honesty is a tough call!

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