I spent some of my weekend grading history essays online, and the exercise left me discouraged. Over and over I encountered the same sentences, slightly and often ineptly reworded. Even without turnitin.com’s originality reports, which I of course checked, it was easy enough to trace back to the sources: Wikipedia articles and an online “lecture” that obviously borrowed heavily from the same Wikipedia material.
I guess I should be grateful that Google funnels students so reliably to a few sources … and that students aren’t usually ingenious, or sneaky, enough to search farther afield.
What really puzzles — and worries — me, however, is that I don’t know how many students understand that copying, pasting, and then rewriting Internet paragraphs without citation is, in fact, plagiarism. These are good students. I don’t assume that they’re quick to embrace academic dishonesty. And after all, back in the Jurassic era we wrote our school reports using Encyclopedias. We didn’t have the cut and paste option, which made copying harder to accomplish but also harder to check. Still, I don’t remember rewriting encyclopedia articles by the time I got to AP history classes. If I’d had the Internet at my disposal, on the other hand …