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Cite unseen: Combating plagiarism in college means understanding why students cheat

(ARA) - Plagiarism is nothing new, and it is certainly not limited to university campuses. But students should be aware that colleges are on the lookout for plagiarized work and they have a variety of tools at their disposal to find it.

It seems that no school is immune from cheating. Cheating scandals at the college level abound, even at some of the best-known universities in the country. In 2006, the Pew Internet Study found that more than 70 percent of American college students surveyed admitted to serious cheating on written assignments.

At South University, which has 11 campuses and thousands of students who study fully online, combating plagiarism involves a combination of education and technology.

“We educate faculty and students about plagiarism and how, even if you get away with it now, its consequences can follow you long after graduation,” says Kate Sawyer, South University’s assistant vice chancellor for university libraries. She says examples often hit home with students, such as the case of former Beatle George Harrison losing a court case for plagiarizing a Chiffons song in the melody of his own “My Sweet Lord.”

Sawyer says that few students plan to cheat from the outset, and the ones who do are usually caught.

“Most students simply run out of time or do not understand the assignment well enough,” she says. “We talk to faculty members about the best way to structure assignments and deadlines, and we talk to students about ethics, time management and information literacy skills.”

Education is not the only tool colleges have. Today’s Web-savvy students can copy and paste passages – or buy entire papers – in seconds on the Internet, and colleges have struggled to catch up to the new trend.

Many times, instructors can tell easily when a student has lifted a passage. If a freshman suddenly starts writing like a Ph.D., it is an easy giveaway, for instance.

Another tool colleges are using to combat cheating is anti-plagiarism software. There are several tools on the market, but the largest and most-used is called Turnitin, which professors can use to match passages from student papers with existing content from billions of Web pages and millions of student papers and scholarly articles. Turnitin reports that more than 10,000 universities worldwide use the platform.

“We see anti-plagiarism software as a pre-emptive tool, and we encourage instructors to be upfront with students about it,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer believes that while the university’s use of the software has cut down on plagiarism, it should be just part of the approach.

“No software is perfect. But we think it is a useful tool when combined with the education of both students and faculty about plagiarism. In the end, students can see that it’s both better and easier to do their own work. That way they benefit from the education they receive, not just the grade on their transcript.”

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