Web plagiarism a serious problem in schools

LONDON (Reuters) - More than half of teachers in a survey said they thought plagiarism from the Internet is a problem.

A keyboard is seen in a file photo. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

Some students who steal essays wholesale from the Web, they said, are so lazy they don’t even bother to take the adverts off the cut-and-pasted text.

Fifty-eight percent of the teachers interviewed in the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) questionnaire had come across plagiarism among their sixth-form pupils.

Gill Bullen from Itchen College in Southampton for example said pieces handed in by two students were identical and “significantly better than either of them could have done”.

“Not only that, the essays given in didn’t quite answer the title question I had set.”

A teacher from Leeds said: “I had one piece of work so blatantly ‘cut and pasted’ that it still contained adverts from the Web page.”

Connie Robinson from Stockton Riverside College, Stockton on Tees, said: “With less able students it is easy to spot plagiarism as the writing style changes mid-assignment, but with more able students it is sometimes necessary for tutors to carry out Internet research to identify the source of the plagiarism.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “Teachers are struggling under a mountain of cut-and-pasting to spot whether work was the student’s own or plagiarism.”

She called for robust policies to combat plagiarism, and asked for help from exam boards and the government in providing resources and techniques to detect cheats.

The 58 percent of teachers who said plagiarism was a problem estimated over a quarter of work returned by their pupils included plagiarism.

But there was another side.

“I have found once students clearly understand what plagiarism is, its consequences and how to reference correctly so they can draw on published works, plagiarism becomes less of a problem,” said Diana Baker from Emmanuel College, Durham.

“I think the majority of students who engage in plagiarism do it more out of ignorance than the desire to cheat.

They really want to succeed on their own merit.”

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Steve Addison