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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK
Net students 'think copying OK'
A student surfs the web on a home PC
Students find it easier than ever to copy work from the Internet
Students of the "Google generation" often do not understand what plagiarism is, says an expert on the issue.

Many of the new generation of students raised on the internet see nothing wrong with copying other people's work, says Professor Sally Brown.

Prof Brown, of Leeds Metropolitan University, will tell an international conference that the net has made copying and pasting too easy.

She suggests personalising assignments would make plagiarism difficult.

Prof Brown, pro vice-chancellor for assessment, learning and teaching at Leeds Metropolitan, will be speaking in Gateshead this week.

Net wise
Wikipedia is a giant, free online encyclopaedia to which anyone can contribute.
Google is the most popular net search engine. It has an index of billions of web pages.

In her presentation for the conference, she says students do not necessarily see anything wrong with copying other people's work.

She says they say things like "if they are stupid enough to give us three assignments with the same deadline, what can they expect?" and "I just couldn't say it better myself".

Some do not understand about the rules while others know there are rules but get them wrong, she says.

Widespread problem

They might have poor academic practices - not keeping good records of where the material they were using came from, for example, she adds.

"They are post-modern, eclectic, Google-generationists, Wikipediasts, who don't necessarily recognise the concepts of authorships/ownerships."

Research indicates that plagiarism - whether done as deliberate cheating or not - is widespread in UK universities.

And all of them had a problem with it, Prof Brown says.

"The ones that say they haven't got a problem have got their heads in the sand."

She outlines four basic strategies for tackling plagiarism:

  • try to deter and punish
  • make the penalties known and try to educate the students on the issue
  • try to "design it out" - her preferred option - for example by setting assignments that required personal knowledge or keeping a diary or showing work in progress
  • change the culture in which students are working - the hardest option

'Bullying tactics'

A big issue - but one hard to tackle - was students who deliberately paid someone else to produce work for them, Prof Brown says.

She says she has even heard of students bullying other people into doing their work.

But group working could also present problems.

"There is a very wobbly line between collusion, co-operation and cheating," Prof Brown says.

"And students don't know where the wobbly, fuzzy lines are."

Increasingly, software is being used to detect work that is similar to other people's.

But Prof Brown has this warning: "The good plagiarists aren't caught."

The JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service's second international plagiarism conference is at The Sage, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, from Monday to Wednesday.

How the internet has facilitated plagiarism

Student plagiarism 'on the rise'
11 Feb 05 |  Education
Exams agency probes web cheating
11 Jun 06 |  Scotland
Students 'admit copying essays'
16 Mar 06 |  Education

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