The Internet gives the edge to good guys in academic cheating
December 3rd, 2008

One of the digital age education whipping boys has long been that the Internet makes student cheating easier. An essay by Greg Forster called “Universities Wimp Out on Fighting Cheaters” sets this matter straight. as Forster writes: the technology edge is really for the good guys. This is the crux of it:

Nowadays, everyone who’s concerned about academia talks incessantly about how computers and the Internet have made plagiarism so much easier. But not a lot of people are willing to talk (in public, at least) about the real source of the problem.

Let’s be clear: computers and the Internet aren’t the problem. They’re a big net gain for the fight against cheating. They do make the act of plagiarism easier, in the sense that there’s a wider array of things available for copying, and it’s less work to hit “cut” and then “paste” than it is to copy things out by hand. But computers also make catching plagiarists easier — and the technological edge for the good guys is a lot bigger.

There are some really impressive computer programs that will take your students’ essays one by one and search the web for similar text. Search engine technology is so powerful these days that it does an excellent job of rooting out plagiarism. You can’t even fool the machine by changing some of the words around — it can identify text that’s similar but not identical, allowing the teacher to compare the two and judge whether plagiarism has occurred.

If you wanted to change the words around enough to escape detection entirely, you’d have to essentially rewrite the paper. In other words, you’d end up doing the assignment honestly in spite of yourself.

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