Plagiarism in Online Education

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These days, with all of the information that is readily available on the internet, and many students opting to obtain education from online colleges and universities, the prevalence of plagiarism is on the rise. In a 2005 study conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity (www.academicintegrity.org), it was concluded that 40% of the 50,000 undergraduates asked admitted to having plagiarized from the internet. This is a very large jump over a span of six years, from only 10% in 1999 (Badke, 2007). It is becoming clear that educators, as well as students, need to become more familiar with what plagiarism is, what constitutes it, and how it can be avoided in order to ensure students are getting the most out of their online learning experience. Plagiarism is committed when someone takes the words or ideas of another and passes them off as his own. It is, essentially, intellectual stealing, and is not only ethically wrong, but prohibited by all educational establishments. Many people commit plagiarism without even realizing it. They may follow all the rules, paraphrasing, summarizing, etc., but not properly cite the source where the idea was derived. Unfortunately, ignorance is not an acceptable defense. It is the same, for example, as being pulled over for driving 65 mph and telling the officer you did not know the speed limit was 35. The officer will most likely still issue a citation for speeding. Likewise, innocently taking credit for the work of another is plagiarism all the same (Alsaffar, 2006). More commonly, plagiarism is committed knowingly by the student and as a result of sheer laziness. In the vast world of the internet, information abounds for online students, as does the opportunity to reproduce, distribute and even share papers and projects. Students often find the desired information on the web, then cut and paste it into emails, class forums and assignments. Term paper websites are also out there, as well, advertising A+ papers for sale for a nominal fee per page (Villano, 2006). Plagiarism is not only prohibited, but hurtful to students for a variety of reasons. First of all, it violates federal copyright laws. Many students are blissfully unaware that information found on the web is, by default, copyrighted the moment it is put into a fixed format. What this means, is that any information on a publicly-accessible website is just as protected as an article found in an academic journal, and should be treated as such and cited appropriately. In the light of recent lawsuits against students infringing on the copyrighted material of record companies and movie studios, it is in the individual’s best interest to always give credit where credit is due. This should not, however, discourage students from taking full advantage of all of the information that is out there. Copyright laws were intended to promote the expansion of education and the enrichment of the population, while protecting the origination and originator of the words and ideas (Alsaffar, 2006). Plagiarism is also damaging to the students who commit it, as well as to the students who take the time to research and complete their own work. A student who is lazy and does not put in the full effort, is only hurting himself in the long run, because he is not thinking on his own and taking away the intended education from the assignment. On the other side of the spectrum, the student who puts in an honest effort and submits an original paper may receive a lower score than she actually deserves. This is often the case if plagiarism goes undetected and raises the bar for all others to receive an A on the paper. Legitimate work may seem inferior when compared to a paper that has sampled the ideas of more advanced and sophisticated authors (Villano, 2006) When considering the effects of plagiarism and copyright in an online environment, students need to proceed with caution. In an article titled, “Copyright Concerns in Online Education: What Students Need...
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