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What’s not clicking? Copy-paste culture

On student plagiarism and how to prevent it

Are our own thoughts really ours?

While we like to think that they are, there is a part of us that has a feeling that maybe they aren’t. Maybe our ideas are derivative. Maybe all ideas are. Are we, ourselves, just a collection of derivative ideas? Okay, we’re getting a little too philosophical here.

While derivative work is a bit of a grey area we can acknowledge that flat out plagiarism is wrong.

We knew when a Filipino senator copied a speech and got it translated thinking nobody would notice if it was in a different language was wrong. Same with a certain high-profile businessman who resigned from his post after it was suggested that portions of a commencement speech he delivered came from the words of J.K Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and Conan O’Brien.

And then, on the Internet, everything, from memes to lines from Wikipedia to photos, can be “copy-pasted” with a couple of clicks. While it may not seem like it is on the same level as a senator’s address or a commencement speech, it still stems from unethical classroom habits. Unacknowledged cases among students can breed a “copy-paste” culture.

Not a lot of students pay attention to this. And sometimes their teachers don’t either. We cannot expect educators to scan every book in the library and every page of the Internet to cross-reference with every work submitted to them by a student.

It is easy to think plagiarism is a common, minor issue in a sea of violations. But the extent of this fraudulent activity doesn’t stop with the awarding of unfairly good grades. There are more real-world consequences.

As we enter a digitally-empowered education system, we can expect to see a rise in plagiarism cases.

To that extent, we need to address the issue and offer solutions that do not compromise the students’ research skills. According to Jack Brazel, online detection service Turnitin’s head of business partnerships in Southeast Asia, this means starting at the root of the problem.

“History is littered with examples of student plagiarism, which has resulted in degrees being revoked and, in many cases, lost jobs,” he says, highlighting that plagiarism that occurs while the person was still a student can haunt them years later, even when they are already part of the workforce. “Many times, the most important part of a plagiarism story isn’t the outcome, but that it happened at all. Reminding students that plagiarism is forever can be a powerful reminder to those tempted to take shortcuts.”

Students ought to know what the real cases for both the copycat and the owner entail, which often involves hypothetical consequences. In the field of arts and culture, for instance, copyright infringement, or pirating the works of others, impose legal repercussions.

“For example, if a novelist is accused of plagiarism, what action should the publisher take? Recall the book? Cancel the publishing contract? Correct the plagiarism in later editions? The answer depends heavily on one’s views on plagiarism and the nature of the case itself,” adds Brazel.

After one or two conversations, there are still a lot of things to understand, but it’s best to shape the everyone’s general mindset in passing their own content.

“It ensures that students are equipped with the moral code to use, cite, and acknowledge academic sources, write original work, and develop critical thinking skills,” says Brazel. “After all, addressing plagiarism isn’t just about preventing ‘cheating,’ it is about giving students the skills and understanding they need to excel in whatever career they choose.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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