Stopping Plagiarism Takes More Than Software

This article caught my attention because at my institution we’ve never adopted software to detect plagiarism. I’m sure that detection software can have a deterrent affect for some students, but as the plagiarism researcher profiled in the article points out students are savvy when it comes to doing just enough to avoid detection. I confirmed this with my college-age son. They use a well-known plagiarism detection software product at his university. When asked if it works he replied that students determined to cheat can do so any number of ways, from changing what they’ve cut and pasted from internet sites just enough to get past the detection software to outright paying other students to write their research papers for them.

The simple advice offered in this article makes good sense, but it’s much easier to preach it than it is accomplish it. Sure, if parents and teachers made it clear from early on that plagiarism is unacceptable it might have an impact on young, impressionable students. By the time they get to college it’s probably too late to change bad habits. That where the researcher’s other observation, the one faculty at my institution are working at, is worth more attention. It’s the prevention versus detection debate. Developing more creative assignments that avoid repetition, that require the use of local or locally unique resources, that call for a series of drafts, and that have higher expectations for research methods and content can all make plagiarism more difficult. But, these methods require more front-end development and greater effort from faculty. It’s certainly easier to require the same term paper assignment year in and year out, and then let a piece of software catch those who weren’t clever enough to mask their plagiarism.

Academic librarians have certainly been doing their part to combat plagiarism on their campuses. Through workshops, creative digital learning materials, and efforts to promote sensible research, we are on the frontlines of helping faculty to help our students to avoid plagiarism. But if the researcher has correctly determined that plagiarism, like many problem behaviors, must be confronted early on by parents and teachers, then we may need to realize combatting plagiarism will be an ongoing challenge.

Who Needs A College Campus

This seems to be the week for prognostication in higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education devotes quite a few pages to an exploration of what higher education could be like in 2015 – with positive and negative predictions for each topic covered. While that’s worth while reading I think another article that will get far less attention is also worth consideration. It’s titled “Who Needs a College Campus?”, authored by David Gelernter, and it appears in the current issue of Forbes magazine. I cannot provide a link because this article is available only to those who wish to register for Forbes online. I imagine that many of your libraries carry the print edition (Nov. 28) where it can be found on page 42.

Gelernter provides a vision of higher education in which an online free market rules. He predicts that scholars will create and market online courses available for individual purchase. Students could access courses from wherever they wish; there will be no need to affiliate with a single institution. Students will own the course and access the content as often as they wish. He sees the development of degree-granting institutions that will inspect a student’s credentials, administer tests, and determine if one is worthy of a B.A. or other degree. Of course, his escape clause is that there will always be top tier universities for those who can afford them. But for the rest of us he sees an electronic marketplace with affordable, convenient access to higher education. He doesn’t reflect on the fact that for many students higher education is a social and cultural rite of passage and learning experience as much as it is about earning a degree.

But if trends are pointing to an increasingly unaffordable higher education it suggests that an electronic marketplace – which technology certainly makes possible – is not completely out of the question. His model suggests you could also have a few, free-floating electronic academic libraries to serve the needs of those who pursue totally online education. While it doesn’t necessarily mean the demise of all physical libraries attached to traditional insititutions, who is to say that a significantly transformed online higher education marketplace couldn’t eliminate many of our institutions as well as our libraries. Will many of us end up working as toll-free support operators for some global online library? What do you see in your crystal ball?

I Heart Librarians

If you’re feeling underappreciated, see this academic librarian love-fest in Inside Higher Ed. The author touches on the gendered nature of librarian work and wonders aloud about how men feel about being in a predominantly female profession. I’ve found that although male librarians often tell people they became librarians for the girly reason of “helping people,” the real reason is that they’re in it for the power. Who among us hasn’t felt the surge of testosterone after sitting at the reference desk, taking on all comers, and summoning up the skills to answer any question, from any discipline? Last night I answered a question about the ecology of the Pine Barrens. Now for a humanities librarian, that’s a rush.

An Appreciation Of The College Newspaper

I came across this article by way of Library Link of the Day. It’s a good read from a student who admits his love of technology, but also acknowledges there are flaws and hidden dangers in his obsession. Like many student-authored articles I’ve read in college newspapers, when the topic of research comes up the library is the butt of a joke or its irrelevance is duly noted. This one is no exception:

“How did students do research without Google, Wikipedia and Lexis-Nexis? Are you telling me they used “books”? I guess that means they actually had to go to the library and have a proficient understanding of the Dewey Decimal system, two things any self-respecting student of the modern age avoids.”

About two weeks ago I started using INFORM.com on an experimental basis as part of my higher education “keeping up” regimen. I found that they have a nice college and university section under “Hot Channels”. In addition to providing articles from national and regional newspapers, it also provides content from college newspapers. The stories from the college papers offer some genuine insight into the latest issues brewing in higher education, but it’s also a good way to come across student opinions and the occasional article about the state of research for college students. It would be a shame to miss out on many of these articles.

At my institution, Philadelphia University, we have no regular student newspaper. As a mostly professional/career-oriented institution, we lack a cadre of aspiring writers and journalists. There is talk of trying to get at least a weekly student-run campus paper established. I hope those of you who have the luxury of being a member of a campus community that offers a student newspaper take some time to appreciate its availability.