Content Theft and Online Scrappers

I noticed an unusual pingback on my WordPress dashboard today for a site linking to my recent post on Twitter for MacOS X. When I went to that site, I discovered that Apple-MacOS.com, a site not affiliated with Apple Computer, stole my entire post and gave it a byline of Daniel/Admin. Granted, they did provide a link back to my site at the bottom of the post, but that does not excuse their wholesale theft of my writing so that they can aggregate additional content for their site, which pushes advertising and makes them money.

If you encounter your writing getting ripped off by unscrupulous netizens, there are some remedies and preventative measures. WordPress provides some suggestions here, and Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday.com offers sample cease-and-desist and DMCA letters.

I will investigate who runs and hosts Apple-MacOS.com. Then, I will proceed with letter writing.

Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9% | Thoughts of a Neo-Academic

I found a link on Slashdot.org this morning here to a blog post by Richard N. Landers titled Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9%. Landers does an admirable job discussing some of the recent findings by Neil Selwyn in his article “‘Not necessarily a bad thing . . .’: a study of online plagiarism amongst undergraduate students.” Landers notes the evidence in the article of undergraduate cheating facilitated by the Internet while raising some questions about the definitions used in the study. Nevertheless, Selwyn’s study appears to have produced useful information regarding the way students use the Internet to cheat as well as pointing to student attitudes about cheating.

Landers summarizes some of the results by the type of offense and then cheating by students in the major disciplines:

So how bad was it in Selwyn’s sample?  61.9% (757 students) admitted to engaging in online plagiarism.  59% copied a few sentences, 30% copied a few paragraphs, 12% copies a few pages, 4% copied entire documents, and 3% purchased essays.  22.3% admitted to engaging in such behaviors regularly.

Cybercheating rates were higher for males and for poor students.  Contrary to prior research, rates were higher for more experienced students.  Perhaps most interesting to me was the rate breakdown by field of study.  Here they are in rank order of prevalence of at least a few sentences copied:

  1. Engineering and technology (72%)
  2. Computer sciences and mathematical sciences (71%)
  3. Social studies (64%)
  4. Business and administrative studies (63%)
  5. Law (62%)
  6. Creative arts and design (61%)
  7. Architecture, Building and Planning (60%)
  8. Medicine (58%)
  9. Natural sciences (57%)
  10. Humanities (46%)

The amount of undocumented and uncredited copying is alarming to me as a teacher in the humanities. According to some of the anecdotal remarks by students in the survey, there appears to be little concern that those students who cheat are doing anything substantially wrong and that there is little chance of their getting caught.

I am not only concerned about the results of Selwyn’s study. I am also concerned about the discussion about his study on Slashdot.org. If you read the comments on slashdot.org linked above, many commenters do not see a problem with copying the work of others–particularly in classes that are not in their major. I would assume that most readers of slashdot.org would fall into the first two groups of the study with the greatest prevalence of cheating: engineering and technology and computer sciences and mathematical sciences. Furthermore, their comments seem to be anti-interdisciplinarity: i.e., there does not appear for many commenters any benefit from their work in non-major courses. They do not realize that all of these classes do in some way contribute to their overall development as a professional. All of our experiences do things to our brain, but only if we engage those experiences directly. If some subjects are largely ignored thanks to cheating in one form or another, then the student isn’t getting the developmental benefits derived from that course. Perhaps the meta-work done by non-major courses isn’t always directly addressed by all teachers, but those things take place regardless. Simply knowing how to code or design an IC does not make someone an ideal candidate as a programmer or electrical engineer. This is even more true for those students at Research I institutions that primarily produce candidates aiming for management and upper-level management positions. There are a variety of skills that are needed by these students, and their major coursework is only one aspect of the total package that their future employers will be looking for. In addition to raw skill development, the translateability of skills and experiential development on the brain may lead to unquantifiable changes in the individual’s brain that gives her or him an edge in their field of work and life in general.

I believe that Selwyn’s article and the discussion on Lander’s website and Slashdot.org are pointing to larger issues than just cheating facilitated by the Internet. Perhaps there are systemic issues in the University that need to be addressed, and perhaps the interdisciplinarity of the humanities needs to be more fully developed and discussed so that students are more aware of why they need those extra classes and why it is important for those who cheat to participate in them rather than offload their responsibility through theft.

I’m Quoted in the Youngstown Tribune on Electronic Cheating

Bob Mackey gave my contact information to the future Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sarah Sepanek for a story she was writing a week ago on student cheating and the Internet.  I responded to her email questions about my experiences with plagiarism in my comp classes and what I know about the possibilities of student plagiarism in the Internet age.  Now, you can read Sarah’s reporting with a bunch of quotes from me in the Youngstown Tribune here.  And, here is a short excerpt from Sarah’s article, “Electronic Cheating”:

Jason Ellis, an English composition instructor at Kent State University, shared some strategies he and fellow instructors use to prevent cheating. He said that catching a student cheating is only the beginning. “The English department is very supportive of teachers who catch plagiarism and provide proof that plagiarism has taken place. However, I will also say that it is difficult to catch plagiarism,” said Ellis.

Ellis said he combines many tactics, such as knowing a student’s writing style, arranging the students so that he can view their computer screens, and running lines of students’ essays and test answers through Internet search engines to see if they are cases of plagiarism. “I pay attention to the writing style and any formatting quirks that might flag that essay as containing plagiarized work.”

To my future students:  I want to help each student become a better writer during each course, and I hope that you come to class with a desire to improve your writing for all of your future works during and beyond your time at KSU.  I’m more interested in each student giving their best effort in class rather than having a student represent another person’s writing as their own.  Giving your best effort will help you in the long run, while the latter is taking a chance on getting a good grade, failing, or expulsion.  Before you run afoul of plagiarism, come by my office and ask me about it if it isn’t clear enough in the syllabus.  I always stress to my students is that you come see me during office hours if you have questions or want extra time working with me on your writing.  It is up to each student to work hard on their own endeavors as well as make the effort to work with one’s writing instructor, who can guide the student through the writing process as well as develop a sense of one’s responsibilities as a writer.  One of a writer’s most important responsibilities is to not present another person’s work as their own, and to always cite the work of others when it is used in your own work.