District Administrator (formerly Curriculum Administrator), October 2001

Cheating on assignments by students is commonplace, and by some measures the problem is getting worse. Clearly, the web has eased the ability of students to find information and copy it without proper citation, or any citation at all. The question now is, how can this be combated?

Educators are wrestling with this problem, and they offer a few solutions that, in combination, may be able to stem the tide:

– Make sure kids understand. First and foremost is to make sure that students understand what constitutes cheating, as compared to legitimate online group assignments or web-based research. Clarity about these matters must start with elementary school students, and the rules of right and wrong must be spelled out and discussed repeatedly. Getting students to discuss academic honesty makes them part of the process and will go a long way toward policing all students.

– Assign personalized projects. Second, assignments can be modified to make cheating more difficult. In-class work, for example, can be monitored more closely than homework. Also, many assignments can be personalized. For instance, each student can be tasked with providing information based on his or her experiences. Assignments can also incorporate requirements in which students express their opinions or viewpoints, which are more difficult to borrow from other sources.

– Make use of preventative technology. Third, the educational software most often used by students now comes with features that make the unattributed use of information much more difficult. When a student uses a sentence or phrase from Microsoft Encarta, for example, a reference is automatically included in the student’s work.

– Use anti-plagiarism software. Finally, anti-plagiarism software continues to improve. One of the newest packages rising in popularity is called Turnitin.com. This software rates each scanned paper by grading the amount of overlap it displays with compared text, which helps teachers decide if a student’s work has crossed the line into plagiarism.