Monday, November 03, 2003

Cheating is Easy, but lets look and see how it can be made both harder to do, and not worth doing, all in the context of helping students use the Internet and WWW better for the writing and learning they need to do.
Teaching Research, Teaching Writing, Teaching Academic Honesty
Naturally, these are all intertwined, especially now, with the Internet and WWW providing a place where teaching, writing, and research all actually converge. But how to talk about it and work it all into the classroom? My own inclination is to work make the issue discussable. Here's how I do that:
Reliable Sources
These are examples of reliable WWW sites -- good starting places for students and instructors to use. The main difference between starting here and finding something on Google? -- human editors made careful choices.

  • Research and Documentation Online at a comprehensive collection of research resources, including an overview of research starting places organized by subject matter and sorted by source type: book, WWW sites, and databases.

  • The Internet Public Library at provides an excellent, librarian and library science student collection of resources chosen with the same care and attention librarians bring to the sources they put on their shelves.

  • LitLinks at and
    TopLinks at give students a collection of vetted and annotated links organized by (for literature) author or genre and (for topical writing) by topic.

Beware of Erroneous Advice is a WWW site on plagiarism from, a company which offers an expensive plagiarism detection service. I'm drawing attention to it because they get a fundamental fact wrong (see bold font):

What is plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism is the use of another's original words or ideas as though they were your own. Any time you borrow from an original source and do not give proper credit, you have committed plagiarism and violated U.S. copyright laws. (See our What is Plagiarism? page for more detailed information on plagiarism.)

What are copyright laws?

Copyright laws exist to protect our intellectual property. They make it illegal to reproduce someone else's expression of ideas or information without permission. This can include music, images, written words, video, and a variety of other media.

At one time, a work was only protected by copyright if it included a copyright trademark (the © symbol). According to laws established in 1989, however, works are now copyright protected with or without the inclusion of this symbol.

Anyone who reproduces copyrighted material improperly can be prosecuted in a court of law. It does not matter if the form or content of the original has been altered -- as long as any material can be shown to be substantially similar to the original, it may be considered a violation of the Copyright Act.

For information on how long a copyright lasts, see the section below on the public domain.

The assertion in bold is simply not true. Plagiarism is separate from and different than copyright. The implication that if you plagiarize you can be prosecuted in a court of law is a stretch. It's that kind of over statement that needs guarding against. For a more balanced and reasoned distinction between copyright and plagiarism, see "Is it Plagiarism or Copyright Violation" by Susan Dunn at
How Student Papers Sometimes Get Written
The site's a hoot, and it's funny. And it's also a useful teaching tool, worth showing in class if you can do it, or sending students to look at and write about it for a class discussion on doing one's own work. to "Adventures in Cheating," by Seth Stevenson, a piece that samples term paper mills, and finds --no surprise-- that you get what you pay for (and even that ain't much). I wrote a response to this piece, which again, I find useful for teaching, that began, "Essentially, the free papers stink, and they're recycled. That is, free papermill sites often carry copies of the same papers." Rest of the note is here:
Teaching Source Evaluation and Research Skills

Before the Internet and World Wide Web information explosion, most teachers did not spend time teaching students to evaluate sources. Research projects sent students to the library, where it was assumed that sources would be valid. So an essential skill was never taught. But now it needs to be taught.

Fortunately, there are several good WWW sites to help teach those skills. All these sites apply criteria drawn from the types of questions librarians ask when deciding whether a book or other print source will be a good resource to have in the library.

The Bedford Researcher Book Companion Site: offers a research log where students and instructors can create accounts online. Students can start research projects, take notes, build a bibliography, and complete source evaluations. See also the tutorial on evaluating a WWW site at

Evaluating Web Resources : by Janet Alexander and Marcia Tate. This site organizes questions to ask about sites by site type -- informational, advertising, and so on.

Evaluating a Site: interactive forms students can complete and then print out and bring in as part of their homework.

Yahooligans' Teaching Internet Literacy: offers both a tutorial for teachers and activities for students.