The advent of technology and internet in the last decade has opened up several avenues for unlimited information access. This along with the increasing academic pressures has led students to resort to plagiarism at an alarming rate (Elliot, 2004). The problem of plagiarism in the academic context can no longer be ignored as it is hampering the creativity and intellectual capacities of students. Overall, there has been a growing concern and an increase in awareness to find ways to counteract plagiarism.
Thesis Problem Statement
It has been said that internet hinders the creativity of students and encourages intellectual laziness. This paper intends to explore the negative effects of internet on the creative thinking abilities of the students and find some ways to counteract it.
Internet and Plagiarism
While the concept of plagiarism is not new, it is certainly more widespread now than before. Plagiarism basically means copying someone else’s work and claiming it as own without giving due credit to the original author (Jones, 2007). With the advent of technological era, information is easily accessible and the temptation to pass off someone else’s work as one’s own is high. There is no limit to the amount or type of information that is available on internet covering every subject imaginable. While this kind of information accessibility is advantageous in several ways and facilitates learning in some scenarios, it also leads to several problems with plagiarism especially in the academic context. Due to the availability and ease of access of the information without any restrictions, the effort to plagiarise is much less compared to earlier days when students had to go through a laborious process to get access to the relevant resources in order to copy. In this context, the impact of internet on cheating can be considered extremely high and is known as digital or cyber plagiarism.
Impact of internet
According to the NEC Research Institute, there are more than 1.4 billion pages on the Internet with 25 new pages being added every second (Dyrli, 2000). Due to this huge database of information, it is very easy to find papers and information related to the academic subjects This has led to a rapid increase in the percentage of cheating both intentional and unintended by students. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Academic Integrity of Duke University, plagiarism due to internet has increased fourfold in the last 6 years (Vencat, 2006). Several other studies have substantiated this claim of rising incidents of plagiarism and the blurring of moral lines among students.
Reasons and Effects of Plagiarism
Before delving deep into the effects of plagiarism and ways to prevent it, it is important to understand the reasons for it. While the availability of information is certainly a forerunner, there are several other reasons which lead to it as well, the main one being the academic pressure to which students are subjected and the emphasis on good grades in today’s competitive world (Elliot, 2004). However, since the focus of this paper is digital plagiarism, the main reasons why internet encourages plagiarism are stated below:
1. Access to unlimited information through websites and search engines.
2. The ease with which content can be copy-pasted as compared to the earlier traditional methods of copying the material by hand.
3. Difficulty in detecting plagiarism due to the sheer amount of information against which a particular essay or paper needs to be compared.
4. Lack of standards and criteria making it difficult to pin down a work as exact plagiarism.
Due to all the reasons mentioned above and many others, the incidents of cheating are steadily on the rise since the last decade. While a lone instance of plagiarism is negligible, massive increases such as these indicate a self-destructive trend among the student community and are becoming a cause of worry (Lathrop & Foss, 2000). Cheating students not only hamper their own intellectual growth, they also make it that much more difficult for honest students to get their due. Students may gain admission to courses which they do not deserve by using the grades obtained through wrongful means and this creates a permanent impact on the future of the society. This impact becomes especially dangerous if a cheating student decides to get into fields such as medicine, law etc. Also, if a particular student who plagiarises regularly receives good grades, it might compel others to do the same and hence the problem will continue to spread. Considering all these factors, it has become imperative for the academic community to take a strong stand against plagiarism.
The anti-plagiarism industry has been gaining more and more prominence in the last few years and educational institutions have started enforcing very strict guidelines to ensure that students do not cheat. Most of the institutions mete out severe punishments to offenders. Having said that, the subject of academic integrity is a debatable topic and since all the information available on internet is considered public, it is difficult to define intellectual property in a precise manner. Creating awareness is the first step towards preventing plagiarism and most institutions are taking steps to ensure awareness among students. There are also several resources available on the internet which give information about what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. Teachers are resorting to the use of plagiarism detection softwares to catch offenders.
As mentioned before, there are several reasons which ultimately culminate in plagiarism. Apart from the ones mentioned in the previous section, there are also several internal factors which lead students to cheat. Procrastination, poor planning and time management, peer pressure, lack of subject knowledge etc are some of the contributing factors (Elliot, 2004). Sometimes, students are genuinely not aware of the intricacies of citing works and thereby make mistakes which constitute accidental or unintentional plagiarism. However, the fact that the plagiarism was unintentional does not make it acceptable and is still considered wrong.
To avoid plagiarism, it is important to tackle the root of the issue. While the institute and teachers can play an important role in creating awareness and challenging assignments which encourage creative thinking, at the end of the day, the moral responsibility lies with the students and it is up to them to understand the consequences of cheating and make an effort consciously to avoid it (Martin, 1984). There are several ways in which students can contribute towards reducing such cases. It is important to create self-awareness by studying all the plagiarism related policies and literature provided by the university and also to understand the consequences of not following the rules as most of the universities subscribe to anti-plagiarism softwares lately. Along with policies, it is also important for students to understand the ethics behind the policies. There are several writing formats and referencing styles followed by universities which provide guidelines on giving credit to the original source and students should familiarize themselves with the ones accepted by their own institutes (Kirszner & Mandell, 2004). It is a good idea to ask for help whenever there is any confusion about citing.
Also, it is of utmost importance for students to develop good time management skills and plan their coursework in a proper manner as lack of time is one of the main factors for cheating. A good internal schedule with enough time allocated for understanding the subject matter can go a long way in preventing the temptation to cheat. By gaining a good understanding of the subject matter, it is possible to analyse what has been written on the subject by others and extract the relevant data from it rather than blind copying. Last but not the least, it is extremely important to cite all the information which has been borrowed from other sources (Neville, 2007).
Developing Creative Thinking
During his days as the editor of the Forbes magazine, Malcolm Forbes once said that “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one”. This quote aptly describes the actual intent behind the design of academic subjects and the related coursework. It has been said that the ability to think and react logically is critical for a person’s personal as well as professional success. While the internet or any other literary resource might provide the information and the facts relevant to a coursework, they do not serve the actual purpose of a course. Most of the times, the aim of a coursework, be it an essay or a dissertation is to test the subject knowledge and critical thinking abilities of the student. Mere copy pasting does not in any way, reflect the thinking abilities of a student. The internet can be a powerful source of data and information as long as the student learns to process the data and understand the information independently. The information available can be used more productively if the students relate it to the task at hand and build upon it.
There are several ways to develop critical thinking abilities though it is not possible to simply learn them. Every assignment can be broken down into logical chunks which encourage thinking and analysing on the students’ part. Students can also participate in class room discussions to the maximum possible extent to understand various viewpoints and relate them to one’s own views. Participating in discussions and taking notes at appropriate places ensures that the original authors are always credited for their work. This also encourages asking questions and raising doubts as and when they arise thereby helping the students understand the subject better. Understanding the subject ensures that students do not blindly accept the facts presented by someone else without questioning the logic behind it or without asking for evidence (Martin, 1984).