Thursday, September 20, 2012

Don't shoot the piano-player

Copy Find Paste by shakakahnevan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  shakakahnevan

There's a steady stream of headlines about cheating in education. It's mostly cases of plagiarism and an underlying tone in many of the reports is that this is rising due to the use of computers in schools and universities. We bemoan today's cut-and-paste culture and many are increasingly sceptical of online examination. It's easy to blame technology for the increase in plagiarism but you seldom read about the technology that detects the cheaters. Is plagiarism really on the rise or are we getting better at discovering it?

Back in the good old days when I went to university I suspect that cheating was just as frequent, if not more so. Today a teacher can use anti-plagiarism software to check a student essay but in the past the teacher had to be very sharp to detect any signs of cheating. A clever student could certainly cut and paste from old essays and more obscure journal articles and run very little risk of being detected.

We regularly read about politicians, business people, celebrities and sports stars who cheat and cut corners to win the big deals and honours. Therefore the idea that education would be any different is absurd. If there are material rewards at stake then some people will be tempted to cheat. The greater the rewards the greater the temptation. It's not the net that causes people to cheat, we've been good at that for centuries.

1 comment:

  1. In the old days students would need to discuss the work with their teachers. If a student cannot explain what he/she meant to say in some paragraph, one does not need to be extremely sharp to understand that it was not own work. The method still works. It takes time, but I think it is worth it. If a student cannot explain his text, I will not give a passing grade.