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Copy. Paste.

Velany Fernandes | August 06, 2003 11:03 IST

How students abuse the Net while writing class assignments

"How will we ever find essays on these topics?"

Professor TV Matthew, smiling in reply to this question from his students, says: "You don't have to find essays on these topics, you have to write essays on them."

Assignments and essays are an integral part of a student's life. Read, research, think and write. That's what the teacher says. Search, read, copy and paste. That's what students do.

Partha Rao, who graduated last year from R A Podar College of commerce and economics, explains what most students do: "Go to Google. Type query. Open 5-6 pages. Copy-paste the information in a word document. Edit. Print. Submit. The end."

Partha isn't worried about getting caught either: "It's all about editing. You have to make sure that no more than a few sentences are from the same site."

Through intelligent editing, students meld several online essays into one 'original' version. Sushil Andrades, an arts graduate from Pune, shares a simple technique: "Look for essays by searching for the broad topic. But when compiling your own, use only those parts of each essay that are relevant. In this way, you can zero in on a particular angle and write a full-blown essay on it."

Sushil reveals that when he had to write an essay on the theme of blindness in Shakespeare's King Lear, he copied only those portions that were pertinent to the theme, edited them and then submitted his essay.

Not all students edit the material they find online. Sasha Devasy, a management student from Mumbai, says, "The Net provides insights into topics that the industry expects us to know. If we get all we need, we just copy-paste it."

Such careless methods can sometimes land students into trouble. Binita Patel, while studying at a Mumbai college, was caught trying to pass off a plagiarised essay as her own. In a last-minute attempt to present her assignment on time, she copied the first relevant essay she found via Google and submitted it. The next day, her professor called her aside and showed her a copy of that very essay, in a library book. Binita had to forfeit 10 marks and rewrite the assignment.

Neelima Das, a history teacher, says of a submission she received from a 9th standard student: "I read the first page and found it familiar. I went home, searched my computer's history and found an article I had browsed a few days ago. The student had copied the article almost word-for-word." She let the student off with a warning.

Like Neelima, most teachers and professors are aware of Internet plagiarism, but tend to let off erring students, with just a rap on their knuckles. Others don't object to students lifting material from the Net.

Says Prof B Mathen, who teaches marketing at St Francis Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, "Even if students copy from the Net, they have to read through the material they are copying, to check if it's applicable. In that case, I don't mind if it is copy-pasted, because even that involves reading and learning."

Mathen's colleague, Professsor Sunil Kulkarni, considers Internet plagiarism a necessary evil: "Let's be frank. Most students' work is copy-paste. But there's not much we can do. We can't expect students to go through ten different books for one single assignment."

Professor Ruby Pavri, who teaches psychology at St Xavier's, Mumbai, disagrees, "The process of looking for a book and then browsing through it for information you need, is still an invaluable learning experience."

To teachers who want to curb online plagiarism, she says, "It is up to us professors to give assignments that require a certain amount of thinking and application, rather than just collecting information."

The practice of copy-paste, though common, is not ubiquitous. Sanjay Rozario, a management student from Mumbai, does not believe in using online essays as his own. He uses the Net to find data and figures that can supplement his work instead.

Pushkar Chogle, an engineering student, does not use the copy-paste method while writing assignments. It's only for projects, where he needs data about the latest developments in the industry, that he uses information available online.

While students like Sanjay and Pushkar use the Net for permissible reference, others are wary of using online material at all. Lindsay Pereira, pursuing a doctorate in English literature, says, "I avoid taking any help from online sources, because I remain unsure about their authenticity. Plagiarism is rampant. So using something online, may actually amount to plagiarising already plagiarised work"

Like every other facility, the Internet can be used or abused. But the medium is a great leveller. If it's easy for Net-savvy students to rip off essays and articles, it's equally simple for Net-savvy teachers to catch them.

All teachers need to do, is key in the relevant terms in a search engine. With software and online services available to detect plagiarism, students who rely heavily on the Internet for material, could get caught in a web of their own making.

Some names changed on request.

Additional resources:

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