Plagiarism Prevention Gets Serious
Nov 17, 2010 Teaching 3991 Views
Sometimes it takes a big name to draw attention to a problem. This phenomenon is evident in the entertainment industry. A-list celebrities from George Clooney to Bono have used their considerable clout to refocus the world's attention on issues that may otherwise go under the radar. From fighting poverty and disease in Africa to highlighting the acts of genocide in Darfur, many of these efforts are intended to help bring aid to a pressing issue. Sometimes, however, missteps and irony can carry the same weight as a familiar face. In 2003, The New York Times, a newspaper founded on principles of absolute journalistic integrity, was caught up in a plagiarism scandal. Then reporter Jayson Blair had submitted articles that lifted large segments from an article published in the San Antonio Express-News written by reporter Macarena Hernandez. Plagiarism had hit the front page, both literally and figuratively. This incident helped refocus national and international attention on creative integrity and intellectual ownership. The spotlight turned on plagiarism and members of the academic community that helped train the reporters, authors and intellectual leaders of tomorrow took note.
Since the dawn of the digital age, content creation and research have been moving targets. Libraries began to take a backseat to online catalogs of vast information resources. Instant access and unlimited breadth of topics became a mouse click away for most of the modern world. Many benefits arose from the computer-centric culture. Word-processing simplified essay creation, E-mail made submitting articles painless and accessing informational resources became painless. These positive developments were stalked by less well-intentioned applications of new technology. Dedicated sites cropped up that provided instant access to papers on a variety of subjects for a small fee. For student looking for an easy way out of putting in their time, the temptations were there. The simplicity of copying files from one computer to another also helped facilitate the sharing and stealing of original work between students. Educators were facing increasing challenges in trying to safe guard the notions of academic integrity once so firmly instilled in a previous generation.
As the Jayson Blair fiasco served to strengthen the education community's fight against Plagiarism, new technology was being developed to actively fight the problem. New plagiarism checkers went to market that allowed educators to scan a paper and crosscheck the content against vast proprietary databases and a wide breadth of online content. These new tools allowed professors to pinpoint suspected cases of plagiarism and even provided links to probable sources. With the firepower of new plagiarism detection tools and a renewed focus on academic integrity many high schools and universities made a concerted effort to further educate their student body about plagiarism, proper citation methods and academic integrity as a whole.
With the renewed awareness of academic integrity, students began to seek new ways to empower themselves and protect their work from citation issues. As online sources became a larger part of the general research process the potential for oversight began to grow. With the expansion of online resources and less emphasis on actually books, the citation process became increasingly more complicated. Once again, technology began to offer a solution that students were looking for. Companies that built the original plagiarism checkers for professors began to offer repurposed online plagiarism checkers designed for students. These new programs allowed students to scan their work prior to submitting the documents and helped them pinpoint any potential trouble areas that required additional citation efforts. While the new tools were not designed to let students get away with plagiarism, they did offer protection against any citation oversights students made during the writing process.
Some may say the Jayson Blair incident was a travesty for journalistic integrity, but ultimately the attention helped cauterize the efforts of the academic community to help fight the potential for future plagiarism cases and empower their students with proper citation techniques. Technology helped fill in the gaps and equip both educators and students to battle the pitfalls of citation in a digital age. Even the New York Times got in on the act by publishing a dedicated column on new cases of plagiarism. In the long run the outcome was a win-win for both journalism and education as a whole.