Rise of the internet, fall of punishment: a great combo

Cheating in Cambridge

Recent surveys at Cambridge University reveal that about half of its students plagiarize, and only about one in twenty are caught. Sad, but not terribly surprising given the rise of the internet, wealthy students, and greedy essay-writing internet services. Interestingly enough, 82% reported taking material from Wikipedia (wow, how imaginative).

But this is where it gets truly bad:

“Joint Information Systems Committee found that even repeat offenders were unlikely to be thrown off courses for cheating. Only 143 students caught cheating were expelled out of 9,200 cases – despite almost all universities threatening expulsion as a sanction. The study found that the most common penalty was to have to re-submit work.”

Half of the students cheat, only one in 20 are caught, and of those who were caught, only one in 64 cases resulted in expulsion (and those might well have been repeat offenders). Their punishment? A second chance to turn in the assignment, well after the stressful situation that prompted them to plagiarize in the first place has died down.

Unfortunately, it’s true here as well as in England. I have found out the hard way that punishment for plagiarism comes only if an instructor sticks to his policies; the instructor is put on the defensive, and not the student. It was once suggested to me that I let a plagiarizing student redo his work to make the situation into a “learning experience.” Funny, I think that’s what I’d intended the first time I wrote the assignment . . .


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One Response to Rise of the internet, fall of punishment: a great combo

  1. highnegatives says:

    When I was at Oxford, a LOT of British students would copy and paste entire sections of books into their work. I have no idea whether they credited the authors or not, but I knew it happened frequently.

    The justification for this was simply that the students weren’t graded on those papers at all. Their objective was to end the 8 week tutorial with a set of papers that they would keep to use later as a rough sketch and outline for their final exams in their third and final year. They didn’t receive grades for their coursework or for the classes.

    While that doesn’t excuse not crediting authors for their work, their tutors often didn’t even read the student papers and it was mostly just to make sure they weren’t BS-ing their way through the one-on-one chit-chat (i.e. tutorial) about what they covered (or did not cover) in their research and reading. If the Cambridge system is similar to the Oxford system, I’m not suggesting that the methods the students use is appropriate, morally correct, or results in the best scholarship, but I do think it carries a slightly different tone than the cheating we see here in the US.

    (Also, as Americans at Oxford, we obviously operated on a modified system, since we weren’t there for the full 3 years and had to be graded in some way for our US institutions. Thus, our papers *were* graded and obviously we did not paste entire sections of books into our papers.)

    Now, the use of Wikipedia as a common source is an even more disturbing issue… that is just downright alarming.

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