Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The Oxford American Dictionary defines plagiarism as taking and using someone else's ideas, writings or inventions as one's own. Reporters have done it. Lots of them, I'm afraid; historians, too. Politicians, of course, even university presidents, and it's possible that high school and college students have taken a page from those examples. But whatever the reason, plagiarism is up, and there's a debate developing over what, if anything, to do about it.

In this age of instant access to the Web and the millions of stories floating around out there, it's easy to understand how a student crashing on a term paper might be tempting to cut corners and do a quick cut and paste job. In a recent survey of almost 50,000 undergraduates conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity, 70 percent admitted to some cheating, whether on written assignments, or during exams. More than three-quarters said they did not think that copying off the internet was a serious issue.

Now that same technology gives professors the tool to catch cheaters, which raises questions of its own. Should every paper be sent routinely through a plagiarism detector, and what's the appropriate punishment for plagiarism? Later in the program, a proposed law to outlaw resume inflation, and your letters. But first, plagiarism in the internet age.

If you're a student, teacher, or a professor who's dealt with this issue, if you've ever submitted somebody else's work as your own, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989- 8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. We begin with Donald McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers Business School. He's the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity, which has conducted surveys of thousands of students over the past 15 years. Professor McCabe is with us from the studios of member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. Welcome to the program.

Professor DONALD MCCABE (Professor of Management, Rutgers Business School): Thank you.

CONAN: And is this a serious problem, I mean, is this newly serious? Is this explode, is this an exploding problem?

Professor MCCABE: I don't it's exploding in the sense of that many more students being involved. I mean, there's always been plagiarism, but I think what's different now is that the internet provides such a vast resource that's so easily accessible, that those students who are engaging in cut and paste plagiarism are doing it a lot more often, and I think that's where the explosion is.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now, and this is entirely due, you think, to the availability of all that material out there on the Web.

Professor MCCABE: Well, I think it's a combination of things. Certainly, students feel less guilty, in a sense, about any cheating they do these days when they see what's going on in the public sector, what's going on in a corporate world, what's going on with faculty members who are accused of plagiarism, et cetera.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Professor MCCABE: They feel more justified in their own cheating, you know. They use that as a rationalism for their own cheating. That combined with the introduction of the internet, you know, the internet's gotten a lot of the attention.

CONAN: Sure. And as you suggest, I mean, there's a, you know, around the culture at large, do students come away, do you think, with the feeling that in some respects, this is a victimless crime?

Professor MCCABE: Oh, no question, and that's why many of them don't want to do anything about it in terms of reporting their peers, you know, that plus, you know, you hear many comments about how I learned as a child not to rat on my friends, not to be a narc, et cetera.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Professor MCCABE: But clearly, as long as everybody's advancing, as long as I'm not personally being disadvantaged by somebody else's cheating, I have no problem with it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Professor MCCABE: More power to them.

CONAN: Yeah. And then when they get caught, do they explain that reason as the reason they did it?

Professor MCCABE: Probably the number one reason that they offer when we're talking about cut and paste plagiarism, for example, is the fact that they didn't know they were doing something wrong, that the university or the faculty member in the particular course really wasn't explicit about how things should be cited, about what needed to be cited, that they don't have a background and understanding, particularly if they come from a foreign country where they've done their high school work...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Professor MCCABE: ...and now they're here at college or university. It's a real problem.

CONAN: And you also, in the course of this, have talked to a lot of professors and instructors who say, at least in some respects, that they're not sure what to do about this at all.

Professor MCCABE: Well, unfortunately, some of them feel that they shouldn't do anything about it. It's not their problem, that if the character wasn't formed earlier than college, there's not much they can do about it, and, you know, they'll try and develop assignments that will prevent it, but they're not gonna go looking for it, and they're not gonna waste their time, in a sense, which they should be devoting to research, in their mind.

They're not gonna waste their time pursing these issues, which makes it even more of a problem, because then students identify who these faculty members are, and those courses, in particular, become targets for various forms of cheating, not just plagiarism.

CONAN: And there are some professors who look into their souls and say, I'm not sure I can ruin a student's life for one mistake.

Professor MCCABE: Oh, no question. The more significant the penalties are on a campus for a first offense, I would argue, the less likely an individual faculty member is to report a student. You know, they'll say, you know, if I report this student, they're gonna fail the course, and they want to go to med school, they want to go to law school, whatever, and, you know, that may prevent them from doing that, and all they did was engage in a little bit of cut and past plagiarism. I'll think of a different penalty.

I'll maybe lower their grade a little bit, which isn't necessarily all that bad, except what happens is they don't create any record of this. And, you know, we know of instances where students have graduated, and faculty members will be sitting there at the graduation together, and somebody make the comment when a particular student walks across the stage, you know, well, he cheated in my course, and the guy next to him will say, yours, too...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Professor MCCABE: ...and perhaps the woman on the other side will say, gee, me, too. And, all of a sudden, you realize this student has cheated their way through school.

CONAN: Mmm. If you'd like to join our conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. Let's talk with Martin. Martin's calling from Modesto, in California.

MARTIN (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

MARTIN: Yeah, I've kind of been at both ends of the spectrum. As a freshman in undergraduate, I was caught cheating on a paper I'd borrowed for the conclusion of a paragraph in a psychological studies class. I got it off of the Web. I was using WebCrawler at the time. The professor, obviously, had been visiting the exact same website.

He printed up a copy of the Web page that I had plagiarized from, attached it to my paper, failed me on the paper, and came close to failing me from the class, but I ended having to write two papers to make up for the one paper, with the highest grade possible of a C. And then, five years later in graduate school, I was teaching an undergraduate level class, and I had four students who all cheated on the exact same essay.

CONAN: Huh.

MARTIN: But they had gone to one of those cheating paper websites. They had failed to realize, they'd basically printed it straight off the website, and when they turned it in, not one of them noticed on the bottom of the page, it printed up the URL, and it came up www.cheatpaper.com...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...whatever the address was, and that kind of gave me a big clue that, you know, they had copied it offline, and I, basically, the university at grad school had its own policy, so I had to fail them from the class. But definitely, as a freshman, it made me realize that, even though I was only doing one paragraph, which I thought was okay, because my rationale was, you know, 80 percent of work was my own, the professor really emphasized to me that, you know, if I'm gonna be a critical thinker, you know, if I'm gonna cite, that's one thing, but to just grab a whole paragraph and plop it in as mine is something completely different.

CONAN: Mmm. And Donald McCabe, it sounds like Martin has had a, well, that mere brush with death opened his mind.

Professor MCCABE: And it's a very typical progression. It's interesting. I think many people would argue, especially student affairs personnel, that if you catch a freshman doing something along the lines that Martin did where you're not, you know, it's a small section of the total paper, and you can question how intentional it was, that some developmental response is appropriate, and you don't want to fail the person in that course.

CONAN: Hmm.

Professor MCCABE: In contrast, when you described the grad school situation, when he was teaching, you know, these are four students who went to a site, downloaded something, clearly knew they were doing something wrong, and submitted it, and they should be punished more harshly.

CONAN: Hmm. Martin, thanks very much for the call. One way to fight a high-tech problem is to find a high-tech solution. That's what the creator of a plagiarism detection software program did. John Barrie created an online service called Turnitin.com, and he joins us now from the studios of member station KPFA in Berkeley, California to tell us about it.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. JOHN BARRIE (Creator, Turnitin.com): Yeah, hi Neal.

CONAN: I should say KPFA, is not a member station, but it's a public radio station. Anyway, how does Turnitin.com work?

Mr. BARRIE: Okay, so this is how it works. Typically, an institution will contact us, and we have more than 5,000 institutions in more than 85 countries as clients.

The institution will contact us, they will say, we would like to license Turn It In for our students.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BARRIE: The classes of that institution are added to Turn It In. The instructor will typically tell their students, okay, you students, here's how you cite a source, here's how you quote information from the internet, here's how you do proper research at this institution. And, in this class, we have an expectation of originality to make sure that we're all playing on the same level playing field, we're going to use a service called Turn It In to detour anybody in this class from cheating.

Go to Turn It In, find my class, and submit the digital version of your paper.

The student will then go to the internet using a web browser, and submit the digital version of their paper directly to that instructor's class at Turn It In. Our computers take a digital finger print of that paper, which is just to say we convert it from a collection of words and characters into a collection of very long numbers, and we compare that digital fingerprint to three different databases. Database number one is a copy of the internet that we maintain and update at a rate of about 60 million pages per day.

CONAN: Wow.

Mr. BARRIE: Database number two is a database of commercial content that we license from publishers and content aggregators.

CONAN: Encyclopedias, that sort of thing?

Mr. BARRIE: Encyclopedias, but primarily academic journals...

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. BARRIE: ...newspapers, popular magazines going back, you know, more than twenty years. And then database number three would be a database of every single student paper ever submitted to us from all of our clients from day one, and that last database is designed to prevent students from recycling papers, from student collusion. And that last database is probably the only thing in the world that will ultimately put cheat sites out of business.

Because cheat sites make their money by selling the same paper to multiple students. So, if you can imagine, once they sell a paper to one student, and that paper is submitted to our database, it essentially becomes useless to anybody else who might contemplate buying that paper.

CONAN: And the way you're describing this is that it is a tool that, I guess, students and professors use at the same time. But wouldn't, doesn't it give professors the option to say, you know, I'm not sure I trust this class of students. I'm going to run everything they do through this after they've submitted it, and see if anybody cheated.

Mr. BARRIE: Well it does, but we, and that's right, at approximately 85 percent of the submissions we receive are from the students themselves, and another 15 percent are from the instructors. But we tell all of our clients that you should tell your students before using the service that the service is going to be in use. Explain to them how the service works.

And once the originality report is generated from Turn It In and sent back to the instructor, typically, well, what happens is that our computers, essentially, underline every bit of unoriginal text. And then we leave it up to the instructor to determine whether or not that unoriginal text was plagiarism, it was an accident, or it was something else.

CONAN: Stay with us, if you would. We're going to take a short break, and when we come back we'll take more of your calls about plagiarism and what to do about it.

Our guests are John Barrie, the CEO and creator of Turnitin.com, and Donald McCabe, Professor of Management at Rutgers and founding president of The Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us, or send us e-mail, talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan, back after the break, it's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today about cut and paste plagiarism. Our guest is Donald McCabe, founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Also with us, John Barrie, CEO and creator of Turnitin.com, a plagiarism detection software program.

Of course, you're invited to join us. If you're a student, what rules do you use to govern the use of the internet in writing papers? If you're a teacher, how big a deal is this? 800-989- 8255, e-mail is Talk@npr.org.

And let's get Mike on the line. Mike is calling from Richfield, Connecticut.

MIKE (Caller): Hello, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, Mike.

MIKE: I was just calling, you were asking how big a problem this is, and I'm shocked at how widespread--I'm a teacher in a fairly, I'm not going to mention what school system I'm in.

But I'm in a fairly high pressured school system in Connecticut. And, at one point, I asked my students towards the end of the year when I knew that it would be safe, how many of them cheated on what sort of basis. And I was shocked that nearly every student in the class said they cheated, if not frequently, then at least occasionally.

CONAN: Hmm. And do you use any of these detection devices like Turn It In?

MIKE: I do, I actually use Turnitin.com. I'm an English teacher, so all of my student's papers are required to be submitted through this service.

CONAN: And either they are, they didn't cheat on those papers, or did you catch them?

MIKE: I have caught, I actually have caught several plagiarists using the system. I have to say, it doesn't catch everybody, but a little vigilance and a little Googling will catch a lot of the rest. I'm sure there are some who still get through.

CONAN: Does deterrence work, the idea that they know this is out there, and it gets some people?

MIKE: Absolutely. Absolutely it does work. After the first paper gets turned in, and a couple of kids find that they've been caught, I find that the instance of plagiarism drops off dramatically.

CONAN: And under what circumstances do you submit a paper? Do you have reason to believe that maybe this student suddenly is writing like Mark Twain?

MIKE: Well, in general, I have them submit every major paper, although there have been times when a paper has been submitted to me that isn't a major paper, and didn't go through Turn It In.

And, you know, as a teacher, you really get to know your student's writing styles. So, when it doesn't sound like the student anymore, then that's when you start looking into what other options the student might have used.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. John Barrie, does that sound like the way most people use Turnitin.com?

Mr. BARRIE: It absolutely is. In fact, that is probably the fairest way to use Turn It In. Because, I don't believe there is any apiary way for an instructor, with all due respect to their knowledge of their students, to determine whether students plagiarized, or whether they haven't plagiarized.

So, when you spot-check, you know one, two, three papers out of a class of 40, 50 students, you've essentially let, probably, you know, 80 percent of the plagiarists in your class slip on by. And you may have, you may have spot-checked some papers that were actually original.

But this is such a popular way to do it that instructors are having more and more of their students submit their papers to the point where we receive, you know, over 50 to 60,000 papers a day through our system.

CONAN: Uh, Donald McCabe, let me bring you back into the conversation here. Turnitin.com is not the only one of these services. Do they raise questions in your mind?

Professor MCCABE: They do. John and I have had this discussion before, and he knows they raise questions in my mind. Certainly, there is a deterrent effect, there's no question about that. I agree with both Mike and John on that point. Students filling out my surveys both at the high school and the college level, refer students in schools that have utilized Turnitin.com. Some refer to it and say, you know, we used to be able to plagiarize a lot more, now we can't. So, in that sense, it certainly is serving a positive function.

I think one thing, and I believe John supports this, but he didn't mention it, I believe some faculty members are using Turnitin.com more creatively than others, in my opinion. And that is, faculty members who ask their students to submit their papers to Turnitin.com, and the report goes back to the student.

In other words, they get one crack at learning where they might have made mistakes. A lot of students say they don't understand the rules for paraphrasing and citation, et cetera. So, you know, it almost becomes a teaching tool. And I certainly support that use.

Where I begin to have a problem is, where you're assuming that every single student in the class is a plagiarist. Therefore, you've got to submit them all. And it creates, particularly at the university level, it destroys any bond of trust between the faculty and the students, certainly diminishes any bond of trust.

And I'm still naive enough to think that one of the things we want to accomplish is not to just, not just to stop students from plagiarizing, but create students of greater integrity. So that we need to promote integrity, not just look for plagiarism and punish it.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call.

MIKE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get Mindy on the line. Mindy calling us from Lawrence, Kansas.

MINDY (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MINDY: I am a student at the University of Kansas. And this is my third year there. The first year, it wasn't really an issue, but the last two years, it really has been, the plagiarism.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MINDY: And so, the University signed up for Turnitin.com, and the students actually pay for that through their campus fee. But some of the student organizations on campus, for example the Student Senate, has taken issue with this, because your papers, as I understand it, once you submit them to Turnitin.com, then become property of Turnitin.com.

CONAN: Is that right John Barrie?

Mr. BARRIE: No, that's absolutely wrong. The papers always remain the property of the author.

CONAN: Do you keep a copy of it to compare against future tests or essays?

Mr. BARRIE: Yes we do, but that falls under the Fair Use clause of the Copyright Act. We maintain those papers in order for faculty members to use them to critique future papers.

CONAN: Okay, Mindy.

MINDY: Okay, my understanding, I guess, may have been wrong. But some of the other issues is, of course, the trust issue.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MINDY: And I think it just adds, I think overall, an overwhelming majority of students don't cheat, and they do try and cite their sources correctly. But it...

CONAN: Not according to these surveys done by Donald McCabe.

MINDY: Well, I think it just adds a lot of extra pressure. You have pressure, anyway, to do your papers and do your research, and then you have the issue of trust. And, you know, when you first come into class, and they say, we're using Turnitin.com, it just bursts the trust issue, and then that much more pressure.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And...

MINDY: Which the professors say, if you're doing things correctly, you have nothing to worry about.

CONAN: Donald McCabe, that's, I guess, the point that you brought out. But if, you know, again, if you're running everybody's paper through it, I mean, you do mention this idea that everybody's guilty until proven innocent. But according to your own survey, if 70 percent of the students say they're cheating, well, maybe not everybody's guilty, but a lot of them are.

Professor MCCABE: Well, certainly, if you want to talk about cut and paste plagiarism, it's not 70 percent, it's a number a little more than half of that. I mean, it's still very significant.

CONAN: Okay.

Professor MCCABE: But it's not 70. At the same time, though, many of those students are engaged in cut and paste plagiarism because they're not sure. And they're also, in some cases, doing it because other students are getting away with it. And that's not fair, and therefore, I'm not going to go to all this extra effort when other students aren't, or I'm not going to get lesser grades because these other students are doing it and I'm not.

So, if you can attack this problem and start to reduce it, I think, I'm not sure it would be the overwhelming majority, but certainly the majority of students would prefer not to cheat, and would fall right in line. And perhaps we'll get some of those more hard core cheaters to join us as well.

CONAN: Mindy, thanks very much for the call. Good luck, by the way.

MINDY: Thank you.

CONAN: All right, and John Barrie, thank you for your time today.

Mr. BARRIE: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: John Barrie, CEO and creator of Turnitin.com, a plagiarism detection software program. And he joined us today from the studios of radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California.

Joining us now is Michael Williams, director of graduate studies and associate professor of Visual Communication at Ohio University. He is with us from the studios of member station, WOUB in Athens, Ohio.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor MICHAEL WILLIAMS (Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Visual Communication at Ohio University): Good afternoon.

CONAN: As a professor, you've made thousands of assignments, given a lot of exams to students over the years. Are you noticing an increase in plagiarism?

Professor WILLIAMS: Oh, I don't think so. I would agree that the internet has made it simpler to do for most of the students. I like to think that the students who care about what they're doing are probably working hard to avoid it. It is so easy, when you can just find anything you need off of the internet now to put it on there.

Conan: Mm-hmm.

Professor WILLIAMS: But a large part of it is, I make sure that the assignments that they've been given are being done in a way that perhaps I can more easily tell that it is their work and their ideas that they're talking about, rather than stuff that they're pulling directly off of the web.

CONAN: So, you find a creative way to structure the essay question, so it's not the exact same question that other people have assigned over the years?

Professor WILLIAMS: Exactly. And the particular school that I'm in, the discussion of ethics and integrity is a fairly major part of what we deal with in that we're dealing with a communication industry, and so the discussion of ethics and doing things in a proper way and citing things properly is part and parcel of what we do.

CONAN: Is policing part of your job?

Professor WILLIAMS: I'd like to think educating is part of my job. If I spent 10 minutes up front talking about the right way to cite something from any source, and the reason why that's important, I think that's 10 minutes spent better than 20 minutes at the end having to fine tune or go through their work with a fine-tooth comb looking for mistakes, or looking for problems that they've created for themselves.

CONAN: So, you certainly don't want to set up a gotcha atmosphere?

Professor WILLIAMS: Oh, I don't think that's constructive. I think that most students understand that there are consequences to cheating, and if they feel the temptation to do it, I almost like to think that maybe I haven't done my job as a professor as well as I could have encouraged them to not do it, that there's a better way to find the information and share the information.

CONAN: So, what are the penalties there at Ohio University when somebody's caught?

Professor WILLIAMS: Well, primarily at Ohio, it's in the hands of the professor. It can start with failing the assignment, up to failing the course. Pretty much, at that point, you would be wanting to move it on to the judiciary, which is the university committee that looks at the problem, the individual student.

Ultimately, because it's in the hands of the professor, the student has the right or the privilege to contest a grade, or to have it reviewed by someone else. And so, though there are committees that would look at that, it's ultimately the professor's call, and then the grade would be appealed if necessary.

CONAN: And what kind of things do you take into account when you're making that decision? I guess the seriousness of the offense would have to be the first thing.

Professor WILLIAMS: Well, yes, certainly the degree of the offense, perhaps the size of the assignment in relation to the course. In other places I've taught, I've had students turn in portfolios that contain other photographer's work, for example. In that case, it was clearly an instance where a student was trying to pass off, essentially, their complete body of work, which included other people's work.

That's considerably more severe, in my opinion, than someone who uses a quote from someone and doesn't cite it properly, or uses some paragraph out of something and doesn't cite it properly.

CONAN: Right. And obviously, you have to weigh flunking somebody from a course, or again, referring them, I guess, to the judiciary, where I think expulsion might be a recourse. But this is all very serious stuff. On the other hand, you do want to teach your students that there have to be consequences if you do make mistakes.

Professor WILLIAMS: Well, that's just it. And the trick, again, not a trick, the procedure I like to follow is if they know upfront that I will be paying attention to how they use material that's not their own, then they've at least had the warning.

And then as the quarter proceeds, and as projects get done, if I notice that there's material that's clearly not of their style, I think one of the previous speakers talked about that, you know, if a faculty member pays attention to their students, I think they can pretty quickly tell if someone is 18-year-olds and writing something, as opposed to a 30-year-old expert in the field writing something. And so, I don't spend as much time policing as I do instructing, I think.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

Professor WILLIAMS: You bet. Thank you.

CONAN: That was Michael Williams, Director of Graduate Studies, and an associate professor of Visual Communications at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. And with us from WOUB, our member station in Athens, Ohio. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Ted. Ted calling from Charlotte, North Carolina.

TED (Caller): Yes. How are you today?

CONAN: Well, thank you.

TED: I wanted to share--I'm on the faculty at U.N.C. Charlotte, and I participated in our academic integrity board since its creation in the early '80s. And we have a system that a little bit unique, in that we have what's called an out-of-court settlement.

So, that if a faculty member accuses a student of an academic integrity violation, provided it's a first offense, then they can go through this out-of-court settlement. The faculty member has kind of a narrow range of penalties that they can set, but the key is that it then creates a record.

So, many of the things that, you know, faculty members have done for decades in terms of dealing what they perceive to be as a first offense are handled within a structure, so that you don't get that problem of somebody sitting at graduation and saying, so-and-so cheated in my course, well, he cheated in mine, he cheated in mine, and so forth. There actually is a record of the out-of-court settlement.

CONAN: Donald McCabe, are systems like that Ted describes growing in use?

Professor MCCABE: Yes, they are. In fact, they're becoming very popular. A leading proponent of this, in a sense, is the University of Maryland at College Park. Their penalty's a little bit stiffer, and they may not give faculty quite as much latitude, but they're trying to create a record. They're trying to encourage faculty to report instances. There may not literally be an out-of-court settlement, but nonetheless, they are creating this record, and faculty pretty much know what the penalties are likely to be.

CONAN: Ted, I wonder, does this clarify the situation for instructors, for professors?

TED: I think one of the main benefits of it is it lowers the cost of dealing with the issue. I don't know that it clarifies it any, but it lowers the cost, because you don't automatically have to go to the student court every time. And obviously, there's a lot of time involved in going to student court, and faculty members are sometimes reluctant to do that. So, I think the faculty members are much more willing to embark on this system, because they realize the time commitment's not going to be as great.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

TED: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's talk now with Lynn. Lynn is calling from Athens, Ohio, where our previous guest was from.

LYNN (Caller): Hi, thanks for having me on the show.

CONAN: Sure.

LYNN: I am a student at Ohio University, and I wanted to make the comment that I'm a fifth year undergrad, about to graduate in the education department, in actually, fine art education, and I think--I was wondering if there is a elevated amount of cheating more recently in terms of statistics that anyone has gathered on how much cheating actually occurs over the years.

The reason that I'm curious is because what I see is a lot of students come to college not on any sort of academic scholarship, or put themselves through college, but their parents really pretty much pay their way. And, I think as a result of that, a lot of students really aren't motivated to uphold any sort of academic integrity. They're just trying to make mom and dad happy, pretty much.

CONAN: John Barrie, is that what students tell you in your surveys? Excuse me, Donald McCabe?

Professor MCCABE: Right. Certainly we hear that, but it operates at both ends. Unfortunately, the students whose parents are not paying for it find themselves in a position where they need to work, and sometimes work very significant hours, and we have evidence that suggests the more hours they devote to working or caring for family or engaged in extracurricular activities creates less time for them to study, and leads to more temptation to cheat. So, it works from both sides.

CONAN: Lynn, congratulations by the way.

LYNN: Oh, thank you very much. Thank you for having me on.

CONAN: Good luck.

LYNN: Have a good day.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break and continue with more of your calls and questions about the cut and paste plagiarism plague, as some describe it. Our guest is Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and also Founding President of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, the email address is is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese packed central Beirut today, exactly one year after the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. A UN investigation suggests Syrian officials played a role in the murder, something Damascus firmly denies.

And Texas lawyer that was shot by Vice President Cheney in a hunting accident over the past weekend had a minor heart-attack this morning. The victim, Harry Whittington, was immediately moved back to intensive care. Details on those stories, and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, we'll let you be an Academy Awards acting judge. Tell us what you think makes an Oscar- winning performance. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today, we're talking with Donald McCabe, the Founding President of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University about cut and paste plagiarism. If you'd like to join us, it's 800-989- 8255, or email us, talk@npr.org.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Sheila. Sheila calling us from Sonoma, California.

SHEILA (Caller): Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

SHEILA: I just wanted to let you know, I'm a sixth grade teacher, and this problem is starting very young...

CONAN: Really?

SHEILA: ...and I had an assignment on ancient Greece due, it was a research paper, and I was able, very easily, to pick out at least five students that had cheated. I had my high school son get on the internet, and just by typing in phrases, we were able to locate these papers, some of which had links underlined in the paper. I mean, it was obvious that these kids had cheated.

And when I presented one of the students with the paper and a copy of the printout from the internet, he said, oh, that's not the site I got it at. So, it was pretty exciting for them because, of course, we brought their parents in on this, which you can do at sixth grade. But, I mean, they're certainly starting young.

CONAN: That suggests that, Donald McCabe, this problem's not going anywhere fast.

Professor MCCABE: Correct. And I agree with Sheila. It seems that junior high, and the sixth grade, in most systems, is where junior high begins, is a particularly critical time. You have students leaving an environment where they have almost a third parent in front of them all day. Somebody who clearly knows them, and somebody they might be embarrassed to cheat in front of. And then, all of sudden, they have a variety of different teachers for different subjects.

At the same time, you know, they're maturing and their friends are, you know, and they're starting to flex their muscles a little bit and test what they can get away with. The convergence of those two events seems to be very significant in terms of students beginning to test the waters on issues like this.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Sheila, just our of curiosity, what was the punishment?

SHEILA: We actually, we didn't count the paper, we allowed them to rewrite it, you know, to submit a completely new paper, which they all did. And then they didn't get any higher than a C, of course, their work wasn't any better than C work anyway, but it, I think that at least it sent a message, especially catching them that early. I know it was the first time they'd gotten caught.

CONAN: And bringing their parents in. No sixth grader wants to do that.

SHEILA: No, not really.

CONAN: Okay, Sheila. Thanks very much for the call.

SHEILA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's talk now with Nancy. Nancy with us from Louisville, Kentucky.

NANCY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

NANCY: I am a library media specialist, and we just discussed or have undertaken to try and work with the teachers to teach how to do citations, how to really help the kids, you know, give credit where credit is due. And I'll tell you, it's a bear. The teachers don't really know how to teach it, and kids don't know what they're doing, and, you know, I have some real sympathy for the kids. They don't really know what to do.

I don't know whether anybody, you know, has ever tried to teach this. Most of your people have been university people, and I guess they presume that kids come to them ready to do this, but...

CONAN: Yeah, Donald McCabe, is that the assumption?

Professor MCCABE: I'm glad Nancy offered this. During the last break, I made a few notes of notes I wanted to make, and this is one of them. Clearly, many students are never taught how to cite what they need to cite, when it's appropriate to cite, and then the first time, you know, we observe a transgression of our rules, we come down very hard on them. So, I think, number one, we have an obligation to teach them, and number two, the first time they make a mistake, to try and do something educational rather than punitive.

CONAN: And this can't be done at just one level. It's got to start, well, maybe sixth grade sounds like a good place to start.

Professor MCCABE: Yes, sir.

NANCY: We're starting with our freshman, trying to teach, you know, in classes where they all have to take the class. And we're working on, you know, introductory, sort of, level things with handouts and making sure they understand. In fact, we're stressing that, actually, their work can be made stronger by using quotations from authorities and teaching them how to use, you know, the citation.

I had a really funny conversation the other day with kids. They're citing sites, and we were, they were confused about the word cite.

CONAN: I see.

NANCY: They thought we were talking about a website, and I was talking about the word citation, and...

CONAN: They thought you were talking about S-I-T-E, and you were talking about C-I-T-E, yeah.

NANCY: I realized that I was going to have to be clearer about that. And, honestly, it's very hard sometimes, to trace back, for example, if you're using an image, for example, off of Google images, to trace that image back. They were citing Google Images as the source, and it's not. You have to follow it back to where it came from, and they're not used to doing that.

So, it's not as simple as it sounds. I challenge people to do it themselves.

CONAN: And Donald McCabe, it sounds as if this sort of instruction needs to go on at every level of education.

Professor MCCABE: Absolutely. I mean, I'm old enough, I can remember when I'd get an assignment in grammar school, you know, you'd go to the library and you'd get the World Book out, or the Britannica Encyclopedia, and you'd just copy stuff out of it, and you figured that was doing research. You know, at some point you'd list that as a source, but you certainly wouldn't put a lot of information in quotation marks.

Eventually, somebody needs to tell you that's an inappropriate way to do things, and to tell you what the correct way is.

NANCY: And I also would recommend Citation Machine or Noodle Tools. We've been using that with our students. But even that is challenging, because they get questions like, is this a journal or is this a periodical, or is this a--and they look at me like, what?

They have no idea, some of the nuances of the questions. It really is challenging. And so, I think kids, educated kids will be fine, but a lot of these kids have just no background for this at all.

CONAN: Nancy, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

NANCY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Donald McCabe, thanks so much for joining us today.

Professor MCCABE: My pleasure.

CONAN: Donald McCabe, founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He joins us today from the studios of member station WBGO, in Newark, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.