Plagiarism and the Internet: How Technology Affects Students Cheating

April 7th, 2021

Reading time about 13 min

Back in the day, cheating would involve looking at a seatmate’s paper or copying someone else’s homework. The most high-risk attempt would likely involve a student who would write the answers to a quiz on a small piece of paper or on the cover of a notebook. 

But with the rise of technology and the advent of the Internet, academic cheating has become more prolific, with virtually hundreds of thousands of websites and apps selling cheat aids, offering custom papers, and even publishing how-to-cheat guides and videos. 

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, a shocking 35% of students have admitted to using their mobile phones to cheat on assignments and tests; while 65% of the same group of students also admitted to using their phones to cheat in school. 

Why Students Cheat

Nowadays, academic cheating is often normalized among students. Many of them even fail to recognize that using homework apps and sharing answers with their seatmate already constitute academic dishonesty. 

But while some are already aware that these are a form of cheating, the pressure to succeed in their academic goals often outweigh the risk of getting caught. For some, getting into their dream college or earning a scholarship for their grades can only be achieved by gaining a competitive edge – and that is to cheat.

Unfortunately, others just want to find the easiest, most convenient solution to their problem. For these students, it’s easier to cheat than to do research. And instead of studying for a quiz, the best shortcut would be to use a handy homework app.

Students with packed schedules are especially vulnerable to academic cheating. Those who are active in sports and other extracurricular activities, or those have part-time jobs may think cheating is the only time-saving option they have left. 

Sadly, many teachers lack the resources and know-how to detect plagiarism and cheating in class. And because technology tends to evolve faster than the policies imposed by academic institutions, tech-savvy students believe there’s a low risk of getting caught. 

How Students Use Technology to Cheat

As a parent or teacher, it’s important to be aware of the various methods that could tempt students to commit academic dishonesty. Let’s take a look at some of the ways students use technology to cheat:

Tricks to get around plagiarism detection solutions

Using special text and other techniques to deceive plagiarism detection solutions is a growing and concerning trend amongst the student population. Cheating, which is different from plagiarism and defined as techniques used to disguise text using methods like white inkhidden characters, and character replacement, with the intention to deceit plagiarism detection solutions, seemed to have taken a sharp rise.

Copyleaks conducted research on 50,000+ students globally and found these trends moving upwards. As a technology company empowering administrators, educators, and students worldwide to uphold academic integrity standards, Copyleaks was concerned with students’ COVID-world ‘creativity’ being deployed in wrongful ways. Being a company deeply invested in students’ academic growth and to combat this, Copyleaks decided to develop and launch a free cheating detection add-on to the plagiarism detection platform that helps alert administrators and educators for any such instances of cheating or fraudulent misusage.

Copy-Pasting

A classic method of committing academic dishonesty. Instead of doing research to find source materials, some students resort to copy-pasting passages from various online publications. For instance, they may plagiarize a report from a Wikipedia entry and submit it as their own work. Those who have access to multiple paper databases may download published content, compile them, and then pass them off as their own. 

There are even online communities and crowdsourced sites like Homework Helper, where students can share answers to homework and exam questions. Simply ask a question or post a math problem, and other users will chime in to give answers. 

Meanwhile, some websites offer free, pre-written papers based on common subjects and textbooks. Some essay mills even sell premade essays that students can use and submit as their own. But because this type of custom paper is mass-produced, there’s no assurance they’re 100% original so the risk of plagiarism is always high. 

Contract Cheating

This form of academic dishonesty often comes with the heaviest sanctions. Contract cheating is when a student buys a custom paper or hires a writer from an online essay writing service, to complete a paper assignment or coursework for them. 

However, there’s a certain caveat to this. Technically, essay writing services are businesses where students can legitimately purchase custom papers and use them solely as model papers or additional learning resources, much like a textbook. 

But according to IHateWritingEssays founder, David Anderson, “The issue arises when a student passes off these purchased papers as their own. This is completely against the policies of any decent essay writing service and is certainly grounds for academic dishonesty.” 

While custom writing service providers ensure that all papers made by their writers are original and plagiarism-free, this is never a good excuse for students to use them as a means to an end. Oftentimes, cases of contract cheating involve students who take advantage of these services, with many colleges and universities imposing heavy sanctions ranging from suspension and community service hours to expulsion. 

Mobile Apps and Websites

Some tech-savvy cheating methods require little to no effort on the student’s part. Homework apps are being developed on a daily basis, and using them is as fast and easy as a click of a button. Some examples include:

  • Free problem-solving apps like Photomath, which allow users to take a picture of a math problem, scan it, and solve it for them in just seconds. These apps can solve even the most complicated algebra equations. Due to its convenience, students are more likely to use it without actually understanding the material. 
  • Mobile apps that quickly translate foreign languages. Instead of deciphering a record or translating written content, some students use these apps to easily translate information without further research.
  • Math problem solvers like Wolfram Alpha and Cymath, websites that let students solve complex calculus and algebra problems online, on the fly. While these sites are designed to help students how to do math, some prefer to get instant answers without the need to solve the equations on their own. 

Texting During Exams

Texting is a fast way for students to get or exchange answers to exam questions from other students in the room. It’s done on the sly; hiding a smartphone from view or when the teacher or proctor isn’t paying attention. 

Texting during tests has become the modern equivalent to note-passing, and many students admit this is the most fail-safe way to get away with cheating even when phones aren’t allowed in class.

Storing Notes

Some students resort to simpler ways of cheating: storing notes on their smartphones prior to exams and accessing them during class or test time. It’s as easy as snapping a photo of a friend or classmate’s work and copying it almost word-for-word, which saves them a lot of time and effort. The more sly ones even use earpieces during tests, activating their phone’s infrared or Bluetooth, or using certain apps to share test answers with their classmates. 

How to Prevent Plagiarism and Cheating

In today’s world, figuring out what constitutes plagiarism and cheating can be quite tricky. But technology is a double-edged sword, and parents and teachers can also make it work to their advantage when fighting plagiarism. For now, we can suggest a number of methods that have worked well for many educators.

Discuss Plagiarism and Cheating

Fighting plagiarism is a constant battle, and it pays to know your enemy. Better yet, let the students know it as well. Of course, they may already know what plagiarism is, but there could be some details of this issue that they’re not fully aware of. In this case, you must discuss it at home or in class, or better yet, have your students prepare a report or an essay on topics like:

  • Different types of plagiarism
  • How to prevent plagiarism
  • The consequences that come with plagiarism
  • Proper ways to cite original resources
  • Reliable research sources and materials
  • Different types of academic writing
  • Proper ways to conduct research
  • Paraphrasing
  • The purpose of bibliography and how it should look
  • Accidental plagiarism and how it can be spotted
  • How to best detect plagiarism

Establish Rules and Make Them Known

For educators, you need to let your students know about your expectations when demanding something from them. For assignments, you must be as clear as possible and explain to them what must be done. Familiarize them with an honor code that will help them understand the measures that you can take when the rules are violated. 

Make Tasks Unique

A sure-fire way to avoid plagiarism is to assign students with tasks that require a more creative and individual approach. Assigning typical homework or projects make it easier for them to find and copy-paste materials from the Internet. If a task is unique and original, students are more likely to enjoy the whole process and complete it on their own. 

Use Plagiarism Checkers

Nowadays, there are plenty of offline and online tools that help prevent plagiarism. Some can even be integrated into a school’s learning management system. No matter the purpose, these plagiarism checkers have one goal: To make teaching and learning easier. 

Many of today’s teachers use a certain type of plagiarism checker to help them fight against cheating. Since these tools automatically find similarities from millions of published work in online databases, it drastically saves time and effort. 

Honesty is the best policy. Make sure to discuss this with your students and validate their feelings when they feel frustrated that others who cheat seem to get ahead, especially when they don’t get caught. At the same time, remind them that at the end of the day, cheaters really are only cheating themselves.

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