Plagiarism by high school students isn’t really news anymore and the story about it in this morning’s Post doesn’t cover any new ground. However, one focus of the article, about how teachers are using a web site called turnitin.com to check on whether students’ work is copied, is a little disturbing. Part of the library used by turnitin for comparison is created when teachers upload student papers for checking – and the company files a copy of the student’s work in their database. I have my doubts about the legality of all this but considering all the lawyer talk on their web site, obviously someone is doing some butt covering.
Aside from the copyright issues that may be involved with using this web site, there’s a larger problem here. The traditional research paper assigned by many high school teachers actually encourages the kind "cut-and-paste" construction too many students are resorting to. It’s way past time to rethink these old assignments into something that requires students to go beyond the standard "go find out about" topical research . Jamie McKenzie, writer and editor of FromNowOn.org, wrote about this problem more than five years ago in an outstanding article called The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age. I highly recommend it to all middle and high school teachers, especially those who teach English and Social Studies.