Plagiarism - Technology Issues

The question as to whether technology is contributing to plagiarism in college classes seems simple. From a purely technical standpoint, sure, it's easier to copy-and-paste chunks of text from one window on a computer to another than it is to re-type entire passages, or even papers. There are even web companies willing to supply would-be plagiarists with canned or customized papers for a fee.

It's also easier to track these practices. Researching a possible plagiarism case used to (and still can, of course) involve closely analyzing a paper for consistency with past patterns, and trying to piece together a reasoned conclusion as to whether it might have originated with someone else -- whether a published source that's perhaps trackable through available library resources, or a file paper that would be virtually untrackable. More often than not these days, it's possible to keypunch a short phrase into a web search engine (or a web database specifically for this purpose) and chances of discovering a match are really pretty good.

None of this information is new to someone who works or studies at a university. As Rebecca Moore Howard (a compositionist and leading researcher in the area of plagiarism in college classes) puts it, "If you are a professor in the United States and you have a pulse, you have heard about the problems of Internet plagiarism" (Howard, "Forget").

But debates about whether technology makes plagiarism -- or policing plagiarism -- easier seem to miss the heart of the academic community's real concern: what can we as a community of teachers and learners do for each other in an age that demands that we think differently about how information is shared, borrowed, and used?