Plagiarism within colleges has become much more frequent in recent years. There’s more efforts to track it, and with new programs like Turnitin, even innocent students are experiencing paranoia. 

By Gabe Gaff, Contributor

“When a teacher hands you back your paper upside down and folded up, you know it’s over,” said Justin Edwards, a student at HU. 

It was after class and Edwards found himself alone with a handful of other students and a very upset teacher. They had plagiarized a paper for their high school English class.  

BUSTED!: Justin Edwards, grinning for a photo in the HUB, admits that he plagiarized in high school and got caught. (Photo by Gabe Gaff)

“We were in shock,” he said. “It was like you put your hand in a cookie jar, and you got caught. She told us we could get kicked out of university if we ever did this in college.”

Edwards is not alone in his experience. According to a study by The Center for Academic Integrity, almost 80 percent of college students today admit that they have cheated in some way at least once. The frequency of plagiarism has steadily increased for the past 30 years. 

One of the biggest reasons for this is the growing influence of the internet over that time. But the question is, what constitutes plagiarism and what does the rise in its frequency mean for colleges, and in particular HU.

“In simple terms plagiarism is the use of another writer’s words or ideas in your own work without proper recognition that it is someone else’s,” said Phyllis Bennett, director of academic honesty at Malona University in Ohio, in an email interview.  “Plagiarism is a serious offense with heavy consequences for those who commit it.”

Punishment for HU students who commit plagiarism varies by professor, ultimately ranging from failure of the assignment plagiarized to failure of the entire course. In severe cases, plagiarism can even result in a student’s dismissal from the university, according to the Huntington University student handbook.

But how much plagiarism today is blatant copy and pasting, and how much is due to ignorance? 

“Some occurs due to ignorance,” said Todd Martin, an English professor at HU in an email interview, “but mostly it is because students wait until the last minute, they are in a rush and forget to get the necessary information they need from their sources or forget to cite that information. The main discrepancy I find is where a student takes an idea from a text but does not acknowledge the source.”

Being an English professor, Martin deals with issues regarding plagiarism often.

“Students tend to try to take shortcuts in these courses,” he said.

THE PROFESSIONAL STARE: Todd Martin, professor of English at HU, tracks down any hint of plagiarism in students’ work. (Photo from the HU website) 

In most cases, Martin finds the root of the problem is laziness. 

“Neither changing an occasional word in a paragraph or sentence nor complete paraphrase of a passage relieves the writer of the responsibility of acknowledging the source,” he said. 

Martin, along with many other professors today, makes use of online plagiarism scanning tools, like Turnitin, which is a program integrated into Moodle on campus, to help him while grading papers. 

Turnitin was first launched in 1998. It flags potential plagiarism within student papers and notifies the professor. It is one of the main ways that colleges are combating the rise of plagiarism. 

“I use it more as a tool for the student who can see what information is flagged and then work to fix the problem,” Martin said.

But many students have started to question the accuracy of these tools. With plagiarism being such a serious offense, often resulting in the failure of a course, relying on a computer program is a scary thought. 

Out of ten HU students that were asked between classes in Loew-Brenn and on the mall, seven of them stated that they have a level of distrust towards Turnitin.

“It’s a tool, and like any other tool we can’t just take whatever it says verbatim,” Justin Edwards said, “we need to have professors doing the backup checks when using it.”

INOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY: In Dowden science hall, Zach Lail, expresses the concern he had after receiving a plagiarism score from Turnitin. (Photo by Gabe Gaff)

Zach Lail is an HU student who had an experience with Turnitin marking 12 percent of his paper as plagiarism.

“I think this was mostly because I was using a lot of quotes in my paper and Turnitin identified them as plagiarized from another work,” Lail said. “I was a little surprised, I don’t think it should be solely used as a grading tool.”

Either way the use of tools like Turnitin is growing rapidly, and that is partially due to the move towards more online centered classes.

The abrupt transfer to online instruction during the pandemic is another factor in plagiarism’s growing influence. Middle Tennessee State University, for example, reported a 79 percent rise in overall cheating from 2019 to 2021. 

But Martin does not believe that plagiarism is any easier to commit through an online course. 

“The fact that some assignments are online may give the impression that plagiarism is easier to commit, but in many ways, these are more easily detectable,” Martin said.

The spike in plagiarism has been a wake up call for many colleges and students. 

As Edwards states, “It’s a lesson learned, and it’s a hard lesson.”