The “digital age” made me do it

The New York Times ran an interesting story this weekend under the headline, “Lines on Plagiarism Blur for Students in the Digital Age.”   The gist is that that the prevalence of content on the internet has actually devalued the concept of original work – and given a generation of schoolgoers the impression that ideas can be plucked out of the air and included in their term papers:

“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”

The article cites students who copy whole passages from Wikipedia or unabashedly swipe from articles without attribution or citation.

Blaming the internet for changing behavior is one thing, but it doesn’t change human nature.

The concept of cheating a plagiarizing has been around since one cavekid copied another cavekid’s cave wall drawings to get a better cave-grade.  (You can bet your saber-tooth tiger pelt that Thag would have based his drawing on cave-Wikipedia if such a thing had existed.)  To see an even clearer example, look at music piracy: recording mixes on cassettes and sharing songs with friends was a common practice, file sharing services just made it easier and digital.

Take the computers and internet connections away from every dorm room and class room, and some students will still cheat.  So, you can look at the advent of the so-called digital age in two ways.  Sure, it’s easier than ever for some students to take the easy way out and try to get by without putting in the work.

On the other hand, has it ever been easier to catch them doing it?

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