The last couple of months have seen reports of cheating on critical tests from around the world:
• Also in June, the English version of Xinhuanet.com carried a story on arrests of at least 64 people accused of selling hi-tech gadgets to students about to take the national college entrance exam, called gaokao.
Yesterday’s New York Times had an article about new measures to thwart cheating implemented by the University of Central Florida in their testing center and proactive plagiarism tutorials offered by other schools, such as University of Virginia, Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby. The article also addresses the issue of creating an atmosphere in which cheating is assumed and how that might affect students who do not cheat.
One thing that none of these reports deal with, however, is how the find-cheating-frenzy can overreact, especially a mechanized system like Turnitin. Three important points:
1) When book research was the norm, even the most diligent student could only see so much prose written about his or her topic. Today, the Internet provides myriad opportunities for people around the world to write on a topic, and no student can read exhaustively enough to make sure that his or her words do not match some words someone else wrote at some time. Still, it is possible that some obscure source that the student has never seen shares some words with what a student wrote.
2) Definitions are pretty limited. It is hard—and may be inappropriate—to change the wording of a definition. Because definitions are proposed by so many references, as well as written into articles, it is likely that there may be overlap, even if a student doesn’t reference any source and writes a definition from his or her own knowledge.
3) There can be legitimate confusion about what is in the public domain. Not only are the laws different in different countries, but some are rather arcane, making experts cringe. Moreover, there are works that are assumed to be in the public domain by so many people—for example, the song “Kookaburra”—that it is no wonder if students think they are folk songs without copyright rather than “owned.” CNN reports today that the band Men at Work has had a judgment issued against it for using a bit of the melody of “Kookaburra” in the song “Down Under.”
And if you have any stories you’d like to share about cheating, we’d welcome them.