Cheating temptation


Plagiarism – Cheating temptation

EL PASO, Texas — To stop cheats, UTEP faculty and staff take a proactive approach to educate students on the pitfalls of academic dishonesty.

Of the many challenges that today’s students face, one of the biggest is the temptation to cheat. With a wealth of knowledge just a mouse click away, students can easily Google answers to math problems, email each other answers, or simply copy from published sources for term papers.

In an era where technology abounds, teachers and professors have learned to stay on their toes when it comes to what is and isn’t allowed come test time.

Many students will encounter a list of devices that are not allowed in class printed in their syllabus on the first day of class. These items can range from advanced calculators, to cell phones and iPods.  Some students will be surprised that they aren’t even allowed to use laptops or tablets such as Apple’s popular iPad on exam days or otherwise.

“Its so easy to use Google Scholar, find a couple of papers on your topic, and copy bits and pieces of different stories for your paper,” says Maria, a 22 year-old junior currently enrolled at UTEP, who whished to remain anonymous. “The information is already there, why not use it?”

When asked if she regards this as plagiarism she responded, “Well not really because I don’t copy someone’s whole paper and then turn it in as my own. I’m still doing the research sometimes I just don’t have time to paraphrase everything. Anyways, most professors aren’t going to take the time to do the search and read all your sources so they won’t find out.”

"Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research." reads on Google Scholar about page. (David Acosta/

"Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research." reads on Google Scholar about page. (David Acosta/

Professors at UTEP and across the country are now learning to fight fire with fire when it comes to students plagiarizing reports and term papers. According to the Campus Computing Survey, fifty-five percent of colleges and universities now use some type of anti-plagiarism service that requires students to submit papers so that they can be checked for copying.

The most widely used of these services is called According to Turnitin nearly half a million educators use their service worldwide. Their algorithm can check papers submitted by students against Turnitin’s database of internet content, published articles and reports, as well as “over 100 million student papers that have been submitted to Turnitin over the past decade.”

“I use in my classes, but I use it in a different way,” says Dr. Ann Gabbert. Dr. Gabbert is the Assistant Director for Student Support for UTEP’s Entering Student Program (ESP) and is also one of the program’s instructors. “I use it as another educational tool, I have my students turn in their rough drafts to Turnitin, they get back the results and have to determine for themselves what they can and can’t use on their final paper.”

Many universities also now require new students to take a web-based tutorial on plagiarism. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a paper entitled “Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism,” which found that incidents of plagiarism could be reduced by as much as 65 percent when students participated in a “15-minute Web-based tutorial that teaches what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it”.

UTEP has taken that approach one step further with ESP, which began in 1999.  ESP offers two courses which all students are required to take, UNIV 1301 and 2350, the former being specifically aimed at incoming freshman. According to its website, “the Entering Student Program is designed to assist (students) with transitioning to the university and to help increase your opportunities for academic success.”

“One of the goals of UNIV 1301 is for every instructor to address academic dishonesty and plagiarism,” says Dr. Gabbert.  “In addition to showing examples of the various degrees of which plagiarism can occur, I also use an online quiz and show students what plagiarism looks like and how to avoid it.”

Ryan Holmes is the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at UTEP, whose office handles academic dishonesty cases. The Office of Student Affairs takes the approach of encouraging professors to not simply police the problem but to teach students exactly what plagiarism is and why it is wrong to prevent it from happening in the first place.  His office provides a guide for professors on “Detecting and Deterring Plagiarism” on its website.

“We try to be proactive rather than reactive…through new student orientation and our 1301 classes, (UTEP) makes sure we do things that are preventative,” said Holmes. “We let students know exactly what plagiarism is in its standard form, like lifting from a source you’re not citing or using old materials you’ve used before.”

While it may be impossible to know just exactly how many students cheat, Donald L. McCabe, a business professor at Rutgers University, has conducted a survey on cheating for over ten years.  Over the last four years, he surveyed 14,000 undergraduates, and reported that 61 percent of them had cheated either on a test or on an assignment. According to his report, that figure is actually down from his 2003 survey, which showed that 65 percent of students admitted to cheating. In his current study, however, McCabe states that he believes that the number of students who actually cheat has not gone down. Rather he believes that many students don’t regard cutting and pasting material from various sources on the Web as plagiarism.

“Students have to be taught how to use information through a combination of study skills and academic content,” says Dr. Gabbert. “They have to be shown that there are varying degrees of plagiarism. Changing three words of a paragraph is not paraphrasing, because if the original idea is not your own, it needs to be cited. Today’s students need to be educated to things like that.”

Many educators and university staff members have turned to a more proactive approach towards cheating and especially plagiarism. This proactive approach, however, calls into question whether services such as those provided by Turnitin are merely assuming that students cheat and not addressing the real issue.

“I assume that people will cheat,” states UTEP professor John Siqueiros bluntly.  He has used to stop plagiarism in his classes for “a couple of years”.

“So what I try to do, rather than police it is to create an environment where the issue of cheating is moot,” Siqueiros goes on to say. “The emphasis that I put is in class discussion and thinking critically.”

Professor Siqueiros believes that when used in conjunction with other techniques, Turnittin’s services actually do become proactive, whether you assume students are cheating or not.

“I think the more you try to police [cheating], the more you miss the point.  Young people have access to so much technology that it’s a battle you can’t ever win.  That’s why I put the emphasis on critical thinking,” he said.

Siqueiros encourages students to take part in discussions in class, take notes, and then allows them to use those notes on the exams. Students, he says, must come to a conclusion and the facts he presents in class are there to support those conclusions.  However, the students themselves must arrive at those conclusions. He has used that philosophy to deter students from cheating on exams as well. Siqueiros believes that the old methods of “100 question scantron tests” are outdated.

“I don’t see the value in making people memorize a bunch of facts that they are going to forget the next day,” he said.

Another reason some students find themselves tempted to copy is time. In the current economy, many students must juggle studies with work in order to pay their tuition.

“I’m trying to go to school full time now that I’m at UTEP, but I also have to work to pay for school; my financial aid doesn’t cover everything,” says Maria, “I still don’t think what I did was wrong, but I know it’s kind of like a shortcut”.

Assistant Dean Holmes acknowledges that the student population at UTEP is unique from other major universities and face many different obstacles in their pursuit of higher education.

“We understand why students plagiarize, and most of the time it’s not because students are trying to be a bad student or to cut corners,” he says. “We work with a student population that has a lot of obligations outside of the university setting.             “Sometimes time is the number one reason why students choose to do it.  We try to work with students on time management and other skills to alleviate the pressure that causes [cheating],” said Holmes.

Studies nationwide have concluded that plagiarism and cheating in universities is prevalent, some even calling it an epidemic. However, while it has grown easier for Internet savvy students such as Maria, neither Siqueiros nor Holmes believe it has gotten any more common than it ever was since the beginning of the “Information Age”.

“There are two takes on [whether or not plagiarism is more common now],” says Holmes. “I do believe that even though the same cheating methods are out there and we’ve become adept to them, technology [has made] some things harder to detect, but like anything if you see it enough, you adjust your sights to it, and I believe some professors have been very instrumental in doing that.”

“I think [plagiarism] has always been there. I haven’t experienced that it’s becoming epidemic [as it has become easier],” said Siqueiros. “Ask yourself, why are students cheating? For me it’s a self-confidence issue.”

“Some people are going to cheat no matter what,” he concludes.

Indeed,’s own blog recently had to address the issue of students attempting to “trick” the site’s algorithm. A simple Google search turned up many methods including a video tutorial on how to make portions of papers submitted undetectable to Turnitin. And simple plagiarism isn’t the only problem.

“There’s lots of ways to cheat on papers,” said Maria.  “There’s ways to make your paper seem longer than it is just by changing the font of all the periods, or making the margins a little wider, I once also paid someone to write a paper for me because I didn’t have time. Turnitin can’t really catch that.”

This is why Siqueiros and other educators preach a trusting relationship between teacher and pupil as well as the power of critical thinking as the main weapon to combat academic dishonesty.

“Of all the academic endeavors, thinking critically is the most satisfying, it’s the most empowering,” he says.  “An empowered person is going to study more; an empowered person is going to seek knowledge. I see students who begin to participate in discussions in class and they’re so empowered and they’re eager to take tests because they are so satisfied.”

By attaining the skills offered by classes like UNIV 1301 and being taught by professors like Gabbert and Siqueiros, students begin to see the value in education. A one-to-one trusting relationship between educator and student can be the number one deterrent against cheating.

“I’m starting my junior year,” Maria states. “Most of those core classes I looked at them like as if I don’t really need them but you have to take them. Now I am getting into courses for my major… I’m taking classes with the same professors… I realize that I’m going to be learning things that I actually need for when I go out there in the real world. And I hope that I can just do the work on my own and not have to cheat, because otherwise what am I getting out of it?”

Assistant Dean Holmes concluded that his office would continue to be both proactive in preventing plagiarism, while at the same time educating even those who may slip up. He pointed to UTEP’s use of the University of Maryland’s Virtual Academic Integrity Laboratory (VAIL). VAIL is an online resource that provides tutorials and information for students regarding plagiarism. Often, when a UTEP student is accused of such an act, he or she is directed to VAIL in order to educate them and prevent future infractions.

“We believe in having educational moments with students,” he says. “We educate in different ways. We’re here to help make sure that [students] actually earned that grade rather than being unfair to those who are actually working hard and dealing with the pressures in life while they are trying to get an education at the same time.”

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