Much has been written regarding the richness of the Internet as an information source for students undertaking research. Green compares researching in traditional libraries with that conducted via the world wide web in The Web as a Tool for Research. Whilst it is acknowledged that the majority of Internet content is unsuitable, difficult to locate, or provides unproductive diversions, online databases and networked CD-ROMs will overcome many of these difficulties.
However, regardless of the delivery method, digital information provides increased opportunity for plagiarism than the paper-based print counterpart. With "cut and paste" (C&P) being platform independant, and easily achieved with the most basic of skills and programs, students are able to snip unlimited amounts of wordage, and create reasonably coherant essays. The more astute researcher will alter sufficient words to make plagiarism detection by search engine 'phrase submission' difficult.
The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age (McKenzie, 1998) outlines teaching strategies to counter this unethical behaviour. Whilst addressing this issue in both the cognitive and affective domains will heighten awareness, perhaps it is time to consider utilising the same technology that has contributed to the problem.
An Alternative Strategy
As many schools develop intranets, and increase access to the Internet, webmasters should become increasingly more aware of their social responsibilities in education. In modelling sample answers, in providing hyperlinks to known quality documents, and whilst publishing student worksamples, a reduction of the C&P syndrome may be achieved by the insertion of a few lines of code.
The question was raised on oztl_net listserve (the Australian listserve for Teacher Librarians) that possibly the C&P use could be a measure of a student's ability to select and analyse in selecting keywords and phrases?" However, it has been observed that when students C&P from digital documents into a word processing program, they don't engage as actively as when they have to write it out (either with pen or by keyboard). They can easily lose meaning and context.
In devising a strategy whereby students are forced to actively participate in the writing process, their comprehension is enhanced. In terms of the "Research Cycle", they have "located" the information, but then they need to analyse and synthesise - both of which are difficult for less able students when the product is mere symbols. The researcher needs to move beyond the superficial decoding of the text, and assist in the construction of meaning.
It is important that students realize their own individual creations add new interpretations and insights to the existing knowledge base, and not just acknowledge that nothing has been achieved alone by citation (Robbins, 2001).
Is it a retrograde step to require a return to pen and paper based note-making? In a single research lesson in the library, a colleague notes that whilst one part of the class is printing a page from a CD ROM and highlighting with pens in one research rotation, another group multi-tasking and the other two groups using pens & different graphic organizers at different resource locations. It is noted that many practical subjects require the submission of the students' worked solutions (eg math). Similarly, in research-based subjects one common anti-plagiarism is the requirement for the submission of a "learning journal", showing sources, ideas, reflection and content. In truth, even the most technologically advanced schools have not completely abandoned the pen.
The code above will prevent the Drag-&-RightClick method of copying when inserted into the head of a document. However, it does not prevent the Drag-ControlC-Copy action from the edit menu of browsers, nor the Drag-MacSave functions.
The above code, provided by Spookster, requires the construction of a transparent gif (called "blank" in this example), which acts like a shield to protect text from copying when viewed via Netscape.
However, it should be noted that none of the above will prevent the source code from being viewed.
Another strategy is to have new pages open in popup windows. As these may be configured without a menu bar, there is no "save", "save as" or "print" function. Although the "print screen" key may circumvent part of this process, the source code is not extractable.
The source code for creating a popup window is:
No method is 100% fool-proof; the above will just make plagiarism of text from websites a little more difficult. However, there may be spin off benefits created by raising awareness of the plagiarism issue.
Can there be a technical answer to an ethical problem? As with all matters pedological, there are no easy answers, no magic solutions, no infallable strategies. However, if we don't seek the answers, there is no point to asking the question!
Green, D.W. (1997). The web as a tool for research.From Now On 6(4). [online] http://emifyes.iserver.net/fromnow/jan97/websearch.html
McKenzie, J. (1998). The new plagiarism: Highway robbery in a digital age. From Now On 7(8). [online] http://emifyes.iserver.net/fromnow/may98/cov98may.html
Robbins, D. (2001). Antiplagiarism 2. Personal email to A.B. Credaro.
Spookster.(2001). Website Abstraction Help Forum. [online] http://freewarejava.com/ubb/Forum2/HTML/004683.html