Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 15, 2024

The Download Dilemma

Has the Internet Made Cheating Too Easy for Kids?

Full810.gifThe high school English teacher was a rookie, true, but no dummy. “When I was first teaching, I had a student turn in an Internet report as if it were his paper.

He wanted to prove that he had worked so hard that he brought it up to me and pointed out the corner of the document that showed how late he was working. The time was listed right next to the Internet address that the computer records when someone prints information off the Internet,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified.

“He was essentially pointing out to me that he was turning in something he had copied from the Net without even knowing it,” she added.

It used to be that cheating was limited to scribbling crib notes on hands, pawning off an older sibling’s paper as self-written, whispering across an aisle or passing test files from student to student. Now cheating – primarily among high school and college students – has gone high tech and sophisticated.

Downloading ready-to-go term papers from the Internet and “cut and paste” plagiarism have developed a whole new realm of e-cheaters at the high school level. The Internet, its accessibility and ease, along with an abundance of e-cheating sites have made it easier to cheat – to download a student’s workload in seconds flat. Electronic cheating can be as easy as having a modem and a credit card.

“Certainly, the Internet has made it easier for students to cheat,” says Donald McCabe, a professor and the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University. “I think the primary motivation for many students in high school is the increased competition they perceive to get into the college of their or their parents’ choice. There’s a sense among many that doing well in college is not good enough unless it’s the right college.”

McCabe conducted a study in 1999 that found that more than 75 percent of college students admitted to some form of cheating. About one third of the 2,100 students who participated admitted to serious test cheating, while half admitted to one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments.

The pattern for high school students is similar. A 2000 survey in Who’s Who Among American High School Students revealed that 84 percent of participants admitted cheating was common among their high-achieving peers. A national survey by Rutgers’ Management Education Center of 4,500 high school students found that 75 percent of them engage in serious cheating while more than half have plagiarized work they found on the Internet.

Compounding the problem is students’ mentality that cheating might just be OK. “When they see so much unethical behavior in our society among business people, politicians and even religious leaders, they don’t understand what’s wrong with a little cheating,” says McCabe. “A number of students completing my surveys challenge me to devote my efforts to something that really matters. Cheating in high school is certainly not something that does matter in their minds.”

What Constitutes Cheating?

Rick Sambrotto, a high school teacher, thinks the problem lies in how most students don’t understand what constitutes cheating and plagiarizing. “A few years ago, I started using a simple honor code on homework assignments and tests, asking students to sign the statement. We talked about it for a few minutes at the beginning of the year to understand what it’s all about, what kinds of things are considered cheating, etc.,” he says.

Strict honor codes or honor courts can be a big deterrent for all types of cheating at all age levels. The same study that revealed 75 percent of students cheat also reports that only 57 percent cheated at schools with honor codes.

McCabe insists that defining what qualifies as electronic plagiarism is key for teachers.

While most students understand that downloading a paper from a term paper mill or website is wrong, far fewer have a clear understanding of what needs to be cited and how to cite information they use from different websites,” says McCabe. “At least some feel that if something is on the Internet, it is public information and doesn’t need to be cited. Others feel that ‘borrowing’ only a sentence or two from a source, whether written or on the Internet, does not require a citation.”

More blatant cheaters buy essays or term papers in their entirety from Internet paper banks such as, or for as little as $19.95.

Some schools nationwide have turned to online services to police their students, using the student’s own weapon to fight e-cheating. Services such as or allow teachers to submit student papers, then search the Internet for matching prose. The teacher then gets the paper back within 48 hours, color-coded for plagiarism.

“It isn’t very hard to find a website somewhere that contains a synopsis of some kind – it depends on the book. In these cases, if I have reason to be suspicious, I’ve typed in a particularly glaring phrase and searched in Yahoo! If you get several phrases that come up with website matches, they used the website or at least copied the phrase and did not properly credit it,” says Sambrotto.

Solutions to the Problem

McCabe insists that the answers lie with teachers educating students and serving as adult role models. “The basic problem remains unchanged,” he says, adding that the answer lies in “helping students learn how to do good, scholarly research and encouraging them to act with integrity.”

So, what can a parent do to effectively discourage e-cheating?
“I do think parents need to take a leadership role. Among other things, they need to demand that schools address this issue,” says McCabe. “One of the most difficult tasks for parents in this regard may be a willingness to support teachers when it’s their child who has transgressed some school rule. As hard as it may be for many parents, I think they need to be willing to accept academic performance from their children that may fall short of outstanding rather than putting so much pressure on them that they feel driven to cheat.”

Other proactive steps middle and high school parents can take include talking to kids about stealing other’s work, making sure children understand school plagiarism policies and helping them learn to manage time on big writing assignments. If parents aren’t sure if a paper is original material, they should simply ask their child for a brief overview, followed by a few specific questions.

“Parents can also look over the sources that students are using and compare the words to the final paper or product,” suggests Jean Vintinner, a high school English teacher. “This will help parents evaluate whether students understand the information they are gathering or if they are simply regurgitating or copying the original source.”

Kathleen E. Conroy is the the mother of two and an editor.

Honesty in Cyberspace

The Business Software Alliance has a newly designed website,, offering tips for parents and educators to use when talking with children about respect for creative works online. The site advises that kids ages 9 to 12 are the perfect age for a computer ethics lesson from parents. Try these ideas:

  1. Stay close: Involved parents are the best teachers. Know what games and software your kids are using and where they came from.
  2. Define the terms: Engage kids in conversation about who owns the copyright in the games, music and software they enjoy. Define cyber-ethics terms such as “copyright,” “license agreement” and “software piracy,” and discuss them with your children. Show them what a copyright symbol (©) looks like and what it means – that the material is owned by someone else and may not be copied without permission.
  3. Establish ground rules: “Don’t copy.” Whether at home, school or at a friend’s house, turn respect for copyright law into family policy.


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