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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Rutgers University Study Revealed Epidemic of Cheating Among High School Students

Aired March 5, 2002 - 07:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Plagiarism is a dirty word. It's not one of the ones that George Carlin says you can't say on television, but it's a dirty word nonetheless, and it's repeated everywhere and often. One of those accused these days, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, charged with plagiarizing sections in one of her books. This morning, there is word that she's taken herself off the panel of judges for this year's Pulitzer prize.

Fellow historian, Stephen Ambrose, apologized for not properly attributing passages from others that appeared in their own works. And in Piper, Kansas, a story that boggles my mind. A high school teacher failed 28 students, when she caught them plagiarizing a report. She resigned when the school board intervened and reversed her decision. She told Aaron Brown last month on NEWS NIGHT how she knew they were cheating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE PELTON, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: Some people were saying the exact same thing word for word. And so when I went and looked up the reports, I noticed that the wording, it was a little bit far beyond what they could write.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: We decided to conduct our own unscientific survey of people to see if they ever cheated in school, and here is what some of them had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We used to write the answers and we would tape them under our skirts and then we'd put our skirt over and then we'd just sort of slip up the skirt and we'd see the little cheating there (ph). But, of course, it ripped when we took it off. It was quite painful, so we paid a price for the cheating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it OK to cheat on a test?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because you're cheating yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: Well, a Rutgers University study last year revealed an epidemic of cheating among high school students. Rutgers Professor, Don McCabe, joins us this morning on AMERICAN MORNING, along with John Barrie of Turnitin.com, a plagiarism detection Web site. He joins us this morning from San Francisco -- welcome to both of you.

Mr. McCabe, let me begin with you.

DON MCCABE, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

CAFFERTY: How bad is it?

MCCABE: It's bad. It's bad at both the high school level and the college level. I've done work at both.

CAFFERTY: Has it gotten appreciably worse lately?

MCCABE: That's hard to measure because of different samples. But all indicators are that it has, over the last few decades, increased. And recently, with the advent of the Internet, we've seen another bump upwards.

CAFFERTY: What's the Internet got to do with it in your opinion?

MCCABE: The Internet makes plagiarism very simple. It also, I think more importantly, makes it anonymous. You can kind of do it in the privacy of your own room. You don't have to go to the library and sit there, you know, copying out passages that somebody might detect.

CAFFERTY: Now we have in California John Barrie of Turnitin.com. John, tell me how your Web site works and how it can be used as a tool to combat plagiarism.

JOHN BARRIE, TURNITIN.COM: Well, essentially, once an institution signs up with our service, whether it's a high school or community college or college, the instructors at that institution create sort of like hotmail-type of accounts. And the instructors tell their students, "Give me the paper version of your paper and go over here and give me the digital version of your paper."

So the student goes on the Internet, copies and pastes their paper into a Web browser. Our computers receive it, we compare it against three databases: a copy of (ph) the Internet, which we constantly update and maintain; a database of books and journals; and every other student term paper ever submitted to us. And at the end of that process, what the faculty ends up with is an exact copy of the student paper. And every single phrase, paragraph or page that came from any other source is underlined and color-coded. So the green text came from the green source and the blue text came from the blue source. And it's an unambiguous way for a faculty member to essentially source out a student's paper.

CAFFERTY: So the same technology that makes it easier to plagiarize, the Internet, the computer technology also makes it easier to nail them to the wall on this stuff by just feeding their written works into the computers and comparing them against, as you mentioned, the databases. Any percentage that comes to mind based on your experiences of how many kids are cheating these days?

BARRIE: Well, I can tell you that we analyze thousands of term papers a day. Right now, we have clients in more than 37 countries. And I can tell you that about 30 percent of that work is less than original, which I think...

CAFFERTY: Thirty percent?

BARRIE: ... which I think is a conservative number compared to some of the other studies out there.

CAFFERTY: Yeah, I was going to say, Mr. McCabe, it's even higher according to the survey you've done, right?

MCCABE: Right. Certainly, if you look at what I describe as cut and paste plagiarism, where a student might be going to a few different sources and they get a few sentences from here, a paragraph from there...

CAFFERTY: Right.

MCCABE: ... over half the students acknowledge that they've done it. I'm sure there are some others that have done it that are not willing to acknowledge it.

CAFFERTY: Why do they do it?

MCCABE: Oh, there's a variety of reasons. Some literally don't feel it's wrong, particularly when they're engaging in cut and paste plagiarism. You know, they suggest that the Internet is such a terrific resource and all I'm doing is going and doing good research and putting it together. Others because they know other students are cheating and nothing is being done about it, so they feel they're being disadvantaged.

CAFFERTY: I can remember when I was in high school, instead of reading the entire book, you'd get the classic comic book and you -- I mean, there's all kinds of forms. But let me ask you about this case in Piper, Kansas. What is the message that's being sent by a school board when a teacher catches 28 kids plagiarizing their reports, fails those 28, and then the school board under pressure from those kids' parents, apparently, overturns the decision? I mean, the message to the kids across the country is, do what you want. It doesn't matter anyway.

MCCABE: Right, somebody will get you off the hook eventually, everything will turn out OK. And I certainly hear that attitude expressed in comments that students provide to me in my surveys. It's very pervasive.

CAFFERTY: You're studying this in great detail. What's the solution? Is there one? What do we do about this?

MCCABE: I think there is. I think, unfortunately, many schools don't even bother to discuss this issue with their students until they've had a crisis. And I'm very much in favor of promoting integrity. And although it's not a perfect solution, it's certainly based on research that we've done at schools that have academic honor codes, for example. There is an indication that it does help reduce the level of cheating to a manageable level as far as other students are concerned. It also forces students to think from, you know, an ethical perspective about what they're doing.

CAFFERTY: Right. All right, gentlemen, I've got to leave it there. I appreciate you coming in very much. Don McCabe of Rutgers University, and from California, John Barrie of Turnitin.com, thank you so much, both of you, for being with us.

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