Have the talk with your kids ... about plagiarism and the web

The New York TimesThe New York TimesConcern over the fact that students are grabbing whole sentences and paragraphs of words off of the Internet and not attributing them to original sources or authors is not new. But every once in a while we take note of the growing ignorance of (or comfort with) plagiarism in the digital age, and it's alarming.

The New York Times reports that despite all of the plagiarism alarms sounded, it is getting less not more clear to students what is stealing and what isn't when it comes to the written word on the web. A Rutgers University business professor and co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, Donald L. McCabe, surveyed 14,000 students from 2006 to 2010 and found that 40 percent of undergraduates admit to copying at least a few sentences in written school assignments. But the scarier finding is that the number of students who believe copying from the Internet to be considered "serious cheating" is going down -- 29 percent consider it serious business in recent surveys compared with 34 percent in earlier surveys

There seems to be a growing sense that a generation that has grown up with sharing music, links, and freely downloading music and movies is less concerned about the origin of every single line written on the web. Mashing up one idea with others and then your own has become pretty standard stuff on the web. So we may be witnessing a major evolution of copyright during the digital revolution. Even if that's the way things are going, we're not there yet, and writers work hard and don't get paid enough as it is for their work, so it's important to talk about how to read information, synthesize it, paraphrase it and then, yes, cite it or link to it, when writing on the web. Middle school and high school students who must turn in papers via Turnitin.com, a plagiarism checker, clearly know plagiarism is a thing to be avoided, or it will cost you.

Like just about everything else in life, what you learn and truly absorb about the right and wrong ways to use and attribute information found on the web begins at home. So, yes, talk to your kids about the fact that cutting and pasting, lifting chunks of copy--however you want to phrase it--is plagiarism, and it's wrong. Not to mention, lazy.

Listen to Sarah Wilensky, a senior at Indiana University, who gives me hope that generation generalizations are just that and don't apply to everyone at any age. "You're not coming up with new ideas if you're grabbing and mixing and matching," she told the Times. "It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people--authors and artists and scholars--who are doing original work."

Let's hope so.

Are you careful not to cut and paste willy nilly, or do you think concerns about plagiarism on the web are overblown?