James M. Lang blames college-level cheating (“Cheaters U.,” Ideas, Aug. 4) on the structure of the traditional college course — large classes and a few high-stakes exams and assignments. As a teacher of writing, I have found two other reasons: the age-old motivation of laziness and the recent availability of electronic resources.
Unlike the courses Lang describes, my courses have small class sizes, and I assign multiple papers of varying grade weight, with the opportunity to do multiple drafts and revisions. Yet I still see a lot of plagiarism, particularly in longer, research-based assignments.
As a writing teacher, I am more intimately connected with my students’ writing style, so plagiarism is fairly easy for me to detect. Still, I receive the cribbed essays, typically from students who don’t turn in earlier drafts. By not even attempting to write a draft of an assignment, they are demonstrating that they are unwilling to make the effort to engage in the writing process.
With the availability of so much material online, plagiarism has become easier. Before the Internet, a student had to type material copied from another source, which is still quite a bit of work. Now, it’s easy to cut and paste. For many students, the availability of online material has also blurred the boundary of what must be attributed to other writers.
While Lang challenges colleges and universities to build an educational model that discourages academic dishonesty, the burden should also be on the student to be willing to do what it takes to be involved in the learning process, rather than relying on dishonest shortcuts.
The writer teaches in the first-year writing program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.