From: Paul Brians <email@example.com> (40)
Subject: Students seeking help via the net
As someone who has posted a lot of material aimed at helping students
through various literary texts on the World Wide Web, I am the recipient of
a steady trickle of mail from all over asking for more help. Usually I am
glad to reply, but sometimes the requests take a form something like this:
"I need to know by tomorrow night what the central motivation of the main
character in novel X is." Obviously this is a student trying to get me to
do his/her homework. I usually politely direct such people to their local
library or the book they are supposed to have read.
Some of the students who write me tell me that the first thing they do when
starting a research paper is search the Web. That's not a bad idea, but I
fear in some cases they are trying to short-circuit the reading/research
assignment entirely by cribbing someone else's ideas. Many college courses
now involve students posting papers and commenting on each other's work.
Such papers sometimes show up in the more comprehensive search engines such
as Alta Vista where it would be easy to copy them verbatim. Of course,
dimmer students are probably already trying such ploys as copying chunks
from Encarta into their papers.
My own approach to avoiding plagiarism is to insist on preliminary
proposals for papers, then first drafts, then second drafts. This process
not only works better in terms of teaching students something, but makes
mere plagiarism difficult. But this is a problem we are going to face more
The commercial vendors of papers haven't set up business on the Web yet, to
my knowledge; but they probably will. When and if they do, we'll need
someone to index their offerings and provide suspicious teachers with a
guide to where that strangely literate paper may have come from. Web-savvy
teachers may suspect an electronic source, but a lot of us are still pretty
naive about what's available out there, particularly since the news media
seem to perversely insist on ignoring the scholarly resources of the Web.
I'd like to see a discussion of two issues:
1) the ethics of posting scholarship and student helps and dealing with
requests for further help
2) ways of dealing with the increased risk of plagiarism in the networked era.
If this discussion was already undertaken while I was unsubscribed due to
various mailer problems here, I apologize, but think it would be worth
Paul Brians, Department of English,Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-5020