Today’s Technology Thwarts the Term-paper Thief

I have to say I’m beginning to feel that my college experience was in the dark ages.

I remember typing on a machine with great big keys, needing a strong stroke to push down each letter, bringing up the hammer that struck the ribbon that imprinted a letter onto a page.

To make a copy, you turned to carbon paper, and layered a purple piece in between two regular pieces of white paper. You had to be ever so careful, lining up the edges. (And avoiding purple fingers in the process.)

And if you made an error? No “delete” button in those days. You had to pull out a trusty bottle of White Out, carefully paint away your error, blow on it until it was dry, and then type the originally intended letter in the exact spot. This was tricky, because if you did it before the White Out was completely dry, or if you painted the White Out on too thick, your correction would be a pale letter embedded in a gooey mass of white glop.

Students today have all this computer technology, taking term-paper writing in a whole new direction. Word processing, spell-checks, grammar-checks, and an internet full of resources.

However, it is the “internet full of resources” that can cause trouble. It is so easy for students to find material that can easily be ‘added’ to their own. Plagiarism is awfully easy at the end of 2012.

Or is it?

For my older readers, I thought you would find this interesting….

Today, in most colleges and universities, students don’t hand in paper copies of their papers, ever. Instead they submit them electronically. Zap. From their machine directly to the professor.

Almost.

Actually, these papers take a bit of a detour. They leave the computer of the student, and on their way to the professor, they pass through a filter of some sort that ‘reads’ the paper and matches any content to anything on the internet.

When the professors receive the papers, they learn at once (even before reading it) whether the students have written it themselves or if they ‘borrowed’ much of it off of the internet.

How about that.

Technology, which originally made plagiarism easier, is now thwarting it in it’s tracks.

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42 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this post very much! Because I remember those now completely obsolete and by all counts museum pieces of machinery we knew as mechanical type writers! I learned how to touch-type on one of them in high school and while, at the time, I hated it, the skill has served me well over the years and still does. I first encountered PC also in high school and what a discovery that was! You are absolutely right on dangerous of plagiarism at tertiary level and software now in use are getting more sophisticated every day … still kids are always ‘busy’ trying to find a way to ‘borrow’ the idea without proper acknowledgment of the material which, in essence, amounts to plagiarism.

    Best Wishes,
    Daniela

    Reply
    • It sure was a big leap from those typewriters to word processing. Moving text as we do today with ‘cut and paste’ would never even have been considered! I learned to type in high school, as well, and I have always been grateful for the skill.

      Reply
  2. Interesting, isn’t it..?? I never took the time to explain all of that to my college students. After all, they should know better. Right..?? Unfortunately, they don’t. Most of them act like “who me.??” when you try to explain to them why they got an incomplete or an “F” on a written assignment because they “borrowed” the material (or in some cases just the ideas..). Try explaining to them the concept of “original thinking”…!!! What I usually got back from them was something like “Well, everything has already been thought of or written…..”…..And, in retrospect, they were mostly right. There are very few original thoughts (maybe none..??) and with the proliferation of the Internet, everyone who has a thought puts it out there for everyone else to see. What to do..?? I can tell you what I did. I made them rewrite and then include a brief (usually 1-2 page..) synopsis of how they arrived at their conclusions. In other words, make them back up what they say with a reasoned argument. Some times it worked, sometimes not.
    Great topic.!!! Happy New Year!!
    Howard

    Reply
    • Wow.. you put in a lot of effort to help your students develop their own thoughts. I’m glad it sometimes-worked. Happy New Year to you, too!

      Reply
  3. Ah yes, I remember those days of learning to touch type on a heavy, clanking typewriter! White-out, carbon paper (aargh, messy!) working out the margins – how did we do it? There was no other option then, so we just got on with it!
    It’s so much easier now, including checking for plagiarism – it certainly makes the teachers’ work a lot easier.
    Great post!

    Reply
    • Even more than the errors, I think that ‘cut and paste’ was an enormous leap. When I write, I frequently “move” my thoughts from here to there. In those typewriter days, that would be unheard of. You would have to lay out the order of your thoughts and then stick with it!

      Reply
  4. Good post.
    It brings back memories.

    Reply
  5. This is a “thinking” post isn’t it? Technology the “plus and the minus sides” of same. Remembering the befores when there were certain rules that were taught and learned have now become rules that are learned and then taught! Great post, thank you!

    Reply
  6. Fascinating.. to know that cheats can’t prosper even now!
    Writing a book is a piece of cake with modern technology, spell and grammar checks, inserting , cut and paste and so on .
    The interesting thin g is that there will be no original manuscripts to go into collections of writers’ papers, to trace the the development and thoughts of great pieces of writing.
    It’s all ironed out before it becomes a physical manuscript these days….

    Reply
    • So true about the inserting and cut and paste. You used to have to lay out your thoughts very, very carefully, because re-ordering them would be near impossible. Interesting thought about the loss of original manuscripts. One of my sons does a great deal of writing, and in a recent conversation he remarked how his office USED to be filled with paper, but no more. Great to see you again, and I’m delighted to once again be on the receiving end of your thoughts and insights! So glad you decided to come back.

      Reply
  7. That is interesting! Great writing. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  8. I had such a good laugh remembering those old typewriters, clicking and clacking away and how important accuracy was, because as you say, there was no backspace or undo buttons. In terms of the plagiarism software, it may be a tiny bit unfair because I wonder how much original thought is out there in cyberspace, since everyone has written something about everything and there can only be so many ways of saying it. What if it is just bad luck that you come up with the same thought as someone else. I know that they penalise for a percentage of ‘copied’ work but could still be tricky.

    Reply
    • Yes, the “percentage” is often the key. I just learned that, too. (I feel so old!) I suppose that the individual discretion of each professor determines the crime. Slippery slope!

      Reply
  9. I used eraseable bond–much easier than whiteout. Then I worked in a law office and there was no white out or eraseable bond, only erasing or throwing out the document and doing it over–almost drove this english and comm studies major crazy

    Reply
    • Oh, I do remember eraseable bond, (but I believe that came along a little later than my college days). I can’t imagine a law office with neither. You were expected to produce perfection with every document? Yikes. That would have driven me crazy, for sure. I can imagine getting near the end and …. oops. Oh, the pressure!

      Reply
  10. Finally a post I can understand………at least the first couple of paragraphs.

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  11. My funniest experience in the dark ages of term papers was when I was grading papers for a college professor of mine. One of his students had used carbon paper to create a “unique paper” for her husband who also had the same class. Now which one of them was the dumbest??? Back in those days it didn’t take too many checks to figure out that someone was plagiarizing!! hahaha Marsha

    Reply
  12. How do you know all these fascinating FACTOIDS? The inventor of white out got so rich, and now I wonder if they can stay afloat. It’s still good for quick touch-up of wall dings!

    Reply
  13. LOL – I love the way you introduced this topic.

    You may not believe me but here goes. Even though I was a child in the 80s and a teen in the 90s I remember typewriters and word-processors. I didn’t get a computer until I was graduating high school in 1998 so all my term papers from grade school through high school were done on either an electric typewriter or word-process.

    In 2000, I had an on campus job doing office work. The department I worked for still had- get this- a mimeograph machine. Supposedly it was cheaper to make copies on this thing if it was over 100 copies or something.

    So of course and materials for the big lecture classes were supposed to be done on the mimeograph, not the normal copier machine that could actually collate and staple sheets together. They had a counter on the copier and you had to log in jobs so they would know if you copied a big job on the copier and not the mimeograph.

    Somehow, the time and cost of labor to copy on the mimeograph and manually collate and staple multi-page documents wasn’t part of their cost equation. I didn’t stay very long at that job.

    Reply
    • Oh, the mimeograph! That’s the one with the big round drum, right? When I first started teaching, that was the only thing we had to make papers for the class. Strong smell, too, I remember! But that was in the 70′s. By 2000, I would think those machines would all be retired!

      Reply
  14. I remember my fancy Olivetti portable electric typewriter, which I thought was so marvelous. Then when I got my Commodore 64 with word processing, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Good post!

    Reply
  15. That’s good to know. I don’t understand people who cheat; what’s the point of obtaining something when you know you didn’t earn it?

    Reply
  16. Good to know they found a way to thwart the cheating. Original ideas are hard to find these days, look at all the new movies. Most are about old toys, old TV shows or just plain re-hashes of old movies. About the typewriter…. I once had one that had a correction ribbon right in it, you just backspaced to the error and typed over it on the correction ribbon and then re-typed the letter you really wanted. High tech for its day perhaps.

    Reply
  17. 1EarthUnited

     /  December 30, 2012

    Nice post, but with so much info on the net, there’s bound to be some “unintentional” plagiarism.

    Reply
  18. my son’s a prof, i wonder if he’s heard of that filter, i’m gonna pass this great info on to him. Thank you, once again!

    Reply
    • I have 2 profs in my family, and they are both at different schools, and both schools use similar services. I’m guessing your son does use it, too. :)

      Reply

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