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Educational Sites Provide Ample Fodder for Plagiarism

Paper mills and cheat sites are losing ground to social and user-generated Web sites as sources of material for student papers, and Wikipedia rules above all others as a source for plagiarism. A third of matched content derives from online sites where people contribute and share content, while only 15 percent of content matches have ties to sites specifically promoting "academic dishonesty." At the same time, legitimate educational sites end up providing a quarter of matched material. Those conclusions come out a new study by iParadigms, a company that develops applications for detecting plagiarism in written work.

The study examined the sources for 110 million content matches in 40 million student papers submitted to iParadigms' service, Turnitin, over a 10-month period, from June 2010 to March 2011.

The study noted that 7 percent of matches could be found in Wikipedia. The next four most popular sources for word-for-word content were:,,, and

The company acknowledged that the analysis doesn't examine whether the material used in the papers was sourced correctly elsewhere in the paper, only that it matched existing entries in Turnitin's index of site content. iParadigms' technology doesn't detect plagiarism per se, the study's authors stated in the report; rather, it "detects patterns of matching text to help instructors determine if plagiarism has occurred."

"A digital culture that promotes sharing, openness, and reuse is colliding with one of the fundamental tenets of education--the ability to develop, organize and express original thoughts," the report pointed out. "For many students who have grown up sharing music, retweeting thoughts, and downloading free software, the principle of originality in research and writing can seem antiquated. It is important for educators to draw a clear line between what can be reproduced and what must be created. If not, there is a risk that a generation of students will not develop the critical thinking and communication skills necessary for a productive life."

The report offered recommendations for instructors to curtail plagiarism, such as using technology "to address a digital problem." (The company reported a 30 percent to 35 percent reduction in unoriginal work in the first year for institutions that widely adopt its own application.)

The study, "Plagiarism: Myths and Realities," is available with registration on iParadigms' site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.