College students use social media to cheat

Student use of cheat sites has decreased.

Social media and content sharing websites account for one-third of plagiarism among college students, and paper mills are far less popular than once thought, according to a report detailing the most common cheating methods in higher education.

iParadigms, creator of anti-plagiarism site, released a report April 28 documenting where students are turning for research material. Educators submit their students’ research papers and assignments to Turnitin, which then compares the content to three information repositories filled with more than 14 billion current and archived web pages.

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The study shows that legitimate educational websites are also among students’ most heavily used internet resources.

In fact, sites like and are frequently cited in student papers, and 25 percent of student content that matched material in the Turnitin database was from legitimate academic and homework web sources.

But most submitted student material matched sources available on social media and content sharing websites, according to iParadigms.

That doesn’t mean those student assignments were plagiarized; Turnitin includes the disclaimer that the service “does not detect nor determine plagiarism,” but by showing matches to other web content, gives educators a chance to determine if a student has violated a college’s plagiarism policy.

The ever-increasing role of social media like Facebook and Twitter in students’ daily lives could complicate colleges’ efforts to curb cheating and explain long-established plagiarism rules.

“A digital culture that promotes sharing, openness, and re-use is colliding with one of the fundamental tenets of education – the ability to develop, organize, and express original thoughts,” the report said. “For many students who have grown up sharing music, re-tweeting 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.”

Thirteen percent of matched content originated on news websites, and 15 percent came from cheat websites and paper mills. Paper mills, such as, have vast online repositories of completed papers. Students can narrow their search for a term paper with a phrase or by clicking through hundreds of categories.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, was the most frequently matched site in the Turnitin study. Answers.Yahoo ranked second, with and coming in third and fourth, respectively. Fourteen of the 25 most commonly matched sites on Turnitin were considered legitimate sources.

Many in higher education have discouraged students from using Wikipedia as a primary source for a term paper or class assignment, recommending that students use the site for background research and cite sources mentioned at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry.

During Turnitin’s 10-month research period, “sites promoting academic dishonesty saw the largest decline of any category.”

“While it is too early to draw long term conclusions, the short-term results are encouraging,” the report said.

Researchers at Texas Tech University in 2009 questioned the usefulness of anti-plagiarism websites like Turnitin. The academicians said the online services too often flagged common phrases and deterred students from using valuable sources in papers and essays.

Susan Lang, one of the plagiarism researchers and an associate professor at Texas Tech, said reports generated by the plagiarism software highlight many phrases that qualify as frequently used jargon, such as “global warming” or “according to a university study.”

The Texas Tech research showed that of 400 student papers flagged for further review, only two were found to be plagiarized.

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