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TEACHERS fight Web plagiarism with vigilance, hard work, help


LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Before her students write term papers, Melanie Hazen makes sure they understand one small thing: You can't put your name on someone else's work. Still, they don't see the harm in borrowing from a Web site.

``Taking something straight off the Internet and using it as their own, they don't seem to think that's stealing at all,'' said Hazen, an English teacher at Montgomery Central High School in Clarksville, Tenn.

At a time when most schools and public libraries are wired to the Internet, students of all ages are being tempted more than ever to cut-and-paste others' work and pass it off as their own.

For students, plagiarism has never been easier. For teachers, combating it has never been more of a challenge.

A handful of teachers, gathered for the National Education Association's annual meeting, talked about their experiences. They stressed that the vast bazaar of information online requires not only eternal vigilance but a back-to-basics emphasis on drafts, outlines, notecards and other skills to produce solid writing from students.

Plagiarism is nothing new, but the Internet has made it so convenient that the average student finds it hard to resist, Hazen and others said.

``It's the same thing we were doing 20 or 30 years ago _ it's just that the Internet wasn't an option,'' said Dean Vogel, an elementary school counselor in Vacaville, Calif., who chairs the Web Site Advisory Committee for the California Teachers Association.

Still, he said, ``The reality is, few kids cheat.''

A recent Rutgers University survey suggests otherwise. It found that more than half of 4,500 high school students surveyed said they'd downloaded an essay from the Internet or copied at least a few sentences. Around 20 percent of college students admitted the same.

If Internet plagiarism is widespread, it's no wonder. With a few clicks of a mouse, students can access an estimated 600 cheating sites, such as cheathouse.com or www.schoolsucks.com. Those with a credit card can click their way to thousands of essays on nearly any topic for around $60-$100.

Go to your favorite Internet search site and type in ``free term papers,'' along with the title of a classic book that bedeviled you in high school. You'll soon see a long list of sites offering free term papers, plus many more for sale. Most sites will e-mail, fax or express mail the papers, no questions asked.

Gene Nelson, a retired biology teacher who now works for turnitin.com, a popular anti-plagiarism site, said some services even let students order papers that are intentionally mediocre, lest an underachiever risk turning in a suspiciously exemplary essay.

``The kids are up here in terms of technology,'' he said, holding one hand above his head. ``The teachers are down here.''

Not so, said several teachers.

``They think that we don't surf the Internet, obviously, but we do, and we know about the same sites that they know about,'' said Michelle Herman, an English and performing arts teacher at Fargo North High School in North Dakota.

Web sites such as turnitin.com offer teachers one solution. Subscribing teachers simply direct students to upload their paper to the Web site, where the text is compared to an estimated 1.5 billion pages already floating around cyberspace. The service then produces an ``originality report'' that a teacher uses to compare the student's work with other essays.

But teachers said the most effective tool is simply knowing one's students.

``A good teacher knows if that student wrote that or not,'' said Nancye Jennings, a third-grade reading teacher in Fairhope, Ala., who has also taught middle school students. ``Once you've had them in class, you can tell. You get a feel for the way they say things, they way they put words together.''

Of course, small class sizes and teaching loads help, they said, but so does taking the time to teach students about how to develop their own ideas.

``If you set up the process and go through it correctly, I think most of the time you can end up with original work from all of your kids,'' said Lois Delmore, an English teacher at Red River High School in Grand Forks, N.D.

``I think you also need to teach students that that writing is theirs _ it's valuable _ and they do good stuff,'' she said.
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