The Institute - March 2007 - 10

eth ics
rism by engineering students of particular concern because engineers are
responsible in many ways for keeping
the community safe. If a student has no
understanding of proper ethical behavior now, what will that person be like
later?" Wiltshire asks.
That's one reason why incidents of
plagiarism are being taken seriously.
For example, the IEEE has developed a
number of sanctions for plagiarists that
range from sending a letter of apology to
being banned from publishing with the
IEEE for up to five years [see "The Plagiarism Problem: Now You Can Help,"
next page].

Papers Put Profs
On the Offensive
By Anna Bogdanowicz


ore incidents of college students plagiarizing others' work
are popping up today than
ever before, according to engineering professors queried by The Institute. And a recent U.S. survey released
by the Center for Academic Integrity of
50 000 undergraduates shows the problem is on the rise. According to the center, 10 percent admitted to plagiarizing
in 1999, whereas almost 40 percent said
they did so in 2005.
And last year, for example, 21 mechanical engineering graduates from Ohio
University, in Athens, were found to
have plagiarized their master's and doctoral theses, and others at the school are
now under investigation. The problem


The Institute | March 2007

is growing at universities around the
world as well.
Many professors place the blame on
the Internet, which has made plagiarizing a simple copy-and-paste process. But
there are other reasons for the increase,
they say, including a misunderstanding of what plagiarism is. Other factors
include differences in how plagiarism
is perceived, a lack of basic education in
ethics and, to put it simply, the ability to
get away with it because professors are
too busy to check every paper.
The consequences of growing up
with little feel for ethical behavior
could be devastating, says IEEE Member
Richard Wiltshire, a former part-time
lecturer in electrical engineering at
Queensland University of Technology,
in Brisbane, Australia. "I find plagia-

REINFORCEMENT One key to stopping plagiarism is to make sure students understand proper attribution. Although most
students are taught in high school to cite
their sources, that principle needs to be
reinforced in college, says IEEE Member Michael Hoffmann, a professor of
microwave engineering at the Institute
of Microwave Techniques, part of the
University of Ulm, in Germany.
"Before students begin to write, I go
over our institute's rules of conduct, how
to cite a source, and what makes good
scientific writing," he says. Students
must sign a document stating that they
understand the rules. Just telling students their theses will be checked for plagiarism seems to dissuade them from
copying, Hoffmann adds.
IEEE Fellow Lloyd "Pete" Morley, who
retired in late December from his post as
a professor of electrical engineering at
the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa,
made sure that his students understood
from day one of class what constitutes
plagiarism and why it's a serious offense.
Students need such reminders because
"they may have heard about plagiarism,
but not truly understood what it meant,"
Morley says.
Sometimes students are uncertain
when they might be crossing the line.
Vikrant Agarwal, an engineering junior
at the Pune Institute of Computer Technology, in India, and chair of the school's
IEEE student branch, says it's unclear
how many words writers can copy before
attributing the information to a source.
To be safe, Agarwal says, he always cites
his sources, even if he's referencing only
a few words.
Senior Member Bruce McNair, a professor of electrical and computer engi-

neering at Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., sets strict limits.
For McNair, using more than four consecutive words or lifting an uncommon
phrase may be plagiarizing.
is unethical is not universally understood, according to several professors.
In one of Wiltshire's classes, 35 students were copying each other's papers.
"They didn't think they were plagiarizing-they thought they were just pulling
resources from each other," he says.
And when McNair confronted one of
his students with plagiarism, he said the
student told him it's an honor for the
sources when someone takes their words
directly without attribution.
But students at India's Pune Institute,
for one, are being taught that copying
another's work is unethical. "Plagiarism
is a very serious offense at my university," Agarwal says, adding that in serious
cases, students receive a failing grade.
Although spotting plagiarism has
gotten easier with search engines such
as Google and special detection software,
professors don't always apply the technology. They rarely run every paper through
a plagiarism check because it's so timeconsuming, Wiltshire says.
Instead, most look for telltale signs-
an inconsistent writing style, say, or a
paper that is suspiciously well written-
and then either search for the phrases on
the Web or use a detection program such
as Turnitin. That program checks papers
against other student manuscripts submitted through Turnitin, and it also
checks the Internet.
At most schools, punishments vary
from having students rewrite their
paper to, in extreme cases, expelling
them. In most cases, students are given
a second chance.
Still, some professors say plagiarism
has little to do with a lack of understanding. "Students ought to know if they're
stealing somebody else's work. I think
sometimes it's a temptation because
they think it's an easy way out," says Life
Senior Member Charles Hickman, an
adjunct professor in the electrical and
computer engineering department at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Others say that in the end it's just a
culture of getting away with it. "Students
think if they're not caught, then plagiarism
is not a bad thing," Hoffmann says. *

For more information on the plagiarism survey of students conducted by the
Center for Academic Integrity, a consortium of more than 390 institutions affiliated
with the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., visit

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