Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.
But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.
It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.
In the broader intellectual sphere, incidents of plagiarism skyrocketed in universities in the late 1990s, and some people reached for scapegoats like the Evil Internet. But others began to rethink plagiarism, not only what it was but what it meant that administrators and instructors reacted as they did. Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor at Syracuse University, sensed that her students were lifting sentences from published sources not because they were bad people or didn’t know how to cite things, but because they didn’t understand the texts they were reading well enough to synthesize them. Howard realized that what was monolithically labeled “plagiarism” by institutions was actually a bunch of activities. Some you could legitimately condemn. Some you could teach through. Others were culturally acceptable practices, even time-honored and literary ones. The students had simply done them awkwardly or badly. Howard advocated that policies on student authorship abandon the monolith and try to find students where they were, morally and cognitively.
if you’re a student, plagiarism will seem to be an annoying guild imposition without a persuasive rationale (who cares?); for students, learning the rules of plagiarism is worse than learning the irregular conjugations of a foreign language. It takes years, and while a knowledge of irregular verbs might conceivably come in handy if you travel, knowledge of what is and is not plagiarism in this or that professional practice is not something that will be of very much use to you unless you end up becoming a member of the profession yourself. It follows that students who never quite get the concept right are by and large not committing a crime; they are just failing to become acclimated to the conventions of the little insular world they have, often through no choice of their own, wandered into.
People have been going to libraries and using books and then not citing them forever. I don't think there's anyone who hasn't plagiarized. When I was in elementary school, for instance, we'd go to the library with index cards and open up the encyclopedia and write down exactly what it said. The difference is that now we can type the things we think are plagiarized into Google and see what comes up. But in a sense more students getting caught is a positive thing, because it creates a real teachable moment for us, when we can explain very thoroughly why it's not OK to write like that.