Technology Will Keep B-School Applicants Honest
Business schools can count on technology to prevent applicants from plagiarizing essays. Pro or con?
Pro: A Deterrent and Remedy(Corrected to change description of computer paste command)
Technology makes plagiarism easy. The modern environment of online access and community has diminished ownership of ideas and information. This global network has also expanded our world views: Students may view the concept of intellectual property as very Western and far removed from cultures that perceive knowledge as a collective resource for social evolution. With those influences, it’s easy to rationalize the quick online search for "personal statement" and the two keystrokes that create most modern plagiarism: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.
The same technology that makes plagiarism easy to commit makes it easy to detect. In the past we relied on recollection and incongruities to recognize plagiarism. Today we simply search for a familiar-sounding phrase. We submit essays to software that scours thousands of sources for matching content. This puts the commission and detection of plagiarism on a level playing field.
Perhaps technology’s most untapped potential is plagiarism prevention. Whether by generational, cultural, or "rational" ignorance, many commit plagiarism without full knowledge of its definition or consequences. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that "… an easily replicable, scalable, and virtually costless educational intervention can be highly effective at reducing the prevalence of student plagiarism." Business schools have an educational opportunity before candidates enter their doors. They can provide online tutorials and webcasts during the admission process. They can clearly display definitions of plagiarism on essay instructions. They can encourage applicants to do self-plagiarism detection before essay submission.
Education and prevention, in addition to detection, are essential in developing professional integrity not just in our students, but also in tomorrow’s leaders. Technology can indeed be the key.
Con: A Limited Tool
Make no mistake about it: My 20 years of research shows that students in high school and college cheat. And now students, often with their parents’ knowledge, are buying admissions essays to submit as they negotiate the increasingly competitive college admissions process. Something needs to be done, and plagiarism detection technology seems to hold the answer for many. While it may be the most obvious immediate answer, it raises some serious issues.
One concern is the message it sends, especially to those who do not cheat. Publicity surrounding the adoption of plagiarism detection methods at different schools can convince these students they have no choice but to cheat as well to remain competitive. Unfortunately, such methods can establish an atmosphere of distrust between students and their schools even before they arrive on campus. It seems to me that students, and society in general, need to be able to place a greater level of trust in our major institutions right now.
Second, this form of cheating detection gives an advantage to wealthy students. Affluent applicants can afford to hire either someone to write admissions essays for them or a coach to "help" them write their own. Plagiarism software will not detect such work—assuming that it’s original. And this raises an issue of fundamental fairness.
While it may sound naïve to some, perhaps it’s time colleges show some initiative. Maybe they could use their resources to encourage students to do the right thing rather than just looking for those who do not. An obvious problem with plagiarism detection strategies is that they often solve nothing. Students either subvert the system or apply to a school that isn’t checking admissions essays or doesn’t require them. If colleges would show a willingness to step up and address the real problem rather than just isolate it, the benefits to society could prove enormous.