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A sorry tale of lies and deception

At least half of teachers in sixth forms and colleges think internet plagiarism is a problem, according to a recent survey. It's tempting to say that the other half simply haven't spotted it yet.

Some have speculated that students are confused about what constitutes cheating. They find a good source and somehow can't help taking too much of it. It's like that cake left out in the kitchen. You take a slice, then another, and, before you know it, it's gone.

For others, though, there are no such grey areas. From the beginning they set out to cheat. Take the student I most recently caught doing this. To spare his blushes, let's call him Raymond.

I set the class a piece of imaginative writing. The unit we were working from specified only a piece of narrative. I have learnt through experience, though, that if you ask students to write a story of their own from scratch, the quality of the results is variable, to say the least. So I had gone back to the tried and tested format of getting them to write about what they know. Take an incident from your childhood, I said, and write about it in a way you think will interest others.

Quite a few of the students, including Raymond, were originally from west Africa, mainly Nigerians and Ghanaians. They gave a range of fascinating insights into childhoods spent in cultures very different to mine. All the big topics were there: life and death, war and peace, love, loss and rejection.

For Raymond that seemed to say: take an incident from the paper of an American student on the net, make superficial changes and bung it Jonesy's way. He forgot I had access to the same internet search engines as he did.

At least he had the gumption to change Memphis for Accra and realised Jonesy might smell a rat if his Ghanaian characters were called Chuck and Dee-Anne. But the rest was word for word as his Tennessee source had written it, even down to Mom, Pop and Gramps.

More in sorrow than in anger, I clipped the original to his version. I was tempted to write "You're nicked" at the top, but contented myself with a simple "Fail!"

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