Plagiarism is becoming ubiquitous in academia as an increase in AI-powered writing tools become more advanced and available to students. As a result, educators are faced with preventing, identifying, and stopping plagiarism even as plagiarism becomes increasingly harder to detect.
But why should educators even continue to tackle plagiarism? What are the documented and potentially long-lasting impacts of students plagiarizing their work?
According to a recent study, there was a marked increase globally in paraphrasing and text replacement during the pandemic in 2020 compared to 2019. The average similarity score, which is the score that comes from detecting what content was paraphrased versus what is original, increased from 35.1 percent to 49.6 percent. This is especially troubling considering the already negative effects the pandemic had on education. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that the pandemic erased over two decades of progress with drops in both mathematics and reading scores for students at record highs.
When a student chooses to plagiarize, they are circumventing reading the material or using critical thinking skills to draw their own original conclusions and express their thoughts in their own words. This means that students are 1) not learning the material; and 2) not learning the skills that are only developed through learning which include critical thinking, identifying biases, identifying logical fallacies, problem-solving, the ability to discern objective versus subjective statements, etc. The rise in plagiarism is also correlated with an increase in illiteracy rates. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education, 54 percent of American adults are only able to read at or below a 6th-grade level. This percentage continues to steadily increase every year.