Alon Yamin is CEO and co-founder of Copyleaks, a cloud-enabled, AI-powered plagiarism detection platform that helps academic institutions, students, publishers, IP lawyers, businesses, and more track content, ensuring its originality.
Worldwide we are still discovering the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that what lays before us is a world transformed. But, when it comes to the world of education, we must ask ourselves, what does that mean?
We now have a generation of students who missed over a year of in-class experience. As for the educators? They are busy filling the gaps left by that year or more of remote learning while trying to push forward with the curriculum.
What behaviors or patterns rose out of that time, and how do we address them? Specifically, what can we learn from the rise of plagiarism among students during the pandemic and its aftermath?
A study by Copyleaks compared plagiarism similarity scores before and during the pandemic showed increased plagiarism throughout student assignments globally. Specifically, it uncovered that more paraphrasing and text replacement appeared in student assignments during the pandemic than in 2019. It’s equally important to note that the findings were unanimous among countries worldwide, including the United States, India, Brazil, and more.
A separate study by Copyleaks analyzed more than 1,000 student assignments submitted through a plagiarism checker after March 2020, when most schools moved to remote learning. That study identified that the average similarity score of 35.1% went up to 49.6% compared to pre-COVID assignments of the exact nature.
It would be easy to assume that with the move to remote learning, the rise in plagiarism was simply students trying to get out of the work. Or, because they didn’t have teachers in-person to monitor them, they did not put in their total effort. Yet to assume such a thing would be missing the bigger picture and an even more significant opportunity.
Plagiarism software has often been seen as a “Gotcha!” tool against students. Too often, there are stories about students feeling shamed because of accidental plagiarism incidents that did not lead to further discussions or learning opportunities.
That’s why the narrative around plagiarism platforms needs to change, and never more so than following the COVID-19 pandemic. These platforms must be used to uphold educational integrity while providing a means for educators to fill potential gaps in their students’ education. It can be a moment of great learning about how to write original work, developing critical thinking skills, citing sources correctly, the various forms in which plagiarism can appear, and more.
In this time of social media and endless scrolls of information, it’s incredibly easy to get scooped up in the assumption that most, if not all, students today are incredibly tech savvy. But to do so is putting students at a disadvantage.
Alongside the rise of plagiarism during the pandemic, another glaring fact came with it: the lack of internet access for many students worldwide. UNICEF released a report in November of 2020 revealing that nearly two-thirds of the world’s school-age children do not have access to the internet. Consider for a moment the child with no regular internet access who begins remote learning, either by using the internet at the local library or a nearby hotspot, coming to it with no complete understanding that cutting and pasting information for a report is considered plagiarism. How do they know if they never learned?
Does this apply to every situation? Unfortunately, no. There will always be cheaters. However, those cases are fewer and far between.
This brings us back to the gap mentioned earlier that the pandemic left for many students and educators. According to a study done by McKinsey & Company regarding the effects of the pandemic, when comparing the in-school assessment scores of 1.6 million elementary school children across 40 states in 2021, they found that “Students testing in 2021 were about ten points behind in math and nine points behind in reading, compared with matched students in previous years.” That says a lot.
We know that there is unfinished learning from the pandemic. We know that plagiarism has increased across the board. We know that educational integrity has slipped, period. In the wake of such a life-changing event for the world of education, how do we go about maintaining, or in some cases, restoring, educational integrity?
The answer? By supporting one another, together.
Educators were faced with an almost impossible situation to keep the education of their students in motion while balancing life in a pandemic. None of us knew what COVID-19 truly was capable of. It’s understandable that many of us were scared in the shadow of such uncertainty. But when looking into the faces of young students through a screen, teachers had to maintain a sense of hope and strength. That’s not easy. For that, every teacher out there needs an endless supply of support in every way. From the day-to-day interactions they have with students in their classrooms to the technology they are provided to supplement the curriculum.
Students not only need support, but patience and understanding, even a year after returning to classrooms. Everyone did the best they could with a nearly insurmountable task. Yet as the studies show us, there is no denying that COVID skewered a year or more of education. Some things inevitably fell through the cracks while teachers worked exhaustively to keep the train moving while laying tracks simultaneously. There is just too great a possibility that most students missed out on pivotal pieces of education. It’s essential for all of us not to assume a student knows, for example, the rules of citation or how to format a paper in MLA format. Patience and understanding will get them back on track.
As plagiarism tools become increasingly advanced, we have the opportunity not to use those tools as a source of shame and fear among students. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn, fill in the gap, finish what was left unfinished, and rebuild educational integrity one assignment at a time, together.