] I would be interested in knowing how many people are "lifting"
] this material and how many people are quoting this material as
] sources and citing the source... because I know I've done
] this quite often, particularly when it comes to research
] papers that are available online, etc. I would assume that a
] considerable amount of people use similar tactics.
I don't think they are concerned about quotations. The internet is certainly a valuable research tool and I think schools try to reinforce that by training kids to use it. The thing is that its really easy to take something and just cut and paste it directly into your paper. People did this back in the old days with their library, but it wasn't as easy. You had to type everything in. Today its click, click, print... I've seen people do it.
Ultimately, having a lot of student papers online is a good thing, as long as you've got a way to filter the correct ones from the poor ones. Its an information resource, and as the papers are usually short it fits with the typical net attention span. Maybe we ought to turn the coin over here and consider that maybe paper writing is obsolete...
Paper writing is basically about teaching people to express themselves effectively. Maybe an email discussion board related to the topics of the course would be just as effective...
The reason that profs need papers to assess student knowledge on a subject is because they are still running everything on a very simple, old fashioned, mass lecture and assess system. Its been demonstrated that people learn much more effectively when they are personally engaged in the process. For example, instead of having all of the students write a paper on the same topic, why not have them go out and research a subject, assemble a coherent understanding, and report back to the rest of the class. Have discussion and debate. Force people to defend their positions in public. In such a case it doesn't really matter if they cut/pasted the paper. They still have to understand what it means to be able to talk about it intelligently... Furthermore, if they are forced to have an opinion, then they will be driven to understand that opinion well.
Ultimately, in this age, thinking is better then knowing. Information is easily available to you if you need it, so having it in your head for easy regurgitation isn't as important as being able to apply it in a meaningful way. Stop measuring what students know and start measuring how students think.
RE: Beyond File-Sharing, a Nation of Copiers