The education sector has seen its fair share of challenges this past year, and the rapid transition to remote teaching and learning has at times placed great strain on students, teachers and industry leaders alike. Even pre-COVID, academic dishonesty was a hot topic of debate, but now education professionals are wondering how the rapid shift to online learning models has impacted student integrity.
An extensive study by Copyleaks shines a light on the issue, drawing anonymous insights from 51,000 students across the Netherlands, India, France, Canada, Germany and the UK. The detailed survey was built off internal data collected pre-pandemic (January–February 2020) and post-pandemic (April–May 2020), with responses from 31,000 college and 20,000 high school students providing a multi-level snapshot of the sector.
The bi-annual Copyleaks Media Report highlights the most impactful findings, uncovering how student cheating techniques have changed following COVID-accelerated digital transition; from copying and pasting online sources, to replacing words with synonyms, mixing up sentence structures, and paraphrasing entire sections with the intent to plagiarise.
Global spike in plagiarism cases
Overall, the study reveals an average spike of 10% across all six countries surveyed, with pre-COVID cases standing at 35% compared to the post-pandemic metric of 45%.
The biggest jump in plagiarised submissions came from the Netherlands, with pre-COVID cases standing at 26% compared to a post-pandemic rate of 45% – a total surge of 19%. The next biggest increase came from France (37% pre vs. 49% post – a jump of 12%), closely followed by India (42% pre vs. 53% post – a jump of 11%).
The UK, Canada and Germany all saw a 4% increase plagiarism cases post-COVID, standing at 38% between January and February last year, and 42% in April to May.
Pre-COVID, cheating was actually more evident in documents consisting of less than 1,000 words (45%), with cases in these shorter papers actually dropping between April and May 2020 (36%).
The opposite trend was seen in submissions of 1,000 words or more, with the pre-pandemic rate standing at 30% compared to 35% post-COVID.
There was also a clear difference in the regularity of cases among high school versus college students, with cases among the former increasing post-pandemic (33% vs. 46%), and decreasing among the latter (45% vs 38%).
Paraphrasing was the most-used plagiarism technique among students between Jan and Feb last year, while copying and pasting – leading to exact matches with existing online sources – has seen a stark rise during COVID times.
“As a technology company empowering administrators, educators, and students worldwide to uphold academic integrity standards, we were concerned with students’ COVID-world ‘creativity’ being deployed in wrongful ways,” commented Anmol Kumar, director of marketing at Copyleaks.
“Cheating, which is different from plagiarism and defined as techniques used to disguise text using techniques like white ink, hidden characters and character replacement, with the intention to deceit plagiarism detection solutions, seemed to have taken a sharp rise. Being a company deeply invested in students’ academic growth, this was deeply concerning and personal to us. To battle this, we decided to develop and launch a free add-on to our plagiarism detection platform that helps alert administrators and educators for any such instances of cheating.”