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Internet, the World Wide Web and computers have become a widely accepted aid in education and their influence in nearly all spheres of human existence is constantly increasing. The internet provides access to a very wide range of material that can be readily accessed with a few clicks. Although the easy search capability inherent in the inherent is very beneficial for researchers, there is also a tendency which has been widely reported amongst the young students to indulge in academic dishonesty by copying and pasting material into their assignments without adequately understanding the content or acknowledging its original source. Such practices which have been amongst the most widely reported abuses of the internet and which have been known as plagiarism have caused many educators to express their concern. However, plagiarism is not the only misuse of computers, the internet and the World Wide Web which has been noticed at academic institutions. The misuse of computers, the internet and the World Wide Web is subject to constant evolution as inexperienced users as well as the evil genius continue to spring new surprises. Cyber law is also constantly being changed to take into account new practices which may be construed as being a misuse of the internet. Many practices in which internet users may indulge and which may be construed to be a misuse if the internet can render individuals subject to criminal liability. It is, therefore, important to ensure that all internet users are adequately educated and informed about the misuse of computers, the internet and the World Wide Web. This essay takes a look at the misuse of the internet in academic institutions and what can be done to reduce the incidence of such misuse.
The use of the internet and the World Wide Web has seen a massive increase throughout the world because it is possible to readily disseminate information, search for specific information or content and rapidly communicate over vast distances for a relatively small cost using the new mediums (Case, 2002, Pp. 1) and (Solarz, 2002, Pp, 29 39). Internet and the World Wide Web have also seen a growing use in education, especially for distance learning and in presenting online courses. Most academic institutions use the internet or the World Wide Web to varying degrees for their academic activities (Gearhart, 2000, Pp. 1 10). However, like any other tool, the internet and the World Wide Web are also subject to misuse, especially by the relatively inexperienced users, who are mostly students at academic institutions. The most widely discussed misuse of the internet and the World Wide Web which has been presented in literature is plagiarism or copyright infringement. This refers to students copying and pasting material for their term papers or assignments from sources on the World Wide Web, without adequately acknowledging the sources used and hence claiming the work to be their own (Anderson, 2000, Pp. 1 10), (Clough, 2000, Pp. 1 15), (Weiner, 1998, Pp. 1) and (Davidson, 2004, Pp. 1). Although students and other academic users of the internet are allowed to search for knowledge on the internet, understand the material, extract ideas and then discus this knowledge in their work after acknowledging the source of such ideas, mere copying and pasting without any understanding does not aid learning, resulting only in a rapid write-up which can then be submitted for the award of marks or credits.
Term papers, essays, dissertations and projects are readily available on the internet for downloading and may also be written by other writers for a fee. However, there is a fine line dividing good and evil with regard to such materials which are widely available on the World Wide Web. A student or researcher may use such material to gain insights into an academic question or to gain an understanding of what is available in the literature, as well as for understanding how others who may be more experienced may have tackled an academic matter. Such an approach may assist in learning and can be considered to be similar to seeking the assistance of a tutor for helping with individual learning. It is normally expected that a student or a researcher will use the available material on the internet and attempt to improve on it by adding their own insights. Such a process can aid in real learning. After all, no one is born with all the knowledge and the knowledge which a student acquires has to come from somewhere. Sources of knowledge and information include text books, teacher’s notes, tutorials or many other sources such as audio visual material, with additions to the existing knowledge base that is available to humanity being relatively rare and infrequent.
However, downloading pre written material from the internet or having it written by another author and submitting such material as one’s own is academic dishonesty which does not greatly assist learning. Even a tutor who teaches a pupil in a face to- face encounter can complete an assignment for their pupil, who can then hand this in as the pupil’s own work, but no real tutor will do such a thing and most will try to make the issues or the subject clearer to a student, which is what teaching is all about. Teaching involves making issues, which may be complex for a student, clearer and easier to comprehend as well as presenting new ideas and material which may be most relevant for a stage of cognitive development and building on foundations of knowledge or learning. The material available on the World Wide Web assists in this process of learning because it is very readily searchable and quickly accessible (Gearhart, 2000, Pp. 1 – 20).
Even though plagiarism or academic cheating has been so widely discussed, this is by no means the only misuse of the internet which is to be found in academic institutions or at work in business (Langelier, 1997, Pp. 34 39) and (Charlesworth, 1996, Pp. 6 41). This essay attempts to take a look at the misuse of the internet and the World Wide Web in academic institutions and what can be possibly done in order to minimise such abuse.
Although several technology and sanctions based approaches are available to deter internet misuse, the most appropriate first approach to reduce the proliferation of such misuse is by educating internet users and students at academic institutions. Educators and administrators of academic institutions have a certain responsibility to educate new users and students about what is considered to be good internet etiquette, what is unacceptable, how certain actions may result in an internet user violating the law and what can the law do to those who may be found guilty of certain offences. Whereas software for scanning works submitted against millions of web pages or copying in a class are available, those who are required to submit assignments should also know how to present proper citations in their work. Students should also be made aware of the fact that the basis of all knowledge is truth and that human progress could not have been possible without honesty and truth in all observations, academic writings as well as in the reporting of experimental results. It is also likely to be helpful if students are made aware of the reason why they may have been asked to submit an assignment, what they are likely to gain as a result of honestly making an effort to complete an assignment and how they may seek assistance of tutors or material available on the World Wide Web to complete their assignments or research.
They should also know that unless they make an honest and sincere effort to learn through their hard work, investigation as well as curiosity, no tutor or material on the World Wide Web is likely to be of any real assistance. Those who do seek assistance from sources outside of their own efforts are expected to make sincere efforts to improve upon what they are able to receive and although all knowledge has to be sought from somewhere e.g. from text books, encyclopaedias, knowledgeable persons, literary journals, or the World Wide Web, only honest as well as sincere personal efforts, questioning, pondering or thinking are likely to produce a again in personal knowledge, improve the intellect as well as add to wisdom. Educators should try to discuss an academic institution’s plagiarism and cheating policies with those who are associated with the institution and impress upon others how the philosophical concept of truth and its definition which had been shaped in the times of the early philosophers such as Socrates and Plato assisted humanity to progress (Weiner, 1998, ‘Detecting and Discouraging Internet Academic Misconduct’) and (Hricko, 1998, Pp. 1).
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