Inappropriate Student Use of Technology: How to Deal with the ...
Inappropriate Student Use of Technology: How to Deal with the Darker Side of Computer
Use in the Legal Research and Writing Environment
Catherine Cameron, Jeff Minneti, & Jennifer Murphy
I. WEB SITES AVAILABLE TO COMPLETE RESEARCH & WRITING
Knowing what is available to your students on the internet is half the battle to combating the
problem. The following web sites are not only available to law students, but are probably being
used more often and at more law schools than we realize.
1. http://www.essaytown.com/topics/law school essays papers.html
At this site, students may purchase written papers or have papers edited for them. For
example, students may purchase a pre-written paper for as little as $34.99. For an
additional cost, students may purchase a custom-researched paper, which would be more
applicable to a legal research and writing assignment. Although this site appears to be
geared more towards undergraduate students, it is possible and likely that law school
students are using it as well.
This site is geared towards attorneys and offers research and writing services. Although
it is intended for use by attorneys, a law student could use his position as a law firm clerk
or lie about working at a firm to purchase these services. This is a very easy place for a
student, under the guise of working for a law firm, to purchase an appellate brief.
This site allows students to submit questions to attorneys and receive free legal
assistance. It also serves as a large information database. Students utilize this site to
receive research assistance from attorneys.
Students may purchase this software to improve their writing, which is not necessarily a
bad thing. However, while this program will not allow a student to copy, purchase
another’s work, or receive unauthorized assistance on an assignment like some of the
programs discussed above, students could use the program to clean up their grammar,
spelling, and word choice for an assignment without actually “learning” how to improve
their writing on their own. Basically, the program works by reviewing a document (or a
part of a document) and suggesting ways to correct and improve what is written. The
software contains a built-in thesaurus and also contains legal templates for various types
of legal documents.
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II. OTHER INAPPROPRIATE STUDENT USES OF TECHNOLOGY
While plagiarism is nothing new to law schools, technology has enabled students to
transmit or have access to other students’ works on a much larger scale. The following
are just some ways in which students are using technology to plagiarize in law school.
a. Students email their papers or sections of their papers to each other. Emailing
allows students to easily copy each other’s ideas and analysis, especially if the
students do not have the same R&W professor. Even if students have the same
R&W professor, by cutting and pasting and some skillful editing, students can
vary the sentence structure or paper organization enough to pass it off as their
b. As we know, many law schools use the same memo and brief problems over and
over. Isn’t this the very essence of the LWI Idea Bank? Maybe we change the
problem names or the jurisdiction, but many problems are recycled both within
and outside of each law school and used for a number of years. Some professors
even post their “best” memo or brief at the end of the assignment to assist their
students with their next assignment. Some students post copies of their memos or
briefs on their personal web sites or blogs for their own personal reasons.
Students know this. A simple internet search using facts from the memo or brief
problem often yields a number of “samples” for the student to use as his or her
c. Many students save their law school work to use as writing samples for
prospective employers, especially R&W assignments. However, some second and
third year students and students who have already graduated are providing copies
of their memos and briefs, either as a favor or for a price, to current R&W
students. This is especially true when a memo or brief problem has been
“recycled” as discussed in the previous paragraph.
d. Not quite as blatant as the above methods, students exchange research information
and sections of their papers over instant messenger. This method is effective
because no one is aware the students are communicating and there may be no
trace left of the conversation once it has ended, unlike sending a document or
portions of a document over email.
2. Unprofessional Conduct
a. Many students post inappropriate and unprofessional information about
themselves, classmates, and professors on their personal blogs and web sites. The
most common web sites where students are posting such information are
myspace.com, blogger.com, and spaces.msn.com.
b. Another unprofessional, although anonymous, web site is
www.ratemyprofessor.com. This site permits students to anonymously rate their
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professors and post comments about them. Many comments are inappropriate,
unprofessional, and hurtful.
c. Most cell phone companies have an internet interface which allows users to send
text messages over the internet to cell phones. Text messaging, instant
messaging, and chat rooms enable students to provide unauthorized assistance to
each other both in and outside of the classroom. In addition, such technology has
been used to ridicule and make fun of classmates and professors.
d. Students watch TV, movies, and videos on the internet during class. There are
thousands of internet sites that allow students to download videos, music, and
other entertainment files. Two popular sites are www.youtube.com and
www.google.com. Obviously, this is very disruptive to not only the student who is
downloading or watching videos during class, but to those students around that
e. Students can access sites such as http://frankdzedzy.com/email/sendMail.html to
generate emails that appear to have been sent from another's email address. Such
"spoofed" emails have been used to frame and intimidate students. Unless the
user knows how to check the email's “received from” header, the reader will not
be able to detect that the apparent sender did not actually send the email.
III. SOFTWARE AND INTERNET SOLUTIONS
1. Programs and Web Sites Designed to Detect Plagiarism
a. Mydropbox offers on-line tools that, among other services, prevent or detect
plagiarism. Go to mydropbox.com for more information about the many services
this company provides, but to detect plagiarism, the company offers the following
on its website:
SafeAssignment™ is an innovative approach to plagiarism
prevention, providing educators with an effective solution
for checking originality and deterring plagiarism in academic
environment. SafeAssignment works with papers students turn in
electronically and employs a proprietary technology to identify
unoriginal content, including paraphrased or otherwise altered text.
After a series of comprehensive plagiarism checks,
SafeAssignment generates convenient and easy-to-read reports,
where all unoriginal material is highlighted and linked to its online
or database sources.
b. Turnitin.com is another on-line service that offers plagiarism detection services.
Turnitin provides on its website:
Every paper submitted is returned in the form of a customized
Originality Report. Results are based on exhaustive searches of
billions of pages from both current and archived instances of the
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internet, millions of student papers previously submitted to
Turnitin, and commercial databases of journal articles and
c. WCopyfind 2.5 is a free application you can download to your computer. While
this software does not compare your student's paper with texts on the internet like
the above two programs do, it works locally by comparing different documents
downloaded onto your computer. If you suspect an assignment or parts of an
assignment have been used or copied in the past, you can create a shortcut for the
paper and indicate it among the documents you request WCopyfind to analyze.
This program works especially well in comparing a paper with your database of
papers presented in electronic format by your previous or current students.
2. Find and Read Students’ Personal Blogs and Personal Web Pages
a. http://search.blogger.com This site allows you to search blogs from all over the
web. If students know you (or someone at the school) routinely search such
blogs, they may be less inclined to post inappropriate information. It also helps to
remind students that prospective employers are now routinely searching blogs and
personal web pages before making any hiring decisions.
b. Myspace.com, facebook.com, and spaces.msn.com also have search capabilities
to allow professors, administrators, classmates, and prospective employers to
easily find a student’s personal page on these sites.
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