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Inappropriate Student Use of Technology: How to Deal with the ...

  1. 1. 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 ASSIGNMENTS 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. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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. 4. agent_camp=2297001 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. Page 1 of 4
  2. 2. II. OTHER INAPPROPRIATE STUDENT USES OF TECHNOLOGY 1. Plagiarism 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 own. 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 own. 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,, and b. Another unprofessional, although anonymous, web site is This site permits students to anonymously rate their Page 2 of 4
  3. 3. 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 and Obviously, this is very disruptive to not only the student who is downloading or watching videos during class, but to those students around that student. e. Students can access sites such as 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 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. 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 Page 3 of 4
  4. 4. internet, millions of student papers previously submitted to Turnitin, and commercial databases of journal articles and periodicals. 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. 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.,, and also have search capabilities to allow professors, administrators, classmates, and prospective employers to easily find a student’s personal page on these sites. Page 4 of 4