Today's reports that almost two thirds of students copy work from the web fits nicely into the book of: 'Well, yeah'. It was ever thus - only the means of cheating changes.
Apparently most students copy information from the web in their coursework, without changing it. I never did that. But then, when I was a student in the mid 90s, I very rarely accessed the internet. Even getting on a PC meant queuing up to get into the lab. Dangerously close to the bar.
As a student I once spent a night copying out an important essay from an obscure textbook, only to close the musty old tome and see my tutor's face staring back at me from the back cover. D'oh.
Having tried to cheat my way around a tough assignment, I then re-wrote my opus, and found it much easier - even at 4am. I ended up with a first (for that particular piece of work).
In trying to cheat the system I'd absorbed all the information I was supposed to (as well as several packets of Pro Plus). Then with a few of my own opinions, I produced a solid piece of work.
Crucially, I also knew that my tutor would spot the plagiarism.
If the means had existed to crib data directly from the web, I'm convinced I would have done so. But in order to get the right information, you have to know what you're looking for. Cheating isn't all that easy. At least, cheating in such a way you don't get caught, isn't.
And anyway, the modern workplace doesn't require people to memorise and regurgitate facts. The ability to absorb information, select the relevant pieces and present a coherent whole is key. Indeed, not being able to crib data from the web would be a critical flaw for today's school leavers. So the fact that 20 percent of surveyed students spend five hours a day online should be worrying to web laggards - not the digital natives. Trust me, being web savvy isn't going to get any less useful any time soon.
Plagiarism is never going to be acceptable, but neither is examining students on only their ability to memorise. Ultimately, if students are daft enough to copy and paste someone else's work without adding their own finishing touch, teachers should be bright enough to catch them out. Search technology can easily finger cheats, after all.
But there's no point in getting hot and bothered about students copying from the web. It's gonna happen. Just reward the ones who do it best. And remember: exams were much harder in my day, kids today have it easy and... er... bring back national service. Or something.