Issue 15

Plagiarism: Catch classroom cheats

Technology has made it easy for students to copy. a simple Google search will find a stack of information they can present as their own. if you’re worried about plagiarism, Matthew Humber suggests a solution.

Plagiarism is a problem that affects all educational institutions. It undermines the hard work of students who have researched and correctly referenced their work; it consumes marking time for teachers and many feel powerless to stop it.

To prevent against plagiarism, ACG Strathallan College is now using SafeAssign, one of the tools offered through the Learning Management System Blackboard. The English Department now requires their students to submit work electronically through the Assignments area on Blackboard. Acceptable file formats include: .zip, .doc, .docx, .odt, .txt, .pdf, .rtf, and .html. Once the student has uploaded the work it’s automatically processed and compared to the following databases:

o Internet – comprehensive index of documents available for public access;
o ProQuest ABI/Inform database with over 1,100 publication titles and about 2.6 million articles from 1990s to present time, which is updated weekly;
o Strathallan’s own document archives containing all assignments submitted to SafeAssign by our students; and
o Global Reference Database containing papers that were volunteered by students from Blackboard client institutions to help prevent cross-institutional plagiarism.

Staff receive a report outlining the percentage of work relating to these areas and a percentage displaying any similarity. They can then make judgment calls on how serious the case is, something that often depends on the nature of the work, whether it’s an exam coursework assessment or a weekly homework task, for example.

There are also safeguards. The English Department’s been encouraging students to reference their work more accurately. The software will still pick up the copied work but as long as it’s been properly referenced then it’ll be acceptable.

Staff who are using the software have said that even its presence and the fact that they might use it is encouraging more genuine work from their students. I believe they feel very supported by the software and as though the pressure of close scrutiny of work is lifted from them. It used to take a long time to pick up on copied sections; this now is streamlined to an overnight, automated process. Although they do not rely on the system completely, at least the initial check is performed accurately and consistently.

Overall, SafeAssign is enabling a much more level playing field and engendering better results as the students have had to read and understand the concepts before producing their assessment. Often the mere suggestion that the work will be put through this process is enough to dissuade many students from gambling with their grades. They’re very savvy when it comes to technology and realise that the power of this facility will work against them. What’s more, they cannot be opposed to the software’s findings as they place their trust in technology all the time!

MATTHEW HUMBER IS DIRECTOR OF ICT AT STRATHALLAN COLLEGE.

FREE ONLINE PLAGIARISM DETECTION TOOLS YOU COULD TRY …
Matthew also suggests trying these anti-plagiarism tools. “They all work well and are worth some experimentation.”
o Dupli Checker www.duplichecker.com
o EssayRater www.essayrater.com
o ScanMyEssay www.scanmyessay.com

© INTERFACE Magazine 2009

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Categories: Issue 15