Why do some people only think of plagiarism in June?

Something that I have noticed over the last few weeks, is how plagiarism seems to become a hot topic at this time of year, with lots of activity about it on Twitter, mailing lists, and other people’s blogs, and then it will drop off the radar until a similar time next year.

Obviously this is a time of the year where for many courses, they are coming to an end, and work is being submitted and assessed and there will be a connection here, but it does highlight to me, how many people seem to deal with plagiarism retrospectively (e.g. deal with it once they have detected it) rather than my preferred method which is to tackle it throughout the year in a preventative manner, and hopefully find your self in a situation where you don’t detect any plagiarised work, when you come to this mad few weeks at the end of the academic year.

Surely, the issue of plagiarism deterrence should be started as early as enrolment on courses and as part of the induction process, so the social media activity around plagiarism should peak in the late summer and early autumn, rather than now.

People often ask me when the best time is to educate learners about plagiarism, to which I respond as early as possible. I would bring it up at the start of the course when students are enrolling, to make sure they know that they are signing up for a course where plagiarism won’t be tolerated. I would then provide them with a brief element of introduction to this area of work during induction, but I wouldn’t cover it fully, as during induction they have so much information thrown at them, it isn’t the best time to deal with this, instead I would wait until the first piece of assessed work is issued, and educate the learners then, this way I can use real examples based on that piece of work, and there is less chance of them forgetting. Another question is about whose responsibility is it to educate the learners, and many organisations will have a dedicated person or team that will go round providing the training, but to me it should be everyones responsibility and the subject tutor is the most obvious person to deliver that element of the support.

The University of Bergen, have as part of their plagiarism deterrence practice, produced this video, which captures some of the ideas quite nicely.

I wish I could bring in a swat team, to deal with a suspected cheat – they wouldn’t do that again.

Thanks to David Hopkins blog post, that alerted me to this video

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More training on plagiarism deterrence

Tomorrow I am off to Gloucestershire College to run training for them on plagiarism deterrence, one of my ‘pet’ topics. We will be using the excellent TurnItIn software which can be integrated into Moodle to create a very powerful tool, that doesn’t only check the submitted work for matches to the Internet, but also matches to other work submitted to other UK based institutions.

And as well as this, it has a very sophisticated online marking system, which reduces the need to download students work, then mark it, then re-upload it, which when you have lots of assignment to deal with, becomes a chore in itself.

\Toon\

In defence of TurnItIn – a plagiarism detection system

TurnItIn is a plagiarism detection system that is widely used in the UK , and was subsidised by JISC making it affordable for FE and HE. I personally am a fan of the system, because I used it to great effect in my teaching, with the end result of seriously deterring plagiarism (which is its intentions).

First of all, plagiarism is a huge issue, that isn’t tackled simply by the use of detection software. The detection software is only part of the picture, and only works if used as a deterrent. We need to educate learners about what is acceptable or not acceptable, we need to look at the systems in place to deal with instances (and ensure there is consistency across the institution) and most importantly look at the design of the assessments that we are asking the learners to complete.

Some people are concerned that there are ways to ‘cheat’ the system, and also that it sometimes runs a check that doesn’t detect something that is actually plagiarised, but I still think that as a deterrent it still works. To use an analogy, when I was younger a nearby town invested in boxes for 6 speed safety cameras but only bought one camera which it moved around the 6 boxes. As a driver (not myself being a law abiding citizen, but my friends…) you only had a 16% chance of going through the box with a camera in, and therefore an 84% chance of not getting caught, but you still slowed down for all of the cameras. A similar situation arises with TurnItIn, as long as the learner doesn’t know what is going to get detected it acts as a very powerful deterrent.

When I used to work at a University there were many lecturers who wanted the learners to see the results of the TurnItIn output – which altough I appreciated their view point, I personally prefered them not to see the output, as you were giving them additional opportunites to cheat, as they could keep submitting plagiarised pieces of work, until they found one that wasn’t detected.

Some people argue that because some things slip through and other’s don’t it isn’t a fair system. Again I think it is a fairer system than what we had before. When I taught before this came along, I would look at work, if I thought it was lifted from the Internet (and it was usually quite obvious) I would set about trying to locate the source by doing Google Searches or using Alltheweb.com (another search engine from before the Google days) . If I found the source then great I could then deal with it, if I didn’t then I had to mark the work as if it was the learner’s own – this to me was very frustrating, it was also based on my ability to search, and the amount of time I wanted to spend, and although I tried hard not to do this, it was hard not to prejudice against learners, who you knew had a history of cheating. When TurnItIn came along I ran everything through the system, this saved me huge amounts of time, and took out any element of prejudice. Yes some pieces of work may have slipped through, and if I thought that they were copied then I could still do the Google searches. I would also look at what TurnItIn had actually compared, as many of the cheat tactics that people employ actaully change the text so that it looks normal when printed on paper but it usually has extra invisible characters in it, or large chunks (the copied bits) missing. By looking at the raw text, it was very easy for me as the tutor to identify attempts by the learners to ‘cheat’ the system.

The end result of me using TurnItIn – learners learnt very quickly that trying to cheat me, wasn’t a good idea, and the amount of work handed in that was plagiarised fell from being more than 50% to only a fewinstances.

Some people only submit work that they suspect is copied. Personally I submit all work – if nothing else, once the work has been submitted to the system, this then enters the pool that other work is checked against. This stops the work being handed down to next years students, as well as hopefully reducing the sale of essays on eBay which I blogged about previously. It also means that if someone has copied work from behind a secure system, this won’t be detected by TurnItIn – however the second time that a student copies from the same secure system, TurnItIn should create a match between the 2 pieces of work (even if they werne’t actually copied from each other). I feel that as educators we have a duty to drive plagiarism out, and a major player in this is for people to use TurnItIn wider.