Info Tech Tips and Trends

Spring 2006


The Emerging Technologies in Instruction Committee would like to introduce you to a new technology that you might find useful, or a familiar technology you may not have used in library instruction.

This edition of Emerging Technologies " Tips and Trends" explores plagiarism detection.


Plagiarism Detection Systems
Michael Pasqualoni

Identifying Key Players
Plagiarism detection technologies have emerged in recent years promising to help educators, as they help students navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of academic integrity. My informal survey of recent library science publications, Web based evidence, and replies to a request posted to ILI-L, an online discussion list for academic librarians involved with instruction, identifies Turnitin.com (iParadigms, LLC) and " SafeAssign" (Blackboard) as two leading products in the plagiarism detection marketplace. A Google search combining a given plagiarism system’s name with an additional term, such as "syllabus," yields evidence that Turnitin.com, in particular, has not only been adopted by various colleges and universities at the institutional level, but is a required destination for students enrolled in credit courses within numerous academic and professional disciplines. There does not appear to be nearly as widespread adoption of other available plagiarism detection technologies. However, alternative systems do exist. A short list of some of the more well known systems is included here in an appendix.

Teaching Tips and a Role for Academic Librarians
Faculty and librarians are both vocal on the topic of use and misuse of plagiarism detection products. Rebecca Moore Howard, Syracuse University Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric, has published extensively on the topic of automated plagiarism detection and says, "Our time, effort and money are better invested in good teaching practices," rather than detection software. She states that current plagiarism detection services are "expensive, anti-pedagogical, of questionable ethics, and of little actual utility." (R.M. Howard, email communication, May 18, 2006).

Good teaching practices are also the focus of responses from librarians. Gail Wood, Director of Libraries at the State University of New York, Cortland, points to a research and social environment where students are often confused about when and how to paraphrase. (Wood, 237-238). She also offers specific suggestions as to how librarians can promote academic integrity more broadly (Wood, 239-240), including:

  • Model academic integrity as an institutional norm, including open and honest discussions about the problems and tensions involved in being a successful scholar and creative thinker.
  • Help students understand that by plagiarizing others they are not allowing their own academic voice to grow and be heard.
  • Champion ethical uses of information by knowing the definitions of academic integrity and dishonesty and by incorporating values into reference and instructional services, as well as by participating in the campus-wide and interdisciplinary debates on academic integrity.
  • Teach the complexities of Web based resources (e.g., proprietary databases vs. free Web searching).
  • Develop partnerships with other departments and disciplines in order to model and teach the complex role that information has in our lives.
  • Disseminate information through Web sites, tutorials and other instructional materials that reflect on the relationship between the ethical use of information and academic integrity.
  • Work with faculty to develop assignments that emphasize active learning and interactions with scholarly materials and class exercises that emphasize the research process, good study skills and sound time management.
  • Balance the use of detection software with preventative behaviors such as honest discussions during instructional sessions and during reference encounters.

Following such tips, librarians can collaborate with teaching faculty to broaden campus understanding of the ethical use of information before plagiarism becomes a problem.

Scott Nicholson, Assistant Professor in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, has this advice to offer about systems like Turnitin.com:

"A key component in implementing these systems is the communication of the purpose of the systems to the students. The same system and process can be presented as an educational tool or a punitive requirement. These systems can be set up to allow the student to submit their paper ahead of time and see their own report before turning it in to the instructor. When implemented in this way, the student can see their mistakes and take measures to properly cite material before submission. This creates a more positive atmosphere surrounding the tool than when it is used by the instructor after submission as a way to "catch" the students." (S. Nicholson, email communication, May 22, 2006).

Lisa Klopfer, Associate Professor and Librarian at Eastern Michigan University, provides some insight into how the library might work together with faculty to tackle the issue of academic integrity. At Eastern Michigan, the Bruce T. Halle Library offers a plagiarism assessment service that includes Turnitin.com workshops for faculty. Klopfer has concerns about technical limitations of the current detection systems. In her view, they show mixed reliability when checking against Web based sources and do not dig very far into the content of proprietary subscription databases. She further states that they are likely to miss offline, non-digital (print) sources and do not perform well when presented with cases of blatant cheating, such as fake citations or fabricated research data. If detection software is used, she advises requiring that all students submit papers to the system, not just those suspected of cheating. (L. Klopfer, email communication, May 18, 2006). These diverse commentators reflect a few of the increasingly reported complexities and instructional responses that accompany the new plagiarism detection tools.

Conclusion
For many undergraduates, it may one day be next to impossible to complete a bachelors degree in the U.S. without encountering one or more faculty who require submission of written coursework to an automated plagiarism detection system. Given this level of interest, now is the optimal time for librarians and faculty to share additional pedagogical strategies about how best to approach these technologies. For those who balk at the technical limitations of these tools, the very same weaknesses may open up teachable moments about such issues as when and how students might use non-digital source texts; the nature of the invisible World Wide Web; or the rich content available in many academic library subscription databases.

Work Cited:

Wood, G. (2004). Academic original sin: Plagiarism, the Internet, and librarians. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 30(3), 237-242.

To Learn More: About Plagiarism Education & Detection

Academic Integrity in Teaching and Learning: Resource Links for Faculty (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Braumoeller, B.F. & Gaines, B.J. (2001). Actions do speak louder than words: Deterring plagiarism with the use of plagiarism detection software. PS: Political Science & Politics. 34(4). 835-839.

Center for Academic Integrity. CAI Research. Retrieved May 18, 2006
http://www.academicintegrity.org/cai_research/index.php

Council of Writing Program Administrators. (2003, January) Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices. http://wpacouncil.org/node/9

Cyberplagiarism: Detection and Prevention (Penn State University) http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/cyberplag/

Electronic Plagiarism Seminar (Noreen Reale Falcone Library, LeMoyne College) http://web.lemoyne.edu/~pearson/plagiarism/

Hansen, B. (2003, Sept. 19). Combating plagiarism: Is the Internet causing more students to copy? The CQ Researcher. 13(32), 773-796.

How to Avoid Plagiarism (University College, University of Maryland) http://www.umuc.edu/prog/ugp/ewp_writingcenter/modules/plagiarism/intro.html

Howard, Rebecca Moore. (1995). Plagiarisms, authorships and the academic death penalty. College English. 57(7), 788-806.

Martin, D. (2005, Jan/Feb). Plagiarism and technology: A tool for coping with plagiarism. Journal of Education for Business. 80(3), 149-152

Purdy, J. P. (2005). Calling off the hounds: Technology and the visibility of plagiarism. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. 5(2), 275-295

Strategies to Deter Plagiarism in Student Assignments (Bridgewater State College) http://it.bridgew.edu/FacStaff/plagiarism/

Talk of the Nation. (2006, February 14). Cut and Paste Plagiarism. National Public Radio. Retrieved March 8, 2006, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5205929

Appendix: Other Plagiarism Detection Systems

Copycatch’s Copychecker (CFL Software Development)
Describes itself as a student driven tool, an educational device that can help identify text similarity (e.g., in paraphrase situations) that may approach inadvertent plagiarism. A suite of related products is offered, aimed at the non-academic market (e.g., commercial publishing, journalism, etc.).

Copyscape (Indigo Stream Technologies)
Focuses on detecting unauthorized use of Website content.

EVE2: Essay Verification Engine (Register Now/Digital River)
Somewhat similar to Turnitin.com in that it offers plagiarism detection based upon a search of Web sources.

Glatt Plagiarism Services, Inc.
Derives its detection methodology from a test administered to students, and their submitted written work, inspired by Wilson Taylor’s "cloze procedure." Here, the focus is squarely on student recall of their own original composition.

Google
Can facilitate text comparisons across a wide array of Web based sources, but search and results features do not focus specifically on plagiarism detection.

Scriptum Assignment Archive (Vancouver Software Labs, Inc.)
Based in Canada, this assignment management system has similar features to Blackboard and WebCT. Scriptum also offers plagiarism detection that relies on upload and peer to peer comparison of student assignments within a server environment Scriptum installs on a campus.

Urkund (PrioInfo)
A Scandanavian incarnation of plagiarism detection similar to Turnitin.com.

WCopyfind (Professor Louis Bloomfield, University of Virginia)
Focuses its comparisons on instructor submitted documents, not Web based sources.

Info Tech Tips and Trends: Spring 2006

 


Instruction Section Home Page

Send us your comments and questions