Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

This week’s blog post addresses the issues of plagiarism, detection, and prevention thereof.  As an academic, I am generally aware of the concept of plagiarism as relates to copying and/or using another’s ideas as one’s own without providing appropriate credit.  I was also aware, if peripherally, that the access accorded by the internet would likely create opportunity for increased plagiarism.  However, until participation in the Walden Master’s Program, I had never realized to what extent plagiarism has apparently been plaguing academia, nor was I aware that there were actual technological software deterrents available. 

In fact, I found it a bit offensive and nerve wracking the first time I was required to post a paper to Turnitin.com to evaluate my originality.  I had always considered myself a fairly decent writer, and I always appropriately quoted and used citations in my papers.  Imagine my surprise to discover that according to Turnitin.com my first paper was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% unoriginal!  I was shocked.  I pored over the report to discover that the program apparently has quite a few issues.  First, the program counted correctly cited material and quotes against me.  Second, the program counted common phrases such as in order to against me.  In point of fact, the program actually counted the some of the titles of articles listed in the reference section against my originality.  It seemed odd to me that I was being required to submit my paper to the plagiarism police when the program has such significant issues.  I sent a long note to the instructor regarding my originality score and she informed me that it was very normal and expected.  Although I have come to accept the utilization of Turnitin.com in efforts to deter plagiarism, I have never quite been comfortable with the premise of using a program with such large margins for error.

 What plagiarism detection software is available to online instructors?

There is a variety of plagiarism detection software available.  A quick online search using Google.com and the keywords “plagiarism detector” yielded 1,390,000 results in 0.15 seconds (google.com).  The first page of results alone identified no less than six different software options for detecting plagiarism; including the one, many are familiar with turnitin.com.  Prior to this blog post, I had not endeavored the software offerings in this particular category.

 How can the design of assessments help prevent academic dishonesty?

Our resources suggested several options for preventing academic dishonesty including ongoing, cumulative assignment, uniquely different assignment topics, authentic assignments based on elements unique to each course (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010)

What facilitation strategies do you propose to use as a current or future online instructor?

Our course text discussed several instructional strategies designed as best practices for online facilitation that although not directly linked to preventing academic dishonesty could indirectly facilitate its reduction.  For instance, incorporating course long projects with regular interval progress checks, allowing for projects to “combine challenge, confidence and interest” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 186), which also allows the individual to pick a project they are inherently interested in learning more about and thus, less likely to pilfer someone else’s information.  Group projects would also necessarily deter plagiarism in that the projects could be divided in such a way that the information in any one person’s purview would not be easily borrowed (unintentional plagiarism).

What additional considerations for online teaching should be made to help detect or prevent cheating and plagiarism?

A couple of issues were clear from the resources this week.  One, many students are not clear on what plagiarism is, is not and the boundaries of the concept.  In addition, many students are not given adequate instruction in appropriate paraphrasing of materials and/or techniques for academic citation.  In addition, in my opinion, academic citation itself does not lend itself to easy implementation.  The rules for APA are complicated with many variations for different sources.  With the increasing access to materials from an ever-wider academic net, including videos, blogs, journals, online sites, and more, it is often difficult to keep up with all of the rules and/or sometimes to even find the most appropriate rule. 

It is difficult to lay all of the responsibility on the heads of younger students who are struggling with learning the basics, including how to do research for a report and properly write it up.  As post-graduate students, it is reasonable to set the bar higher in terms of expectations of understanding and applying the citation structures.  However, instructors should provide more resources and scaffolding assistance for teenagers and undergraduates who have not had the appropriate or extensive training.

It was also clear that even with the utilization of software for plagiarism detection, the software is not without issues.  Although it may save the instructor time in locating possible instances of plagiarism, thus allowing them quicker opportunity to identify actual plagiarism versus false-positives of the software, it can also create issues for students who are unfamiliar with the process (as I was).  It would behoove an instructor using Turnitin to provide some background to the students as to why it is being used and what to expect so that the student is not surprised by the results. 

Lastly, and perhaps disappointingly, one disadvantage to the software is that in the end it is running an algorithm, search for specific word sequences and/or strands.  Where an instructor who is well read in their field may pick up on more subtle plagiarism (when a student has simply chosen different synonyms but not actually altered or modified the meaning), the software is less likely to catch such ambiguities.  In this way, the students are able to outmaneuver the system.  Unfortunately, this tends to be the case in many instances of good versus bad behavior.  Those who have the moral integrity to not misbehave would never spend the time or effort trying to “outsmart” the system, where those who regularly bend the rules quickly figure a way around the new rules to benefit themselves.  As an analogy, when I moved back to Orange County I switched doctors and went to see a new doctor for my medication.  I take Concerta for my ADHD.  The doctor was very familiar with addicts and addictive behaviors.  He questioned my usage of the medication and if I had ever sold it.  I was stunned to the tips of my toes.  I had never considered selling it.  I had read the insert, which had said something along the lines of it cannot be cut or ground up, and I understand that it was the pharmaceutical company’s way of deterring inappropriate usage, but intentionally selling my medication?  Not only had I never done such a thing, but also I had no idea how one would go about doing it in the first place.  However, there is the rub.  I suppose if I was one of the people in the know of that sort of information, then I would also probably be one of those people who may have sold the drug.  However, is that a fair and accurate test?  Perhaps, I just know people in the know.  Who knows?

 

References

Laureate Education, Inc.  (Producer).  (n.d.).  Research in instructional design .  Available from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com.

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010).  The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brown, V., Jordan, R., Rubin, N., & Arome, G. (2010, April).  Strengths and weaknesses of plagiarism software.  Journal of Literacy and Technology, 11(1), 110-131.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost

Chao, C., Wilhelm, W. J., & Neureuther, B. D. (2009, Winter).  A study of electronic detection and pedagogical approaches for reducing plagiarism.  The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, L1 (1), 31-42.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006, June).  Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation.  International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost

 

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16 thoughts on “Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and analogies related to this week’s topic of plagiarism. I suppose another analogy to plagiarism detection software shortcomings might be spell and grammar check software that often flags information inappropriately; a trained human eye is still necessary to catch the subtle nuances software might miss.

    I also noticed that you and I both referred to the bigger picture of academic integrity and thus the need to curtail plagiarism, whether it be intentional or the result of an unawareness of the extent of academic policy. The example I cited to illustrate an instance in which a student might inadvertently violate policy was using one’s own work from a previous course, which is considered as cheating. I struggle with this one, as authors reuse their own work all the time. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Freda,

      That is a very good question. There have been times when I have used a quotation from a previous paper, but I just cite it as I did the first time. I cannot think of any paper that I could have “reused” again without comprehensive rework. It is true that some questions seem to recur in these courses. For instance, what characteristics make the most effective xyz? However, whenever I look at my previous work I am usually shocked at my previous responses. It is almost like another person takes over my writing. I get in the “zone” when I write so I apologize, I guess because I enjoy writing (a lot) I am not a good candidate for reusing my previous work.

      In the real world, however, many jobs rely on utilizing previous “templates” to maintain a competitive edge and/or time saving device. I do use Perrla.com to help me with an APA template that sets up my papers. I create a new paper using the template for each discussion post, blog post and paper. Then, I cut and paste the final version into the discussion box or onto my blog. It helps me by keeping track of my citations (for future reference) and helping me to order my citations. In my job as a legal secretary, I have also seen first hand many instances of attorneys using previous pleadings when drafting new pleadings. There is, however, a distinct difference between “boilerplate” wording standardized and creative expression.

      Another example is that I am in the midst of developing a new business idea. My husband and I have spent numerous hours scouring the internet, the United States Patent and Trademark Office database, County Fictitious Business name websites and Secretary of State websites to ensure we do not unintentionally “infringe” by using someone else’s name and/or logo. From personal experience, that is serious business. In fact, my boss represented a client who sued someone for infringing on their name and won $2 million dollars! Plagiarism is a dirty business in academic and the “real world.”

  2. Another great blog post, Lynn! And I got just as much from your dialog with Freda on “reusing” old papers. In my work, we use a LOT of boilerplates for various document design, and if we ran those through Turnitin…well, a 40% would mean someone is in trouble for getting too far away from the standards! Freda’s comparison to spellcheck software was right on the money, as was your assessment of how many instructors don’t think about precisely HOW to cheat, so they don’t recognize how easy or hard it might be to do until an example rears it’s ugly head.

  3. I had the same experience with turnitin. I turned in a final project for one of our courses, and it came back that the entire project was 100% plagiarized. I didn’t know that my other papers would be crossed referenced as well. I was relieved to discovered that I was plagiarizing from myself. The program definitely has its flaws, but it keeps students honest (for the most part).

    I also agree with you that being proactive in educating your students on plagiarism from the onset and often through out the class, will help with plagiarism and cheating, be it inadvertently or intentionally.

    Very thourought and inciteful post.

    Chris

  4. Lynn,

    I enjoyed reading your experiences and concerns with some of the software that is designed to make it simpler for an instructor to detect plagiarism.

    I also agree with your comments about the complexity of understanding just what plagiarism means. My students know what I am talking about when I talk about avoiding plagiarism. When I asked them for their opinion and difficulties with the concept of plagiarism they simply asked me how they are supposed to communicate that the text supports their opinion without using the exact words or synonyms to do so. They still didn’t understand the use for internal citation and how that is connected to the reference page, a bibliography or foot notes. I really don’t blame them.

    Then there is the question of whether to use APA or MLA format. Of course in English we use MLA, but there have actually been arguments in department meetings over which format to use. I can understand the confusion. We use a specific format for a specific discipline except when we get to higher education. Then it seems there is a shift to APA. I have used APA so much I have a difficult time teaching MLA. I do try and help them by telling them about Easybib.com, but that doesn’t teach you anything it just does the work for you.

    I really think you only learn to avoid plagiarism with a good instructor. If you instructor requires you to analyze then prove your point with textual evidence that is definitely a plus. If that instructor requires you write complete sentences which are either based in textual evidence or analysis and requires you know the difference that is very helpful. If the instructor requires that you are aware of what the author is saying and why and that you present that information and give it internal citation then you are fortunate.

    Great post Lynn.

  5. Hello Lynn,

    Wow, you are a good writer. I enjoyed reading your post very much. I have not been required to use Turnitin, yet. As I read your post, I found it astonishing all of the things it counted against you. I thought a program such as Turnitin would be more reliable than that. it must have been very frustrating for you when your received your results. Now, I am leary about using it, if I ever have to.

    After reading the resources for this week, I found it remarkable that many students do not believe that copying and pasteing is not plagiarism. But, I found the information that Palloff and Pratt the most useful in detering the opportunity for students to plagiarize/cheat.

    Danette

    Reference

    Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1–15.
    Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Education Research Complete database.

    Palloff, R., & Pratt, K.(n.d.).Plagiarism and cheating.

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  15. You’re so interesting! I do not believe I’ve read
    anything like that before. So good to find somebody with original thoughts on this topic.

    Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one
    thing that is needed on the internet, someone with some originality!

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