Anti-plagiarism Technology is Fighting Academia’s Systemic Problems

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Plagiarism is a systemic problem in the higher education sphere, with students obtaining material from a range of online sources. Whilst the advent of the internet and increased use of technology in academia have made cheating easy, technology might also offer a solution.

Based on surveys carried out by Donald McCabe, about two-thirds of university students are likely to cheat on an assessment at some point in their higher education. Whilst it is easy to demonise the current generation of students, consideration must be given to the effect of technology and the accessibility of information. The root causes of the cheating epidemic are complicated and cannot be entirely attributed to poor morality or laziness. Even the very definition of cheating needs to be reexamined before the finger-pointing process can begin.

What is clear is that cheating has never been easier. The internet allows students to access a range of potential sources. From blatant word-for-word plagiarism to essay helper websites, the scope of academic misconduct is limitless.

Too often students are simply lifting ideas or even entire passages from paper available on the web and passing the work off as their own intellectual creation. As mentioned, it is difficult to identify who is to blame for this wide-spread and increasing trend. Viewing the situation optimistically, if it is technology that has been so instrumental in the rise of plagiarism, why can’t it also be part of the solution? As a minimum, it can be used as a virtual watchmen, with the mandate of identifying cheaters. But educational institutions are hoping that technology can be used and integrated into the assessment process to act as a prevention.

Plagiarism-catching technology is being used as tool to re-educate students about acceptable writing practices and hopefully encourage good writing habits. This process needs to begin at the beginning; with citations. Whilst the rise of collaborative working has made the process of citing more problematic, it has by no means made in redundant. Software such as Turnitin analyses works submitted and serves as both a deterrent and an identifier.

It is difficult to determine how much plagiarism stems from blatant cheating and how much is the consequence of ignorance or inadvertence. Punishment for plagiarism is often severe and catches students by surprise. This highlights that the value of plagiarism identification technology is two-fold; it helps to identify the existence of plagiarism but also helps students to be more self-aware and verify the academic validity of their work prior to submission.

To reinforce the importance of originality of work and genuine intellectual rigour, educational institutions have come to rely upon Turnitin, which is often integrated into the learning management system. The software highlights sentences and phrases which have featured elsewhere. The program then provides an overall assessment of the originality of the work submitted and provides a similarity score. If students are aware of the risk of plagiarism, they can rewrite and resubmit, shifting the onus back onto students whilst offering an otherwise unavailable second chance.

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