Tag Archives: Plagiarism

Essay mills turning out high-quality essays undetected

Know your students & their writing styles

I’m not usually one to moan or highlight something that annoys me, but when I read this article this morning I had that sinking feeling and face-palm moment!

What this article totally missed, and what I’ve been saying to academics (and anyone who’ll listen) is that these online plagiarism detection systems are only as good as the people looking at the results.

The TurnItIn ‘score’ is no measure of originality, despite being called an ‘originality report’. It is a measure of what percentage of the submitted text is matched against known sources (student papers, journals, books, Internet sources, etc.). So, a paper that gets a 50% score means that 50% of the text has been used or can be found in other submitted papers to the system. It is not saying 50% is copied/plagiarised from other sources. These matches could be down to poorly referenced work, badly quoted and or badly cited work, and even popular quotes. The 50% is only an indication to the academic that further investigation is required, that they need to

This annoyed me most:

“It is clear that this type of cheating is virtually undetectable by academics when students take precautions against being caught,”

If you rely solely on something like TurnItIn then yes, I agree, it is virtually impossible to detect cheating. But these submitted papers by the student should never be viewed in isolation – the academic(s) should have other opportunities for the students to submitted written assessment, along with email evidence and even forum/online comments, so the writing style of the student can be seen. Then, when the online paper comes in the academic can see quite easily that the style, language, grammar, punctuation, etc. is different, sometimes wildly so. From here the different pieces of work can be compared and an informed opinion can be made.

“But [Dr Lisa Lines] argues that much more radical steps will be needed to combat the use of essay mills, including greater use of exams and requiring students to give oral presentations on the topic of completed essays.”

Again, no. You don’t need to add more exams or more ‘radical steps’, you just need to be more prepared to get to get to know your students, their writing styles, their use of grammar and language. I’m sure, once you know this, it’ll be far easier to spot work that is out of the ordinary, for that student, even without the reliance on TurnItIn.

TurnItIn and other systems like this are to be used as part of a wider assessment strategy. The main focus of that strategy though should be the relationship between academic/teacher and student.

The scary part of this reliance on TurnItIn [other plagiarism detection tools are available] is this – I worked with one academic (a few years ago now) who actually based the student’s grade on the TurnItIn score. Yes! They even admitted they didn’t even look at the details or report or the paper itself. Anything with 50% matched or over got 50% grade or less (but never a fail). Anything between 20-50% match got a 50-60% score, and anything less than 20% of text matched got a better/higher score over 60%.

One another related topic, this article on the Guardian website – An essay I bought online was so bad I want a refund – but the firm won’t pay up – was also worrying. But at least the piece did answer the bigger picture here. It’s not about the ethics of a refund for the paper, it’s about the integrity of the student in trying to subvert the system. And from a law student too?!

“The use of these types of websites not only raises serious questions about whether an individual is meeting the standards required, but also whether somebody has the right character to enter a profession where honesty and integrity is crucial.”

Image source: Dom Pates (CC BY 2.0)

Sources in Student Writing

Sources in Student Writing

Turnitin have produced two infographics on the sources in student writing:

“Turnitin’s annual study examines the sources students use in their written work and the implications of their choices. This study was conducted for both Higher Ed and Secondary Education.”

The below is an extract from the Higher Education Infographic – those of you interested in Secondary Education can click the link to view that version.

Click the link below to view the full graphic, but I’ve highlighted some key points from it:

Sources in Student Writing
Sources in Student Writing Infographic

UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

2012 UCISA Technology Enhanced Learning Report

UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

If you’re involved in any way with Learning Technology or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) then you ought to spend some time looking through this report – at 149 pages it’s a lot to take in, it does have a very useful summary if you want the best bits.

UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association) have produced this report regularly since 2008 to look at:

“the use of technology enhanced learning in the higher education sector. In addition to reviewing the technology in use, the survey looks at the drivers behind the adoption of technology enhanced learning in institutions.”

The report identifies and defines TEL as:

“Any online facility or system that directly supports learning and teaching. This may include a formal VLE, an institutional intranet that has a learning and teaching component, a system that has been developed in house or a particular suite of specific individual tools.”

I would also think, in my mind, that the survey and report will expand to include systems that support teaching and learning ‘indirectly’? The use of Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter is increasing, and how they are being used are developing as both learning portals and areas for administrative contact (which I doubt will replace Institutional systems, but are useful first-contact portals to feed the student request/need to).


Why is plagiarism such a big deal in our universities?

I admit, I’ve been guilty of this too – reinforce the consequences of copying and plagiarism without fully explaining about information literacy and how to correctly reference and cite work. Which is why this video from Tara Brabazonis a timely reminder about what the student thinks.Tara asks her students how they feel about plagiarism and why it has become such an issue in the contemporary university.

YouTube: Why is plagiarism such a big deal in our universities?

Here are two interesting quotes from a student in the video:

“I think plagiarism is such a big deal because none of us actually have original ideas, we’ve become too lazy to think of anything ourselves: we rely on other people to think of something for us.”

I hope not – I hope that these students (16 year olds?) have not had imagination and creativity beaten out of them, they are the future and should still be thinking, planning, scheming, and dreaming. Do students really think they can’t try and be original, where would we be without original thoughts?

Another student:

“I think, today, the definition of many fundamental words are questionable, such as ‘imagination’ and ‘originality’, and I think it’s time we have to explore the true meaning of these words and try to figure out what the hell is going on. So it’s time to think of fresh ideas and plagiarism, you know copying other peoples ideas, is probably the reason for this big mess.”

Plagiarism or copying could, for some, be the easy way out of a difficult situation, but hard work or creativity can produce wonders – just look at the impact the first Apple iPod or iPhone had on their respective markets.

How do you introduce digital and information literacy to students? What steps do you go through, and ask your students to go through, to work with referencing and citation to prevent academic infringements? Care to share any resources with us?

Colored Highlights in Turnitin / GradeMark #edtech

Newly updated feature of GradeMark is the ability to set a colour for your highlight/comments:

YouTube: Turnitin: Colored Highlights in GradeMark

Just having the ability to use a different colour is not important. What will be important is that you use this consistently across all your student feedback. Choose a colour for a certain type of comment (language, grammar, composition, etc) and make sure you use it for only that – if in doubt, write it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor to remind you. Turnitin says that:

“One great way to use these various highlights is to colour-code your feedback – for example, blue may be constructive feedback, green can be positive reinforcement, yellow can be be comments on composition, pink may be comments on format, and purple can be comments on grammar.”

Is this going to make a difference in how you use GradeMark? Are you already using the coloured highlight option, and if so what is your impression of it: has it made a positive/negative difference on how you comment and feedback to the student? All comments welcome.


Turnitin: 10 types of unoriginal work

Turnitin: 10 types of unoriginal work #turnitin #edtech

How about this infographic from Turnitin to start the week? From a survey of nearly 900 educators (Plagiarism Today) Turnitin are trying to “understand what kinds of plagiarism were the most common in academia and, equally importantly, which were viewed as being the most problematic”.

The results showed, once classified, that the type of plagiarism can be identified as one of the following:

  1. Clone: Verbatim copying without additions/subtractions.
  2. CTRL+C: Largely verbatim copying from a single source with minor changes.
  3. Find-Replace: Verbatim copying with key words/phrases changed, often automatically.
  4. Remix: Paraphrasing content so that it flows seamlessly with other work.
  5. Recycle: Plagiarizing from older works of your own (self plagiarism).
  6. Hybrid: Combining correctly cited material with non-cited material in the same passage.
  7. Mashup: A mix of copied and original content from various sources without attribution.
  8. 404 Error: Including citations that do not exist or are inaccurate.
  9. Aggregator: Properly cited material that contains little original content.
  10. Re-Tweet: Includes proper citation but uses too much of the original wording, content that should have been quoted but was paraphrased.

[Click to enlarge]

The interesting points for me are the frequency results, with the ‘clone’ (direct copy, word for word) and the ‘mashup’ (mixed copies, multiple sources) coming out as the most frequent offences, whilst the clone and Ctrl-C (which are basically the same?) as the most problematic or cause the most concern – but the ‘re-tweet’ and ‘remix’ as the least problematic.

The article linked to above (click the image) has a good summary of the categories as well as the full infographic. The survey also concludes with the advice that students should be included and encouraged to review their Institution’s plagiarism policy, with the following recommendations;

  • Inform: “Share the plagiarism spectrum with the students and use it as a guide to inform them of the ways in which plagiarism can take form.”
  • Intent: “The plagiarism spectrum emphasises the range of intent behind the student plagiarism. use the spectrum to guide decisions about appropriate responses to plagiarism.”
  • Originality Checking: “Give students access to their Originality Reports so that they can see how they may have inappropriately used or referenced source material.”
Turnitin Infographic

Plagiarism: Web sources for unoriginal content

If you’re interested in Turnitin and it’s use with student learning them the facts and figures in this infographic produced by Turnitin might interest you.

While the figures cover the US side of Turnitin submissions only (between June 2010 and June 2011), you can get a lot from this:

  • 128m matches were found from 25m submissions,
  • 20% of matches  in Higher Education uses came from ‘cheat sites’ (compared to only 14% for Secondary Education),
  • 26% of matches in HE uses came from social or shared content (compared to much higher 31% in SE),
  • Slideshare is a popular source for students to cut-and-paste work from, un-referenced, but not as popular as Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers.

Click to view full Infographic

Presentation: “Creative Commons: What every Educator needs to know”

From my observations of some student presentations I invigilated recently I know there are clearly issues with students knowing and understanding what is legal and what is not when you use and re-use content or images you find on the Internet.

Many of us already know about Creative Commons content and how it works, but I found this presentation, with audio slidecast, that I have also made available to staff and students alike, in the vain hope it’ll make a difference. It is well worth listening to the 20 minute slidecast that accompanies this presentation, it brings the static pages to life.

If you want some background on what Creative Commons is, please see my previous post and video on “What is creative Commons?“.

Creative Commons: What every Educator needs to know. View more webinars from Rodd Lucier.

Turnitin: Making a good thing better?

I have been an advocate of the use of plagiarism detection / deterrent software ever since I was shown the benefit. The first time I saw TurnItIn in action was when I had to demonstrate it to a group of undergraduate students almost three years ago now, as part of a pilot study in the Business School.

Don’t forget my previous, recent, post on plagiarism: Video – A Plagiarism Carol

For various reasons we stopped using TurnItIn, but we are now getting ready for it’s re-introduction to our Blackboard installation, and I have started to see blog posts and various other links about an imminent upgrade to TurnItIn … TurnItIn 2.

Planned for an August launch (I wonder when we will be able to make use of upgrades?) it is looking like TurnItIn is upping the game in the plagiarism detection and deterrence industry, and are making the changes to help both students detect and the Institution to deter plagiarism.

Changes coming to Turnitin summer 2010? – This link came to me from JoBadge on Twitter;

“The biggest change is that student work will be shown with full formatting, including diagrams and figures. The matching text is highlighted in situ, a little like using a highlighter pen on real paper. This will give a far more intuitive feel to the analysis of originality reports and include a huge amount of context in a very visual way. The current system of highlighting matches using boxing out, tends to over emphasize their importance and makes it difficult to judge the amount and severity of the non-original text. Including figures will help us to judge whether the figures have been properly used and referenced.”

By all accounts the changes are only going to make TurnItIn an easier and clearer system to use, and hopefully encourage staff and students to make use of it’s facilities to ensure good honest work.

There is one downside for any Institution that relies on anything like plagiarism software; it will only look for the originality of the work. It does not, and cannot, replace the tutor’s knowledge of the individual who is supposed to have written the piece. There are many websites out there where, for a measly £75 or more you can buy a totally original assignment. Only the tutors knowledge of the student and their writing style will enable them to determine whether the student actually wrote the piece they submitted.

So, do you use any system for plagiarism detection (or deterrence), do you allow students to upload themselves to check for correct referencing, are your staff happy or comfortable using something like TurnItIn? What kind of emphasis do you put on the use of TurnItIn, is it for detection or is it as a deterrence?

Video: ‘A Plagiarism Carol’

I found this really funny, and quite well put together, video outlining the pitfalls of plagiarising text this morning. You’ll need to press the ‘CC’ button (shown below) to get the captions/translation (unless your Norwegian is better than mine, which I’m sure it is!).

YouTube CC Option

YouTube: Plagiarism Video

There are many ways an Institution can raise the student awareness of plagiarism and this is one of the best I’ve seen. If you’ve come across something similar, better, or even worse (document, video, guide, etc) then please leave your comment below with links if possible.