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Department of Sociology
The JISC Plagiarism Detection Service Revisited
Plagiarism is rarely out of the news these days. Many UK universities are now beginning to address what they see to be a serious problem. (A recent survey at Northumbria University suggests that 74% of students believe that copying a few paragraphs of an essay from a book or the internet without citing them is commonplace 1.) At MMU we now have in place integrated institution-wide policy and practices on plagiarism, ranging from streamlined disciplinary procedures and a common tariff of penalties through to on-line resources for staff and students helping to understand and avoid it at source 2.
One element in this approach to tackling the problem is the use of the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service. This is an online service hosted at www.submit.ac.uk that enables institutions and staff to carry out electronic comparison of students’ work against electronic sources including other students’ work. The university has now signed up to this service and already staff from across the institution are making use of it. In L&TiA Issue 8 I reported on my initial pilot of this service with a group of my students during June 2003. Despite some concerns about the mechanics of the operations involved, the service seemed to work well. At that stage consent notices for the use of individual student work had to be obtained, along with a related notice signed by staff involved in the service. These notices had to be obtained prior to personal data or content being submitted to the service. An elaborate and time-consuming process. Furthermore, if staff were to upload student essays to the service, then, particularly with large classes, this could become a considerable burden. My conclusions at the end of the trial were that, “I would certainly be happy to use the service in future (with small classes) but for most purposes the judicious use of a search engine seems equally as good. Perhaps in the longer term, as the database of previouslysubmitted work grows, the JISC service will become more useful.”
Time has now passed and various changes have been made which make the use of the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service (PDS) far more userfriendly and less labour-intensive. Student consent to allow their work to be used in this way is now obtained at registration and more and more staff are requiring their students to submit their work themselves to the PDS. Also the range of resources checked by the PDS has increased considerably. Student work is now checked against a database of previously submitted material (i.e. other students essays and assignments); over 4.5 billion web sites; copyright free material from the Gutenberg project, and selected subscription services.
It is important to bear in mind that the PDS itself does not identify plagiarism; it simply provides a colour-coded ‘Originality Report’. This report highlights text within the assignment that has been found at another source and provides relevant links to them. It does not make decisions about a piece of work or its author; rather it provides information on which a tutor can make a judgement about whether plagiarism has taken place.
The way in which many tutors are making use of the service is that they require their students to submit assignments directly to the PDS. A copy of the Originality Report is then available both to the student and also the tutor. At this stage the student has the option of revising their work in the light of the report’s findings – a useful pedagogic exercise in its own right. The student then hands in the assignment together with a copy of the PDS report. Essays submitted without a PDS report are not accepted.
An alternative strategy is for tutors to upload individual essays themselves, where they suspect that plagiarism may have taken place. In all cases, the results are returned quickly – usually in a matter of hours. In practice, in terms of staff time, this is actually quicker and is certainly far more reliable, than doing a couple of random Google searches across phrases from the suspect assignment.
Remember that the best solution for plagiarism is prevention - not detection and punishment. The judicious use of the PDS can help in this by making students aware that we are taking plagiarism seriously and also by enabling them to see, by means of the Originality Report, instances of poor or missing citation. But we also need to re-think our approach to assessment in order to reduce the likelihood of it happening in the first place. (See ‘How can I reduce the opportunities for plagiarism in my assignments?’ )
There are on-line user manuals for the PDS available for both staff and students and a ‘Quick-Start Guide’.
A sample demo account is available
Tutors wishing to use the service need to contact Ian Cook (email@example.com ) in order to get an i/d and password.
1 DORDOY, A., 2002 Cheating and plagiarism : student and staff perceptions at Northumbria [Online][Cited 14 April 2005]
2 Student Guide (WebCT): ‘Plagiarism and how to avoid it’Staff i/d and password: plagiarism_guest
Staff Guide – website with FAQs: http:// www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/plagiarism
tel: 0161 247 3025
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