The Concept of Plagiarism
Plagiarism Detection Software - a new JISC service
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Learning and Teaching Unit
Plagiarism Detection Software – a new JISC service
As Bill Johnston has indicated in his article, plagiarism may be a real
problem. But do we know how serious the problem is? Plagiarism Detection
Software compares submitted work against material that is already available
on the Web and/or in databases. It has been used in two recent studies
in Australia  and the USA  and has found that
about 8-12% of work contained some plagiarised material.
There are several different software services available. In Autumn 2002,
the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) set up a
trial service of one of the main systems, called ‘Turnitin’
. This decision was reached after a trial of five different
products  and a separated pilot study across five different
institutions . This service is now available to all UK HE
The pilot study showed that the introduction of plagiarism detection
software requires considerable thought about how to use the service and
what to do with the results. The work which is submitted to the service
is retained in the database for inclusion in later searches – this
requires that students give their permission for their work to be used
in this way. The service highlights material which may exist elsewhere,
whether or not it has been correctly cited – so the tutor will have
to check manually whether or not the material is plagiarised (as they
would normally need to do if they suspected without the benefit of a computerised
check). Also, it can only compare text – so graphs, pictures or
diagrams can’t be checked, which means it will be less useful in
art, design and engineering subjects. Finally, there is a real need for
institutions to be prepared to take action if plagiarism is detected and
substantiated. In the pilot study, some institutions took no action on
the reports received from the service, because they were concerned about
The Learning and Teaching subcommittee of the Academic Standards Committee
has been asked to oversee a small internal pilot study to see if such
a service would be of help in an overall strategy to reduce plagiarism.
This would involve course teams volunteering to participate, getting permission
from their students, and examining the outcomes. I’m sure we all
agree that education is a more important strand to the overall strategy,
which will lead to resources being made available for both staff and students.
The staff resources will look at ways of designing assessments which are
difficult to plagiarise, while the student resources will aim to explain
plagiarism and how to avoid it. The detection service could be a ‘last
resort’. If you are interested in getting involved, or in contributing
to the resource bank, please let Bill Johnston (email@example.com)
or Rachel Forsyth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Buckell, J., Plagiarism at 8 per cent, in The Australian. 2002.
- Lynn, A., Plagiarism-detection software stems students' use of 'paper
mills'. 2002, News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Bull, J., et al., Technical Review of Plagiarism Detection Software.
- Chester, G., Pilot of Free-text Electronic Plagiarism Detection Software.
2001, JISC. p. 24.
Learning and Teaching Unit
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