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Published by the Learning and Teaching Unit
Winter 2003
ISSN 1477-1241
Learning and Teaching in Action logo

Vol 2 Issue 1: Assessment

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Rachel Forsyth

The Concept of Plagiarism
Bill Johnston

Plagiarism Detection Software - a new JISC service
Rachel Forsyth

Can students assess students effectively? Some insights into peer-assessment
A. Mark Langan and and C. Philip Wheater

Exploring the potential of Multiple-Choice Questions in Assessment
Edwina Higgins and Laura Tatham

Developing a new assessment strategy
Gaynor Lea-Greenwood

Assessing the Un-assessable
Tim Dunbar

How to assess disabled students without breaking the law
Mike Wray

Returning Feedback to Students via Email Using Electronic Feedback 9
Phil Denton

Tools for Computer-Aided Assessment
Alan Fielding and Enid Bingham

Faculty Learning and Teaching Reports

Learning and Teaching News from the Library

photo of Rachel Forsyth

Rachel Forsyth
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 [1] and the USA [2] 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) [3]set up a trial service of one of the main systems, called ‘Turnitin’ [4]. This decision was reached after a trial of five different products [5] and a separated pilot study across five different institutions [6]. This service is now available to all UK HE institutions.

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 student reaction.

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 ( or Rachel Forsyth ( know.


  1. Buckell, J., Plagiarism at 8 per cent, in The Australian. 2002.
  2. Lynn, A., Plagiarism-detection software stems students' use of 'paper mills'. 2002, News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  5. Bull, J., et al., Technical Review of Plagiarism Detection Software. 2001, JISC.
  6. Chester, G., Pilot of Free-text Electronic Plagiarism Detection Software. 2001, JISC. p. 24.

Rachel Forsyth
Learning and Teaching Unit



February 2003
ISSN 1477-1241

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