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Senior Learning and Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Humanities, Law
and Social Science
Plagiarism Detection and JISC
The Plagiarism Advisory Service (PAS) is funded by the Joint Information
Systems Committee (JISC), based in the Information Management Research
Institute at Northumbria University.
website describes the service as follows:
PAS “sets out to raise awareness of plagiarism in the academic
community by providing:
Generic advice for institutions, academic staff and students.
Educational tools for students in the area of plagiarism
A portal to external online resources on the issue of plagiarism.
Guidance on copyright and data protection issues relating to plagiarism.
A link to the electronic detection service and training on its
The JISC electronic plagiarism detection service is designed to enable
academic staff to check for plagiarism in student work by comparing
it both with sources on the Internet and also with other students
work held on the database.
The service is being fully supported by JISC for the first two years
(Sept 2002 to August 2004) and during this time the services has been
free to JISC institutions. It is based on a detection tool called
To make use of the detection service, institutions have to register
with JISC and then individual tutors can access the service.
Once the students have submitted their work, the service carries
out a comparison of it against the following:
- A database of previously submitted material (i.e. other students
essays and assignments)
- Over 800 million web-sites.
- Essays from cheat sites.
The tutor can then access the results. The service does not identify
instances of plagiarism, it merely provides a colour coded ‘originality
report’. This report highlights text within the assignment that
has been found at another source and provides links to them. ”It
does not make decisions about a piece of work or its author; it is
just providing information on which a tutor can make a judgement about
whether plagiarism has taken place”.
All information is taken from the Plagiarism
Detection Service homepage at Northumbria University.
The key issue in using the service is that because student work is
held on the Turnitin database there are data protection and copyright
concerns that need to be addressed. In effect each student needs to
be provided with, and to sign, a notice setting out how their work
is to be used and the conditions under which it is held. Further a
related notice needs to be signed by staff involved in the service.
These notices have to be obtained prior to personal data or content
being submitted to the service and have to be retained so that it
can be produced if required for as long as the data is held by the
service. It is for the institution to decide whether registration
to the service is optional or compulsory by the student body as a
whole but the use of the service is dependent upon these consent notices
For the pilot, it was agreed at a meeting of myself, Steve Heaton
(Secretary’s Department) and Jerry Niman (Head of Information
Systems Unit) that the University would enter into the legal agreement
with JISC in order to use the Plagiarism service. It was also agreed
that for the purposes of the initial trial I would ensure that consent
from individual students was obtained for their material to be submitted
to the service. Steve Heaton provided an appropriate form of words
to use for this purpose. The student consent form requires cross-reference
to the University’s Data Protection Policy. Students have a
right to withdraw material from the service (if they hold the copyright
of the material).
The purpose of the pilot trial was to test out the various procedures
involved and to get a feel for the kinds of outcomes the service produces.
It was not intended to ‘catch out’ those students taking
part in it. It was decided to use students from my third year ‘Philosophy
of Mind and Action’ group as the trial group. The reason for
this is that we needed their full cooperation as volunteers and their
trust that the results of the pilot would not be used against them
in any way. I had taught many of these students throughout their undergraduate
life and a degree of understanding and rapport had been built up.
In addition it was a small group – only 12 students.
In the end nine students agreed to sign up for the pilot. Clearly
the sample was too self-selective and too small to be able to draw
any sensible conclusions about the incidence of plagiarism in their
work, but this was not our purpose.
Once the students had signed up for their work to be used they were
asked to submit their term essay in the normal way to the Faculty
Essay Receipting Office and to include a copy of their essay on floppy
disc. Only seven students did this, and their work was then used in
There are two ways that student work can be submitted to the service.
One is for each student to log in to the web site, register on the
system and then to submit their work themselves. The other is for
the tutor to upload each student’s work. For seven students
this latter option is clearly a possibility and this is what I did.
For a large class this would not be very practicable. On the other
hand to leave the responsibility of uploading to each student is maybe
asking rather too much of them. This clearly would be an issue to
be addressed in any large-scale use of the service.
Once the essays have been submitted, they appear in a class inbox.
The class inbox works like an email programme: whenever a document
is submitted it is processed and returned here.
Once an Originality Report has been generated for the document this
can be accessed from the inbox.
The Originality Report identifies the Internet addresses containing
passages that match text in the submitted paper. You can then click
on any of the links to open a window to that Internet location, or
select “dsc” (direct source comparison) to open a window
that homes directly in on the passages in question.
Of the seven student essays submitted only one showed any signs of
This particular paper received a moderate “overall similarity
index,” which means that matching online sources were found
for a moderate percentage (between 30% and 50%) of the paper.
On examination of this Report the source of the unoriginal work was
given as http://www.mmu.ac.uk/h-ss/sis/wmj/ m&a/text11.htm - which
is a file on my website for the unit in question which itself contains
an extract from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The student
had (more or less) correctly cited the original source in all instances.
To make any judgements based on one single essay would be fatuous,
but out of interest I then submitted the same essay to another plagiarism
detection service – EVE
(The Essay Verification Engine).
On passing the same essay through EVE, no instances of plagiarism
were detected (even on the ‘Full Strength’ option).
However, copying and pasting a single paragraph from the essay in
Google found not only the original
source – The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - but also
a second source quoting directly from the Encyclopedia. It did not
find my version on the MMU web site.
Any conclusions from this extremely limited trial can be no more
than tentative pointers and it would be wrong to base any decisions
on what follows.
I found the service very easy to access and to operate. Someone less
familiar with web-based forms may find it more problematic.
Uploading a small number of essays was unproblematic and quick. For
a tutor to upload a large number of essays would be a significant
The results were obtained within 24 hours. The way in which the results
were displayed was easy to understand and it was equally as easy to
access individual results.
The results require interpreting. The way in which they are presented
makes this relatively simple.
The service performed (on this one sample) better than a commercial
detection service (EVE) but less well than the search engine did.
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 previously-submitted work grows, the JISC service will become more
tel: 0161 247 3025
Note: Wm Johnston is intending to run a pilot of his new Plagiarism
WebCT interactive tutorial for students across the Faculty of Humanities,
Law and Social Science in the coming session. If colleagues from other
Faculties would like to take part, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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