Learning and Teaching in Action

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MMU Learning and Teaching in Action
Volume 3, Issue 2: Reflection, Work in Progress and Successes

Published by: Learning and Teaching Unit

Rachel Forsyth

QA in Open and Distributed Learning
Jim Petch

QA for on-line courses
Alan Fielding, Simon Harris & Sue King

UNIGIS - QA Crossing Borders
Dave Lambrick

How QA can learn from Distributed Learning
Louise Walmsley

QA in Open, Distance and Online Learning
Fred Lockwood

Integrating eLearning in to University procedures at UMIST
Bland Tomkinson & Simon Perry

The role of evaluation in the QA of e-Learning
Grainne Conole

Inside and outside the UK QA box
Bernadette Robinson

Certificating your QA
Richard Freeman

QA in Open and Distance Learning: A national perspective
John Slater

QAA's revised code of practice
Peter Williams

Learning by Doing
Kathy Kinmond & Lisa Oakley

Embodying Theory: Choreographic 'style' explored through Labanotation
Rachel Duerden

Good Practice in Open and Distance Learning
Mary Issitt

Why should teaching staff get involved in 'Reach-Out'?
Gaye Heathcote

Plagiarism detection and JISC
Bill Johnston

Faculty Learning and Teaching Reports

Learning and Teaching News from the Library

| View this article as a .pdf file |

photo of Bill Johnston

Wm Johnston

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.

The PAS 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 use”

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 ‘turnitin’.

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 being signed.

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 the trial.

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 unoriginal work.

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 burden.

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 useful.

Wm Johnston
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 b.johnston@mmu.ac.uk.

Summer 2004
ISSN 1477-1241

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