Fighting student plagiarism with verifiably new ideas

January 27, 2006

City University this week launched its inaugural Plagiarism Awareness Week, offering workshops for staff and students on topics ranging from plagiarism-proofing assessments to updates on the latest plagiarism- detection software.

The events were launched by Times Higher columnist Laurie Taylor, whose light-hearted seminar included the fictitious Poppleton University's own plans.

Mary Watts, City's pro vice- chancellor for teaching and learning, said the week would raise awareness of one of the most serious and complex issues facing higher education.

She said: "There's a huge amount of information available and we need to support students in how to use it, being clear about its origins. Staff can't just assume students have been taught this at school. They probably haven't."

The initiative was welcomed by Gill Rowell, advisory officer for the Plagiarism Advisory Service run by the Joint Information Systems Committee, who said: "A paragraph on plagiarism is often featured in university handbooks given to students at the beginning of their course. But few actually read it or understand what the term really means in practice."

She said that almost 60 higher education institutions in the UK had signed up to the UK version of US registered detection software Turnitin(UK, designed to detect matching text.

One participant, Peter Mellor, lecturer at the Centre for Software Reliability at City, said that he had 20 years of experience in spotting student cheats. Only recently several of his students had made the same unusual spelling mistake in an exam.

"They had all been given the same series of case studies to work on before the exam itself, but when I marked the papers I found that 40 per cent of the students had all spelt the word deposit with an 'e' on the end. Style is always a giveaway - I often read appalling text that magically changes to a beautifully written stretch of prose."

The seminars also aimed to explore where the boundaries lie between copying and legitimate sharing of academic work.

Nicola Padovanni, a masters student at City, said: "I don't really know the limits of what qualifies as plagiarism and what is not. There is a sticky point where the learning experience meets plagiarism."

In one session, two lecturers presented Jigsaw, a new type of assessment that reduces opportunities for plagiarism.

This involves students undertaking individual but complementary pieces of coursework that cannot be answered ready-made from the internet, and then putting their pieces of the jigsaw together.

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