Jisc in hi-tech war on cheats

January 16, 2004

The Joint Information Systems Committee is running plagiarism-busting workshops across the country.

At one workshop, 12 participants at Edinburgh's Telford College were each given an essay title and 15 minutes to concoct an essay with information gleaned from the internet.

Workshop coordinator Fiona Duggan, manager of the University of Northumbria-based Jisc plagiarism advisory service, handed out a list of "essay banks" - sites that sell pre-written student essays, some of which offer free trials.

Dr Duggan got the participants to run their plagiarised essays through Jisc's detection service, which covers not only 3 million website addresses, but all student essays submitted by registered UK universities.

The service can detect plagiarism by classmates or between students in different institutions. The essay comes back colour-coded according to how much the text duplicates other sources, logging websites that have been used.

But two participants found that fragments of their essays had evaded detection, and Dr Duggan stressed that the detection service report was not foolproof.

"It's only an indication. It doesn't differentiate between a properly referenced quote and an unacknowledged quotation. There is no way your judgement is being replaced," Dr Duggan said.

There is a perception that plagiarism is on the rise because of cyber-cheating, although Dr Duggan said there was no hard evidence for this, and people were simply more aware of the problem.

Studies in the US have shown that the mere fact that a university signs up for a detection service reduces plagiarism. Students at Jisc's pilot project praised the detection service for levelling the playing field.

"Students who don't plagiarise get very annoyed if they know other students are not doing the work and getting away with it," Dr Duggan said.

Jisc's electronic detection should be seen as an extra element of an institution's anti-plagiarism strategy, Dr Duggan said.

She added that the key to combating plagiarism was unambiguous, consistent policies, with students clearly informed of what was expected of them.

Lecturers should also update modules and experiments to reduce the capacity for plagiarism.

Details of the Jisc plagiarism advisory service are available at http://www.jiscpas.ac.uk .

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