Student aims to catch cheats

November 28, 2003

A Canadian masters student aims to catch students in the act of plagiarism in an effort to understand why some copy directly from sources such as the internet.

Melissa McGonnell is compiling a study for her thesis that will ask 60 first-year university students to summarise a four-page passage from a psychology textbook. She will then look for copied word strings and sentences that match those in the source text.

The thesis, funded through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council programme for graduate students, comes amid growing concern over internet plagiarism.

Ms McGonnell, 40, a psychology student at Acadia University who taught in a high school for 17 years, was inspired to do her thesis after several former students, many of whom had dyslexia, told her they were writing much better than their fellow university students.

She believes the positive skills they learnt in high school were carried into their university writing. Equally, she believes bad habits, such as copying passages, are learnt early as well.

Meanwhile, McGill University student Jesse Rosenfeld has challenged the requirement that student papers be sent to turnitin. com, a website that checks against other essays for plagiarism.

Mr Rosenfeld, a second-year student in international development, received a zero after he refused to upload his paper. He objects to handing his work to a private company.

"I'm indirectly helping a private company make a profit off my paper," Mr Rosenfeld told CanWest News Service.

Some legal experts say the service violates copyright law, and privacy issues are also a factor as many students are not aware that their papers are being vetted by a third party.

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