Preventing and detecting plagiarism

(By Johnny Lammers van Toorenburg and Riet Martens)

Plagiarism is the action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own. The university world in particular has strict prohibitions regarding the theft of intellectual property.

Students who have only just left secondary school are not always aware of the distinction between correct citation and illegal copying. Our task is to make clear to them what is acceptable and what is not. However, students will still occasionally be tempted to copy the texts of others (including those of fellow students) and pretend that this is their own work. This is especially the case when they give other activities a higher priority, but still want to gain course credits.

As a lecturer, you can take various steps to make students less inclined to copy from others. There are also various tools that you can use to detect plagiarism. We will address the following issues:

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Preventing plagiarism

·

Signs that you can watch for

·

What action to take when you encounter plagiarism

·

Using Blackboard to detect plagiarism

Preventing plagiarism

While there is no watertight method to prevent students plagiarizing, you can take steps to make students less inclined to copy from others:

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explain to students the importance of references to the literature, and show them some good examples from your own field;

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get students to present their papers orally, or hold a group discussion about the paper (which will enable you to pose direct questions to the students in question);

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get students to include a list of references. Then, during the group discussion of the paper, ask them how (in what way) they found a particular article, and question them about the usefulness of the source;

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require them to make use of recent papers.

Signs that you can watch for

There are signs that might cause you to doubt the authenticity of a paper:

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the use of words that students would not normally use;

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a sudden switch to an ‘alien’ style of writing that differs from the rest of the text;

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a writing style that is not in keeping with the level normally exhibited by students at this stage of the programme;

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lack of consistency (too much cutting and pasting);

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description of topics beyond the scope of the subject matter;

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use of different forms of citation;

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use of different formatting styles within the document.

What action to take when you encounter plagiarism

If, as a lecturer, you suspect a student of plagiarism (maybe by using Blackboard’s Plagiarism detection tool) that is sufficient reason to discuss the matter with the student (or students) in question. If your suspicion is confirmed (or if you are still suspicious) you must report this to the examination board. If the examination board finds that the individual in question has acted in bad faith, it will impose a penalty. This can range from a warning to excluding the student from examinations for a period of one year.

Using Blackboard to detect plagiarism

If you get students to submit their assignments through Blackboard, these can then be automatically checked for plagiarism. You will need to use Ephorus Assignment to set up the system to allow students to submit assignments (or group assignments):

When students submit their work, the document in question is checked by the Ephorus plagiarism server. Once the check is complete, the results are returned through Blackboard. The report shows what percentage of the text has been found elsewhere. Sadly, this does not generate a list covering all the submitted assignments. You have to check each one individually.

Creating Ephorus Assignments in Blackboard

Step 1.

Click Control Panel

Step 2.

Click Content Areas in Assignments

Step 3.

In the Select dropdown menu in the top right corner of the screen, choose Ephorus Assignment:

Step 4.

Click the button

Step 5.

Type a name under Assignment Information

Step 6.

Under Points Possible enter the maximum number of points that can be scored

Step 7.

Under instructions type a description of the assignment and enter the deadline date

Step 8.

Set the desired Options (such as individual assignment or Group assignment)

Step 9.

When you have finished, click the button

Checking work submitted via Blackboard for plagiarism

Step 1.

Click Control Panel

Step 2.

Under Course Tools click Ephorus Assignment

Step 3.

Select the assignment that you wish to check for plagiarism

Step 4.

Behind the name of the student whose plagiarism report you wish to view, click View report

Step 5.

View the plagiarism report

The Ephorus plagiarism server can check the following file types:

Microsoft Word

*.doc, docx

Rich Text Format

*.rtf

Htm

*.htm

Html

*.html

Adobe Acrobat

*.pdf

Open Office

*.sxw

Plain Text

*.txt

Ephorus cannot check for plagiarism in spreadsheet documents (such as Excel), database structures (such as Access), or the files created by graphic applications used to make diagrams (VISIO).

Sources:

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Berkel, H. van, Het opsporen van plagiaat (Detecting plagiarism): Details of two methods are given. In: Berkel, H. van & Bax, A. (2006) Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs. (Testing in higher education.)

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Harris. R., Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers http://www.virtualsalt.com/antiplag.htm

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