Monday, July 20, 2009

Essay # 2: Anti- Plagiarism Software

Ingrid K.

After reviewing literature which discusses plagiarism in education, it is apparent that plagiarism is a problem affecting learning communities consisting of students of all age levels, including high school, college and graduate school (Villano, 2006;Warn, 2006; Dahl, 2007). In his article Dahl (2007) discusses one possible cause of plagiarism. This being what he feels is the “ambiguity” surrounding the definition of the act of plagiarism itself. As plagiarism really consists of a variety of acts, ranging from directly using someone else’s words to substituting or paraphrasing someone else’s words without correctly referencing the idea, the severity or level of plagiarism varies (Warn, 2006). More recently, plagiarism has become even more difficult to define and therefore to control as increased access to and the use of the internet has made information in a variety of forms more readily available. As Warn (2006) discusses, the internet allows students to more easily access information contained in research articles, academic essays or other materials which may supply a student with helpful information in researching and writing about a topic. Villano (2006) cites a study conducted by the Rutgers University Management Education Center which found that 60% of high school students surveyed (18,000 responses total) admitted to plagiarizing some form of academic work. This statistic helps to illustrate the problem plagiarism is posing in classrooms, specifically high school classrooms. One such solution being proposed and adopted by many schools (and universities), is that of using computer software that is designed to help detect plagiarism. While many argue such software is helpful in the detection of plagiarism, some feel that is should not be used alone and can not be the only solution to minimizing and reducing this problem in our classrooms.

There are a variety of software systems or databases which are being marketed to help teachers and schools reduce plagiarism. One such system discussed by Dahl(2007) is Turnitin. Turnitin is a software system which has been designed to enable students to upload and submit academic work (such as research papers, etc) online. Turnitin is then able to check a variety of databases and internet sources to find “word matches” which may be an indication of plagiarism. Turnitin and other similar systems are then able to provide both student and teacher or professor with an “originality report” (Dahl, 2007; Warn, 2006). This originality report can inform a teacher of any “verbatim matches” or “word string matches” (Warn, 2005), informing the teacher or professor of work that might constitute as being plagiarized and prompting them to investigate if necessary. While this software has been deemed helpful in enabling teachers and professors to combat the types of plagiarism the internet has in many ways made more “accessible” to students, a heavy reliance on this software is not without criticism.

As discussed by Warn (2006), plagiarism software mainly focuses on finding “word string matches” between student work and materials found through databases and internet searches. Because of this Warn (2006) argues with an increased use of this software and therefore an increased student familiarity with this software, many students will begin to use heavy paraphrasing, editing key words to minimize the matches detected by such software. As Warn (2006) explains, “the trajectory of behavior encouraged by the software is for students to increase the amount of paraphrasing and tweak the level of direct copying until it falls under the sensitivity of the software detection tool. In effect the end-result is that students will become adept at ‘Going under the radar’ (Warn, 2006, p.196). Warn (2006) also discusses how students often times have access to similar plagiarism software, allowing them to check and re-check work, tweaking it until, as is explained above, plagiarism is undetectable. In essence, his argument is that with increased use of such software in the classroom, students will become more adapt at weaving around this software. Therefore in the end, this software might make students “better” plagiarizers through teaching them how to avoid being caught. Because of this Warn (2006), argues that such software must be used alongside a host of other efforts which seek to minimize the use of plagiarism in schools.

As Warn (2006) states, “the solution to reducing plagiarism may rest more on prevention rather than detection” (Warn, 2006, p. 202). Both Warn (2006) and Villano (2006) argue that one effective preventative measure might be to include citation and reference training into classroom curriculum. Cody, as cited in Villano (2006) feels that teachers must not only define what constitutes plagiarism but go over this with their students. As he explains, many students, especially younger students, may not understand the difference between extracting information from a source verses using the same exact words of the source. Therefore it is essential that teachers review and practice this with their students (Villano, 2006). In many ways, understanding the rules and boundaries surrounding citing and referencing sources is like any skill taught in the classroom; in order for it to become “second nature” it must be practiced and reviewed. Warn (2006) found that even at the college level, students often struggled with using correct citation formats and often used a variety of citation styles in one piece of writing. Warn’s review of related research demonstrates a need to incorporate these skills directly into a course, making them part of both instruction and assessment (Warn, 2006).

Both Warn (2006) and Villano (2006)mention changing the nature of assignments themselves as a method to avoid plagiarism. Warn (2006) discusses how it is often tasks and assignments which require the regurgitation of information, and lack creativity, that are more prone to plagiarism. In citing McKenzie (1998), Warn (2006) discusses how assignments that, “promote the active involvement of students by having them solve problems, analyse issues or make decisions”, may reduce plagiaristic tendencies. Johnson as cited in Villano (2006) agrees with this idea and feels that assignments which require the use of student “creativity and personalization” will help to minimize plagiarism (Villano, 2006, p.4).

While both research and practice acknowledge the helpfulness of plagiarism software in detecting and combating plagiarism, many argue that it can not be used alone. In many ways software, like many other digital tools, lacks what Dahl refers to as “human judgment”, prompting criticism (Dahl, 2007). Therefore, while such software allows teachers to check the plethora of sources available to their students through the internet, it must not become a teacher or educators’ sole tool in combating plagiarism. Instead as discussed above, educators must, in the face of the expanding body of knowledge available to their students, change the strategies and tools they use in the classroom. As with many aspects of education, relying heavily on one tool, strategy or practice does not always lead to the best results. Teachers much embrace a variety of approaches in helping their students become better learners; this is no different when it comes to helping minimize the use of plagiarism.


Dahl, S. (2007, January 1). Turnitin: The student perspective on using plagiarism detection software. Active Learning in Higher Education, (8)2, 173-191. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ767170) Retrieved July 18, 2009, from ERIC database

Villano, M. (2006, October). Fighting plagiarism: Taking the work out of homework. T.H.E Journal, 33(15), 24-30. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ762470). Retrieved July 18, 2009, from ERIC database.

Warn, J. (2006, May 1). Plagiarism software: No magic bullet!. Higher Education Research and Development, 25(2), 195-208. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ736205) Retrieved July 18, 2009, from ERIC database.

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