Technology Catches MMW Plagiarizers

The Internet, which in the past few years has made plagiarism as easy as point-and-click, cut-and-paste, is now being used by UCSD and universities nationwide to fight the ultimate academic crime.

With online term paper mills such as schoolsucks.com and Cheater.com making scholarly works accessible from any computer with Internet access, the ease with which students can now steal information — or even entire papers — is unprecedented.

Recognizing this kind of access as a threat to academic standards and honesty, two UCSD undergraduate basic writing courses have employed the services of a Web-based company, turnitin.com, to detect stolen text in papers.

Roosevelt students taking Making of the Modern World and Marshall students taking Dimensions of Culture are now required to turn in their papers electronically to turnitin.com. This is in addition to turning in hard copy papers to teaching assistants or professors as usual.

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Both courses are using the online service on a trial basis, and its further use and possible expansion to other programs will be reviewed after this quarter.

Compositions submitted by students to turnitin.com are compared to the site’s own in-house database of all other papers turned in to the site during the three years of its existence. Next, turnitin.com uses specially designed software to search the Web for texts that are similar to that of the submitted work.

Finally, a report is created, showing what percentage of the paper is original and what percentage is very similar to online sources.

According to Director of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Nick Aguilar, his office initiated the pilot programs last quarter to see how much it would help professors enforce academic honesty.

“”We arranged for the use of [turnitin.com] to assist instructors in detecting whether work turned in by students was not plagiarized, that it was indeed their work,”” Aguilar said. “”And it’s as much — if not more — for the students so that their work is valuable.””

Susannah Smith, academic coordinator for MMW, said that without help it is very tricky to detect plagiarism. She said that often, TAs will just get the feeling that a paper was written by two different people.

“”What I’ve found in the last two years in MMW is that we’ve found instances of plagiarism every quarter, and they’re almost always from the Internet,”” Smith said. “”Frankly, it’s astonishing that we catch anyone.””

The use of turnitin.com’s services seems to be working.

“”It does appear that instructors were able to detect a greater number of papers with text not cited to authors,”” Aguilar said.

Smith agrees that professors and TAs are better able to detect uncited work using the turnitin.com.

“”Five or six cases of plagiarism were detected in the last quarter’s lecture track,”” Smith said. “”This is high. There are usually two or three.””

One of the main objectives of using the service is to deter students from using uncited materials in the first place.

Aguilar said that with the vast resources available online, the temptation to use somebody else’s work is becoming greater.

“”With the Internet, convenience and accessibility are increased,”” he said. “”Cut-and-paste is so convenient that it is easy to forget to cite a source. It’s much quicker than going to the library and going from the hard copy.””

Sociology professor Richard Madsen, who is teaching MMW 6 this quarter, said he thinks that students are better off with their classes’ use of turnitin.com.

“”The biggest hope is that this will be a deterrent,”” he said. “”If students know this kind of thing is being used, they will have incentive not to plagiarize. This is good for them.””

Roosevelt sophomore Farrah Abrishami, who is currently taking MMW 6, said she believes that the use of the site will be a deterrent because it makes using uncited sources from the Internet more risky.

“”I don’t know how to beat the system, though I’m sure some people will,”” Abrish-ami said. “”But risking an F and possibly getting kicked out of school — most people won’t risk it. I definitely think it will deter people [from plagiarizing].””

Still, using turnitin.com will not erase the problem of plagiarism at UCSD, though it may help to alleviate it by both detection and by deterrence.

“”For too long we’ve been in the reactive mode, only punishing after the fact,”” Aguilar said. “”We want to positively promote academic honesty and integrity of scholarship.””

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