New plagiarism detection service available to faculty

5:26:18 PM CDT - Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

You could call it fighting fire with fire.

With computers and the Internet providing widespread access to information, it's become easier for today's students to plagiarize and get away with it.

Now WSU faculty can use a computer service to detect whether a student is submitting unoriginal work.

The new service, SafeAssignment, is available through Blackboard, an online program that faculty have been using to share and manage course information and materials with their students.

When WSU students submit an assignment electronically through Blackboard, the papers can be run through the SafeAssignment plagiarism detection service. In less than an hour, the instructor can get a report showing any matched phrases on the assignments of everyone in the class.

"Part of the power of this product is that finding plagiarism is effortless," said Larry Whitman, during a recent workshop on the new service.

Whitman, who teaches in the industrial and manufacturing engineering department, and Keith Pickus, an associate dean in liberal arts and sciences, piloted SafeAssignment last spring at the request of WSU's academic operations council, which wanted to provide faculty with a resource to detect cheating.

With SafeAssignment, both Pickus and Whitman found cases of students who had plagiarized information.

SafeAssignment will check a student's paper against more than 6.5 billion documents on the Internet, according to the SafeAssignment.com Web site.

The technology also checks the paper against other electronic databases, including newspapers, journals and online "term paper mills," the site said, and a WSU database of other papers that have been run though SafeAssignment.

By running a check through a WSU database, a faculty member can see whether students are plagiarizing the works of WSU students who've previously taken the class.

In its report, SafeAssignment will show what percentage of the paper matches other sources. It also provides a source comparison, showing where the matched phrase can be found online and a percentage of how similar the phrases are.

Getting a match isn't an automatic sign of guilt, though, Pickus pointed out. The program doesn't make a distinction between properly or improperly cited passages, he said, so faculty will want to check the source comparison reports to see whether students are attributing their sources or simply copying phrases.

With this new plagiarism detection service, faculty now have another way to fight plagiarism. Earlier this year, the Faculty Senate passed a new grade policy that allows instructors to give an XF grade to indicate a student failed the class because of academic dishonesty.

About 60 faculty attended the SafeAssignment workshop, a good indication of how much of a hot-button issue plagiarism has become, said Brien Bolin, interim director of the Center for Teaching and Research Excellence, which sponsored the workshop.

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