Plagiarism: Detection, Prevention, Monitoring

I attended the National Forum for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning seminar on plagiarism organised by Kevin O’Rourke at DIT’s Learning Teaching and Technology Centre. The meeting was interesting as it covered three aspects of plagiarism (in my opinion):

  1. Plagiarism detection
  2. Designing out plagiarism through various L&T methods
  3. Institutional and national profiling of extents of plagiarism

Plagiarism detection is probably the area most academics are familiar with in terms of the plagiarism debate. The pros and cons of SafeAssign and Turnitin were discussed by Kevin O’Rourke and Claire McAvinia of DIT, and the core message seemed to be that this kind of software is at best a tool in helping identify plagiarism. Care should be taken in using the plagiarism score which really needs to be read in the context of the document itself. In addition, the score itself is subject to limitations—it isn’t transparent what academic material is available to the software. Also, while it can be constructive to allow students to submit drafts to allow them gauge the level of plagiarism in their writing, there can be a tendency that students rewrite small sections with the aim of reducing the numerical score, rather than re-considering the document as a whole. Kevin pointed us to this video if you are interested in looking at this topic more.

The second component on designing out plagiarism was of most interest to me. Perry Share of IT Sligo gave a very interesting talk on the wide spectrum of plagiarism, ranging from intentional to unintentional, or “prototypical to patch-writing”. I think the most important thing coming out of his presentation was the consideration of how to design curricula (and most importantly assessment) to teach out plagiarism. A basic example was the consideration of assessment so that it avoided repetitious assignments or assignments that do not vary from year to year. This then developed into considering the process of academic writing. Students writing with a purpose, an overall motivation, will be more likely to consider their own thoughts (and write in their own words) as they have an argument or opinion they wish to present. Students lacking such a purpose will thus lack motivation, and thus revert to the rote-learning style reproduction of existing material. There was an interesting conversation on the lack of formal training for writing in undergraduate programmes. This might consider that “patch-writing” is a part of writing, especially among novices. This involves including some elements of other people’s material/structure in early drafts, but is iteratively rewritten as the author develops their own argument in their own voice to reach the final draft. Current assessment methods often don’t allow the time for this process to develop. Perry referenced Pecorari as a good text to follow up. An earlier webinar by Perry on the contextual element of plagiarism is available here.

Finally, Irene Glendinning (Coventry) spoke about an enormous Europe-wide project on monitoring levels of plagiarism, plagiarism policy, and so on. It was impressive in scale, and generated some interesting data, including an emerging “Academic Integrity” index. The work is subject to limited responses in some countries, but it looks to be a useful index to monitoring the extent of plagiarism prvention and policy existing in EU countries. The executive summary for Ireland was circulated and full details of the project are on the website:

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