Detecting Plagiarism

This post summarizes the Turnitin.com white paper on Plagiarism and the Web, which will culminate in a lecture for course participants in the MOOC Helping History Teachers Become Writing Teachers that will take place between January 12, 2015 – February 24, 2015. Regardless of if you are participating in the course or not, feel free to make comments, or click on the links for the original sources.

Turnitin Sources

Blum (2011) reported that more than 75 percent of college students have admitted to cheating and 68 percent have admitted cutting and pasting material from the internet without citing it. Over the last 15 years, almost 40 million student papers have been submitted to Turnitin. This study examined and classified 140 million content matches to discover which web sources students rely on for unoriginal content in their written work. The vast majority of students who have matched content in their work do not rely on cheat sites or paper mills. Many use legitimate homework, academic and educational sites as research sources. Students rely on social networks and user-generated content sites such as content sharing and question-and-answer (Q&A) sites to find content for their papers. Turnitin detects patterns of matching text to help instructors determine if plagiarism has occurred. The text in the student’s paper that is found to match a source may be properly cited, making it legitimate academic work. Social and content sharing web sites comprised the highest percentage of all matched content over the course of the study. Legitimate homework and academic help sites were second, followed by cheat sites/paper mills and news and portals a close third and fourth. The fifth most popular category was encyclopedia. The top eight matched sites for matched content were: 1) www.en.wikipedia.org 2) www.answers.yahoo.com 3) http://www.answers.com 4) http://www.slideshare.net 5) http://www.oppapers.com 6) http://www.scribd.com 7) http://www.coursehero.com 8) http://www.medlibrary.org. Only one of the top eight sites is dedicated to helping students cheat by providing unoriginal content. Out of the twenty-five most popular sites, fourteen are legitimate student resources. While close to fifteen percent of unoriginal content comes from cheat sites and paper mills, the majority of students are frequenting legitimate academic or educational web sites. Educators can guide students in proper citation procedures. With digital tools, educators can show students how much of their paper lacks attribution. Showing students a detailed report on the originality of their written work creates a teachable moment. Turnitin offers a collection of white papers on student writing and plagiarism that teachers may find beneficial. Although most students understand that quoting word for word requires a citation, they are often confused about the need to cite someone else’s paraphrased ideas. Professional authors like Stephen Ambrose,  Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Stephen Glass have had problems in this area too. Turnitin claims that academic institutions adopting their service see a reduction in unoriginal content of 30-35% in the first year. By the fourth year, many institutions see levels of unoriginality in student writing falling by 70 percent. This claim, when applied to the assertion that the rate of serious cheating on written work remained stable between 1963 and 1993 (Blum, 2011, p. 2) indicates that electronic plagiarism detection tools could be beneficial to teachers and help increase the amount of writing assigned in high school and college. I am interested in hearing about your experiences using plagiarism detection tools. Do you think students are genuinely confused about the rules of paraphrasing and citing? Or are the vast majority of students deliberately copying other writer’s works? What motivates this? Does cutting and pasting happen from poor research skills or laziness? How can you create assignments that reduce the amount of plagiarism from your students? Please make a comment, or send me your questions via Twitter to @scottmpetri #HistRW. For those interested in experimenting with plagiarism detection tools, there are several free options.

References

Blum, S., D. (2011). My word: Plagiarism and college culture. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.

Plagiarism and the Web: Myths and Realities. An Analytical Study on Where Students Find Unoriginal Content on the Internet. Retrieved from http://turnitin.com/static/resources/documentation/turnitin/company/Turnitin_Whitepaper_Plagiarism_Web.pdf on November 25, 2014.

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