The Pioneer Post

The Pioneer Post is a resource for online students that provides tips and information about distance education.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

By Bob Streff, Instructional Designer/Web Developer

Anti-plagiarism software and services create controversy. There are pros and cons. On the one hand, faculty has been charged with upholding their institution’s academic misconduct policies. In the area of plagiarism, sometimes the line is not clearly drawn. If a student misses on quotation or incorrectly cites, is it plagiarism or just a mistake? As the results of accusing a student of plagiarism are quite serious on both sides, most instructors are cautious, even to the point of overlooking possible cases.

Faculty go to great lengths to develop research and writing assignments which are designed to increase a student’s ability to research topics, evaluate ideas, synthesize that information, and communicate their finding in a clear and scholarly manner. The purpose of giving grades is to evaluate those abilities, not the ability to obtain the end product without actually proceeding though the process.

Enter the services and software. They tout that they will seek the offender out and give the instructor an outside opinion as to the probability of plagiarized work. Now the instructor has a third party to suggest the offence and take the responsibility of being wrong. And it relieves the instructor of the added time involved in checking for plagiarism. There’s a new cop in town and it applies its laws equally for all.

But there is another side to this issue. The paper is the student’s intellectual property. Did the student give permission for a third party to see the paper? Some services keep a copy of the document basically to grow their reference library. Is this a copyright violation? One thing not mentioned usually is that those that do add the paper to their database gives the student proof of copyright by a third party. What determines a “clean” paper? What about reference material not in their database?

It seems like there needs to be a balance. How about this? Have the students use the software/service before they turn in their paper? Now they can see what the “grading criteria” is and have the opportunity to correct it before the final draft is submitted. Now everyone can be happy. The faculty’s worries are minimized and the students learn. And isn’t that what education is really about?



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