How to Combat Plagiarism in Academia (and How Not To)

The title of my poster is “How to Combat Plagiarism in Academia (and How Not To)”. Thanks for your interest! If you would like more information on the poster, look below the summary for some docs to download.

Everyone has heard about students cheating—a “Rip, Mix, Burn” approach to homework. Professors and Administrators struggle to preserve the reputation of their institutions as well as their students’ Intellectual Property. How does one combat plagiarism with so many sources for an unscrupulous student to draw from? This poster will evaluate the current state of both technical and non-technical solutions to academic plagiarism and produce a conclusion on the overall costs and benefits of several methods.

Project Materials

Here is the rest of my proposal for the Poster:

Significance and Relevance of the Topic

Plagiarism devalues the work of honest researchers. Schools today need effective systems for reducing the interest in the kind of theft which electronic tools have made so easy. However, some technical solutions also violate student Intellectual Property rights. Whether it is a hope to produce a more ethical society, a mania for proper citation or the simple need for fairness in the classroom, educators must deal with plagiarism in their institutions while preserving respect for the student’s own ideas. This poster will explore how plagiarism avoidance can be balanced with students’ ownership of their ideas. From The Chronicle for Higher Education to the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, the question of how to deal with plagiarism is everywhere. My poster analyzes the technical, proprietary and open-source as well as non-technical methods of preventing plagiarism. I take into account the effectiveness of each solution by evaluating its legal, cultural and financial impacts. Computer Science in academia runs on written work. As in all disciplines, it does not matter how good your ideas are if you cannot tell anyone about them. Academic writing, whether on Internet terrorism or Java performance evaluation, is the life-blood of applied Computer Science. Therefore, it is vital that professors and professionals be able to trust in the proper attribution of ideas. By profiling solutions from several institutions my poster will present new ideas as well as allowing viewers to find a method which might work for their campus. Rather than a company pitch or a solution bred from a lack of understanding, my poster seeks to give all of the options. There are two situations in which a student’s Intellectual Property can be abused by technical anti-plagiarism systems like Turnitin.com which are summarized below by theoretical but possible scenarios. The first threat to students’ Intellectual Property is the false positives that Turnitin.com system cannot help and the second is the rights granted to Turnitin.com when a student’s work is submitted.

Scenario One

Michelle writes a personal essay for her High School Senior English class. Her English teacher uses Turnitin.com to check her essay for plagiarism. Turnitin.com archives a copy of Michelle’s essay to use to check other student’s essays for plagiarism. Now Michelle is applying for college. She submits the same essay as a writing sample to Carnegie Mellon’s Creative Writing Program. An Admission’s Officer runs it through Turnitin.com check for plagiarism. Turnitin.com find that the entire essay is plagiarized. When Michelle’s English teacher first submitted her essay, Turnitin.com removed all of Michelle’s personally identifying information. Therefore there is no way for that Admission’s Officer to know that the essay in the database and the submitted essay are by the same author. Michelle is denied admission to Carnegie Mellon because she is suspected of dishonesty.

Scenario Two

Sandy is a student at the Graduate School of Public Health at Harvard University and she writes her dissertation on how to create a more equitable society through Universal Health Care. Her advisor runs it through Turnitin.com as part of Harvard’s anti-plagiarism efforts. Sandy’s essay is archived in Turnitin’s database and becomes part of its assets. Turnitin.com reserves the right to transfer their assets at any time. Therefore it would seem to be legally permissible for Turnitin.com to sell Sandy’s thesis, perhaps to a small textbook publisher looking for example texts to excerpt. Both of these examples are extreme but plausible: several lawsuits have been filed and are being appealed on these theoretical grounds. Because the systems profiled will only be ones already in use by top Computer Science schools, all of the systems are known to be usable, functional and scalable. That is, I will not evaluate simple usability and usefulness. For my evaluation I will use the following categories:

  1. Plagiarism went up or down as a result of anti-plagiarism system usage (that is, an evaluation of basic effectiveness)
  2. Cost to the school and to the student
  3. Respect for students’ Intellectual Property is part of the system’s model
  4. Open Source/Proprietary
  5. Which other institutions use that system

There is currently no consensus in how to deal with academic plagiarism. The conflict between students’ rights and responsibilities, professors’ roles as teachers and administrators, the Internet’s ability to facilitate groundbreaking research as well as academic plagiarism has lead different institutions to create or buy into different methods. My poster should serve as a guide to the benefits and the costs of several common approaches.