Emerging Issues In Plagiarism Prevention And Detection – My View From 2004

Writing About Plagiarism In 2004

My hard disk contains quite an archive of material I’ve prepared, but which has never seen the light of the day. Some of it is good, some of it deserves to be formally completed, some of it I could never quite work into a shape that I was happy with at the time.

I want to share with you some extracts from a partial paper I wrote in early 2004. All the quoted text is presented, unedited, just I left it in the draft over 13 years ago. Had this paper been completed in a form I was happy with, the choice of words would likely have gone through further fine tuning.

To put these extracts into their historical context as part of my research journey, I completed my PhD on plagiarism detection in 2003. Later that year began working as a Lecturer in Computing at the University of Central England (now known as Birmingham City University).

My working title for the paper was “Fresh Issues in Plagiarism Prevention and Detection” and the paper was constructed to:

discuss the issues that will be relevant to plagiarism prevention and detection in the near future

as well as to:

inform the directions in which it is necessary for future research to proceed

The planned paper ended up taking a back seat with the pressures of adapting to the pressures of a new teaching intensive environment. My subsequent research efforts ended up going in a different direction.

In hindsight, perhaps this paper did deserve to have been completed. My experience is that this type of paper tends to be well-received.

An earlier paper of mine, Plagiarism Issues In Higher Education, which I wrote alongside my PhD, is one of my most cited papers. That is despite this being one of the first papers I wrote – and also one of the easiest to write. I presume that, being introductory in nature, meant that this paper was accessible by a wide audience.

Now, I tend to publish material of this type as blog posts. Perhaps not the best strategy if the results also suitable for citation…

Eight Plagiarism Issues

The draft I wrote in 2004 included updated ideas from my PhD thesis together with observations I’d made during the intervening year.

Here’s what I said in the draft paper…

Eight main issues have been identified that are worthy of further investigation. These include both issues of academic and practical interest.

The issues are:
outsourced submissions – has work submitted by a student actually been produced by that student?
ownership of work – is it both legal and ethical to submit work from students to detection services.
tool usability – there are many technical solutions available to find out if work is similar to another source, but are those tools produced to ease tutor workload?
extent of cheating – conflicting evidence exists stating how common cheating is, can parity exist between different subjects and different researchers?
policy – how far is reducing the level of plagiarism and the methods to deal with plagiarisers related to appropriate from the upper echelon of an academic institute?
earlier exposure – are students plagiarising due to practices accepted in further education being condoned in higher education and, if so, can what are the solutions?>
transparency – how far can students see that a due-process is being followed for plagiarism prevention and detection?
open source detection – does an institution committing themselves to commercial detection technology hinder them in long term planning?

Although my writing style has developed since and I would likely use more supportive language, many of these issues are still equally relevant today.

The issue referred to as outsourced assessment, of course, has been much developed in the form of research into contract cheating. The particular example given, that is authenticating if the author of an assessment solution and the student submitting this for academic credit are the same person, has still not been solved for anything other than very specific cases.

User Experience

I’d like to pick up on one of the 2004 issues as worthy of more immediate attention.

Whether or not software tools for plagiarism detection are optimised for user experience continues to be questionable. The fact that similarity reports are often misinterpreted – and that users cannot always differentiate between similarity and plagiarism, suggests otherwise.

Much valuable progress has been made since 2004 on working with students as academic integrity partners. That includes supporting students in developing their academic writing by providing them with controlled access to appropriate software tools, such as those that show similarity. I have seen far too many tweets where students are boasting about getting their similarity (plagiarism) score down to an unrealistic level.

Improving the usability of support tools, for instance by making the results more readable and the practical steps to take more intuitive, is now important for students too.

The user interfaces for originality checking software tools do not seem to have evolved, in any real sense, since the first commercial providers came onto the market. There is an opportunity for thought leadership here.

One of the major challenges for academics investigating possible non-originality is taking the output from a tool and converting this into a format considered acceptable for a university academic misconduct panel. Often, panels still require information in a printed format and I know of academics who have had to spend many hours laboriously marking sources up by hand. This is an area which is ripe for improving the user experience.

There is certainly the opportunity for a PhD to look at redefining these user interfaces. If you would be interested in working on that area, under my supervision, please contact me and let me know.

I also believe that the potential exists for artificial intelligence techniques to be used to provide personalised help for a user accessing a similarity report. Such AI could be used to consider whether or not similarity is likely to represent plagiarism and where in the document a user should focus their priority (whether this is a student learning academic writing who has forgotten to cite their source, or a tutor investigating possible plagiarism).

Plagiarism Prevention And Detection Issues Of 2017 And 2018

What are the main issues that exist for individuals researching plagiarism prevention and plagiarism detection today? Is it appropriate to consider issues previously identified, such as my ideas from 2004, during the production of a more up to date list?

Which of the many issues then most deserve to be quickly addressed?

Do feel free to share your thoughts using the Comment box at the end of the post.

(and now that I have extracted some value from them, the rest of my outdated materials from “Fresh Issues in Plagiarism Prevention and Detection” can safely be moved to the Recycle Bin)

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Article by Thomas Lancaster

My name is Dr. Thomas Lancaster, and I am a Associate Dean in Recruitment at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My background is in the Computer Science discipline. My best known academic research relates to student plagiarism and contract cheating. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
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