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)

Creating An Engaged Student Community Through Hackathons Video

Based on my experience of running hackathons, I have a lot of material available for talks and teaching seminars, as well as to develop for future research.

Here is a video version of the talk I gave at a recent Learning Lab at Birmingham City University. You can see the slides from the original talk on hackathons and a short discussion here.

Without the pressure of a short time slot, I was able to expand a lot on the presentation given at the Learning Lab, giving more examples, as well as working in some ideas about how the hackathon area could be expanded to other academic disciplines.

Flipped learning activities like hackathons are of great value to students and they also allow them to develop skills that their peers may not have. They also simulate a trend that is increasingly popular in the computing industry. I think that there’s a lot of potential for them to become a core part of Computer Science and other Computing courses in the future.

Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct in Examinations and Tests Video

Here is a video version of my contract cheating talk from the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference, which was recorded in advance of the conference for the benefit of people who could not attend. You can see the slides from the original HEA talk and a short discussion here.

I do have a full teaching and learning seminar available on examination cheating and what can be done about it, which can be presented alongside our contract cheating examples or independently. There is a lot of fascinating stuff available in this field, including much of the technology available to enable students to cheat. Please contact me if you’re interested in me speaking about this at your event or institution.

Examining The Ease Of Buying Nursing Essays Online Through Essay Mills And Contract Cheating Sites

The question about the cheating that goes on in nursing and medicine education has come up frequently in the dealings I’ve had with print, radio and TV media. The reasons for this are understandable. Everyone wants to know that the nurses treating them are qualified and capable of providing safe and suitable care.

Whilst the nurses had reason to associate with have been hard working and a credit to their profession, there is an underclass of potential nurses who do resort to cheating and plagiarism. The wider research I’ve been involved in with Robert Clarke has shown a wide range of services appearing to help students. Many of these services are optimised purely to help nurses, including essay mills and contract cheating sites offering to write nursing essays and produce nursing assignments.

I explore many of these cheating sources that some nursing students are using, along with discussing the wider implications, in this training video.

You can also access this training video and other research presentations on the YouTube account for Thomas Lancaster. The slides on nursing essay cheating can be browsed on SlideShare here.

The whole area of cheating in nursing and health education is one that we’re continuing to explore, particularly in relation to contract cheating, where students are paying third parties to complete assignments for them. The methods that nursing essay mills use to market their services are of interest, as are the reasons why students resort to using these sites to bypass their education but still consider that they will be fit to practice.

Thoughts on the issues relating to cheating and nursing education are welcome and stay tuned for more training, research and discussions in these areas.

The Implications of Plagiarism and Contract Cheating for the Assessment of Database Modules

As part of our research into contract cheating, we collect a lot of examples of the ways that students have tried to cheat in different subject areas and academic disciplines.

Along with Robert Clarke, I wrote a paper for the International Teaching Learning and Assessment of Databases workshop (also known as TLAD). This paper looked at contract cheating and the wider area of plagiarism as it applies to database teaching and database modules.

Although I have a broad knowledge of the plagiarism literature, I’m not a database specialist, so this paper preparation was useful as it allowed me to explore this field. Two factors immediately grabbed me. First, there’s relatively little research into technical methods of detecting plagiarism in database modules, despite this being a large part of Computer Science and other Computing degrees. Second, where there were reported figures relating to the extent of cheating in database modules, these seemed high.

You can see more about what I discovered in the slides for the talk, which can be accessed on my SlideShare account, or viewed below.

I do think that there’s a lot more to do be done regarding plagiarism research specific to database modules. Some of the techniques used for text and for source code could be converted across to work with databases. There’s also a whole area relating to assessment design that’s worth a further look.

As often happens, the verbal presentation led onto an interesting discussion about the wider areas of plagiarism and contract cheating, including a chat about how easy essay spinning is (where a piece of text can be converted into a new version through an automated process). Another discussion looked at how reliable Turnitin is for computing education. Lots of areas to continue to explore.

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