Web site aids professors in war on plagiarism

by Erin Ghere

A new tool for professors to curb Internet cheating has been introduced — on the Web.
Plagiarism.org, created by University of California-Berkeley researchers and graduates, lets college professors upload their students’ papers, and the Web site will run a search to check whether the papers have large portions similar to anything else found on the Web.
“If you are a professor who is concerned about the originality of your students’ work, our automated online plagiarism-detection service will aid you in maintaining the level of quality you expect from your students,” the Web site reads.
To participate, instructors must register their classes with the site. Papers are uploaded and the Webmaster “fingerprints” each paper to see if any portion of it matches others on the Internet. Within about one day, the instructor receives a report of each student’s paper and what portions, if any, have been plagiarized.
“Only cases of gross plagiarism are flagged. This means that papers using some identical quotes or papers written on similar topics will never be flagged as unoriginal,” according to the site.
For a one-time registration cost of $20, 30 papers can be fingerprinted. Each additional paper costs 50 cents.
But some University professors already take precautions to prevent digital plagiarism. Some professors limit papers to discussions of books read in class, others force students to incorporate class discussions, lectures or handouts into their papers.
Fred Morrison, Law School professor and Faculty Consultative Committee chairman, said the Law School employs a full-time enforcer of the student honor code.
Morrison said he makes it difficult for students to plagiarize off the Internet because of the nature of his assignments. His seminar papers are very specific and things that “probably no one else in the country is writing,” he said. In addition, he said he assigns high values to in-class exams.
Faculty members, however, have tried to prevent plagiarism as long as organized education has existed. Different lines of academic-fraud reporting have developed within individual colleges.
“In a recent survey conducted by ‘Who’s Who Among American High School Students,’ 80 percent of high-achieving high schoolers admitted to having cheated at least once; half said they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong,” according to an article in the latest issue of U.S. News and World Report.
Although student plagiarism is not necessarily on the rise, mechanisms are changing, especially with the prevalence of Internet access to most students.
Plagiarism.org organizers boast success in finding cheating “in multiple classes at Berkeley and abroad.” The system has been at Berkeley for four years.
“It’s understandable that instructors would not want to waste endless hours of their valuable time searching for those few plagiarized manuscripts, but we must remember that the act of plagiarism is probably the most serious academic offense that could be committed,” according to the Web site.
The Web site is advertised as the only one of its kind.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.