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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Faculty to discuss plagiarism software

Published: November 9, 2007
Section: News

The Faculty Senate is due to begin discussions on the Universitys possible use of a plagiarism-detection service, This discussion is a follow-up to the pilot test for the service, which took place during the Spring 2007 semester. The Faculty Senates findings will not necessarily decide whether or not it will be used, but rather will help to determine how the University should proceed.

Due to expressed concerns about the difficulty of assessing suspicious papers, Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe set up a committee last year made up of faculty and LTS representatives to look into possible detection services., a Web service that compares submitted papers to texts from a series of databases, agreed to provide the University with free services for a full semester in order to run a pilot test.

Feedback from students and eight instructors involved in the pilot has been quite mixed. In the trials report, published by LTS for Jaffe, six out of the eight instructors involved were said to have found the service either extremely useful or somewhat useful in identifying suspected plagiarism, while seven of the eight instructors viewed as a deterrence to plagiarism.

According to the report, one instructor said, I loved the fact that students could see how closely their documents matched others before they submitted a final draft. Many used this feature as a guide to let them know when they were plagiarizing.

Students, however, did not seem to think that implementing the service was necessary. One student was quoted in the report as saying I find extremely troubling that teachers would rely on a machine and not knowledge of a student and common sense to make a judgment of this importance.

Alissa Perman 11 said If a studnt is lazy enough to plagiarize, then theyre probably not doing that well in their class anyway. I just dont think we need to catch plagiarizers. Also, it violates the trust between teachers and students.

Although 73% of students participating in pilot classes found the service easy to use, 41% expressed that they were unsure whether helped to reduce plagiarism in their course. 39 percent thought that the service should not be used for future courses.

The main concern is that an important aspect of a class is establishing that joint enterprise, the idea that were here together to learn, said Jaffe. He continued, if you insert such a service, it might just threaten this.

Other participants expressed that the service was not appropriate to certain science classes with lab reports, graphs charts, and tables. One student commented, we had to remove figures before uploading our assignments [to] as well as print out another copy with correct formatting and figures [for the professor].

It gets really tricky with things like bio lab. If youre turning in 250 word documents 300 times, youre bound to get some similarities, and then its just a race to see who gets theirs in first, explained Kate Nangle 09, who took part in a biology class that was included in the pilot program last spring.

Due to the mixed results from surveys, Jaffe has turned matters over to the Faculty Senate, who should be discussing the issue within their next two meetings. Although whatever they conclude will not necessarily decide whether or not the University adopts the service, their findings will decide the next step. Jaffe admitted that this process would likely include student input. He said, if the Faculty Senate wants to move forward, then we would think about more formal and active student discussions.

Director of Student Development and Conduct Erika Lamarre shared the same concerns. Theres more dialogue to be had. The possibility of its introduction into our community could and should solicit dialogue on the issue of academic integrity, and that can only be a good thing. We should be talking about this issue.

Lamarre continued, has been shown to be tremendously useful in deterring academic dishonesty and is best applied in a consistent and fair manner. If it were to be put into use at Brandeis, I would like to see student faculty awareness and training on the softwares best application.

At this time, the Administration seems still unsure of whether or not the plagiarism-detection service will be used. Aside from deciding whether or not to make it available, the University must also decide whether it will be used for all or only a few courses, as well as for every assignment or only those that appear suspicious. Jaffe said I think that its a close call there are some benefits, but also potentially some costs its not something thats inevitable, but also not a crazy idea.