Thursday, December 09, 2004

Academic Plagiarism

For my final paper, I created a smallish survey to be taken by professors and university instructors, about the incidence of plagiarism they've seen in their students (and about what they'd consider plagiarism). Unfortunately, the turnout was a little under what I was hoping (I had 7 responses), but it was still enough for me to draw some interesting conclusions, and kick off some other interesting lines of thought.

A quick summary of my findings:
  1. 6 out of 7 professors have encountered it
  2. It's typically found out by the instructor recognizing the source; another indicator can be if the instructor feels the work is too polished or sophisticated for the student, but that cue is less reliable and can be misleading
  3. Only 1 of the professors uses an automated plagiarism service like Turnitin, but they are starting to become more popular
    1. Turnitin works by comparing texts against a massive database of documents, including all previous papers scanned against it; nice, but not useful if the paper comes from a "guaranteed non-plagiarized" paper mill
    2. Another option, Glatt Plagiarism Services, uses a cognitive technique where every fifth word is removed from the document, and the purported author has to fill in the missing words; also nifty, but you have to already have a suspicion in order to run this test (i.e, you can't just automatically run it on everyone like you can with Turnitin)
  4. There's a lot of gray area cases as to what professors would consider instances of plagiarism; there's some definitions in the Berkeley student code of conduct, but they're incredibly vague.
  5. There's lots of room for further research.
The survey itself is located here:

The paper isn't currently in a very web-friendly format, but if I convert it to one, I'll post the link on the blog.


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