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Software package seeks out digital plagiarism

CURTIN University of Technology has successfully trialled anti-plagiarism software to detect students who use the Internet to cheat on their assignments.

The trial was undertaken at the same time as an ongoing inquiry into plagiarism allegations surrounding a student at Curtin Business School.

As part of a 12-month investigation into plagiarism software, Curtin Business School has turned to technology developed by the University of California. The software matches a student’s assignment against a comprehensive database of previously submitted work to detect cheating.

Curtin University believes the technology may be utilised by all Australian universities to combat plagiarism from the Internet and other sources.

Curtin Business School marketing manager Kenley Gordon said digital plagiarism had become easier and more frequent and the need for software to help academics beat it had become vital.

Websites such as PaperGeeks and researchpaper.com offer pre-written assignments or even a service to research an essay on a specific topic. The sites charge between $10 and $20 per page.

“Academic institutions need to be aware of this issue and instigate as many protective mechanisms as possible, ensuring that academic standards and individual knowledge are recognised and maintained,” Mr Gordon said.

However, he said the technology should not be the only tool used in the detection of plagiarism.

“These solutions would only be used as an additional tool in assisting academic staff in detecting such occurrences, and to provide an added deterrent to students,” Mr Gordon said.

“Software cannot necessarily be used as a sole method of judgment and will never replace the vigilance of academic staff.”

Curtin Guild president Kate Mills agreed with Mr Gordon that the technology should only be seen as a tool to assist staff, but queried whether academics would raise cases of plagiarism with superiors following the controversy earlier this year.

The current inquiry into a business student, alleged to have submitted plagiarised work, was established after a tutor claimed the university had not dealt with the matter properly. It follows two previous inquiries set up to investigate circumstances surrounding an international student in the School of Media and Information who was caught plagiarising twice and was still allowed to graduate.

“If the university doesn’t have processes in place where staff members can adequately deal with students who have plagiarised without being vilified, it is not the worth the money they are spending on this project,” Ms Mills said.

“It’s like all IT, it’s only as good as the end user.

“I guess it is kind of outrageous that the university only takes action when its reputation comes under attack. Only since plagiarism cases have hit the media are they acting on a lot of cases the Guild has been bringing up with the university.”

She said the Guild would prefer tutors to work more closely with students during term to keep plagiarism in check, rather than relying on software.

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