Copycats

It is common for students to share assignments and work like writing essays and research papers with each other, often simply cutting and pasting from the Internet.



by

Muaz Shabandri

Published: Tue 16 Nov 2010, 10:38 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:08 AM

Better known as plagiarism, students suspected of it are put to test through specialised computer software, which screens their assignments.

“Plagiarism is a very serious issue in universities across the UAE. Upon entrance to university, most students coming from high schools in the UAE do not have an adequate university-level vocabulary, or good English language writing skills. Thus, they begin university level work with a disadvantage,” says Lynnette Crane, an English instructor at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) Dubai.

In the Internet age, concerns regarding plagiarism have increased with the easy availability of information and online papers.

“One reason that these students have low English language skills upon university entrance is that they are minimal readers of English. Thus, they are not able to summarise what they have read for a university assignment. In writing research essays, the ability to summarise accurately with appropriate documentation — i.e. stating where the source of information came from — is an absolutely necessary skill needed for students to avoid plagiarism. Additionally, most students have very little understanding of the concept of research in general. They fail to recognise that their ideas must be supported with facts and credible sources,” adds Lynette.

However, the digital revolution is accompanied with plagiarism-prevention software. Several universities in the UAE use such software to deter students from plagiarism. The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) uses TurnItIn.com, an online solution to detect plagiarism.

“Every student has to get their assignment screened through TurnItIn.com. The student has to get a colour-coded report, which lets us know the authenticity of their work,” says Dr Swapna Koshy, assistant professor at the College of Business in UOWD.

Upon submission of an assignment to the service, TurnItIn compares a student’s paper with its database of articles, which includes websites and previously submitted papers. It then generates a report that indicates the percentage of unoriginal content.

Currently, 875,000 educators and millions of students globally use TurnItIn.com as a deterrent to digital plagiarism.

“Students need to realise that plagiarism is unethical and they don’t learn anything from blatant copy-pasting from unverified sources,” adds Dr Koshy.

Major issues of plagiarism involve students lifting chunks of someone else’s writing and presenting them as their own.

Broadband access makes information freely available over the Internet, and commercial sites even write papers for students for a fee. However, professors say it’s easy to notice a change in student’s writing skill while evaluating assignments and research papers.

“Experienced teachers can easily notice plagiarism in student assignments. Having specialised software helps in finding the exact source from where the material has been copied,” says Dr Mark Venables, director of marketing at Herriot Watt University.

Plagiarism by students is a serious offence that can result in expulsion from the university or failing a course.

At Herriot Watt University, if an instructor suspects a student has plagiarised, the instructor confronts the student about his or her work and warns the student. On repeating the offence, the student faces a tribunal and a formal warning is issued. In the third instance, the student is made to repeat the module.

“We don’t have high incidents of plagiarism because students are aware of the zero-tolerance policy against plagiarism at the university,” adds Venables.

While most universities have strict policies to prevent students from plagiarising, some students continue to practise it without being caught.

One such student who did not wish to be named said, “My university does not have a plagiarism-detection software and it’s easy to get away with copying. When I get an assignment, I look for websites with relevant content online. I take content from different websites and combine them together to present as an assignment.”

muaz@khaleejtimes.com


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