Embedding plagiarism education in the assessment process

Ruth Barrett, James Malcolm


Lessons on paraphrasing and citing sources can only be partially effective if they are not perceived as immediately relevant to the individual student. We used electronic plagiarism detection tools to help students understand correct academic practice in using source material. In order to produce an essay on a specified topic, students were required to summarise a number of research papers. The 182 students who took part in this exercise were studying one-year Masters programmes in Computer Science, Automotive Engineering, and Electronics, mainly from China, India and Pakistan and new to the University. These students should have been building on previous study both in subject matter and study skills, but before they tackled the assignment, a series of lectures gave guidance on finding and summarising sources, and reminded students about what constitutes plagiarism. The students' essays were submitted to Turnitin and Ferret -- a straightforward, but resource intensive process -- and the resulting reports used to give individual feedback to students on how original their words appeared to be. This was effective in helping the students to understand plagiarism, because the reports identified plagiarised passages in their own work. Using a threshold of 15% of matching text, we found 41% of students had submitted work identified by Turnitin as possible plagiarism but this reduced to 26% on inspection by academics. After a second submission, incidence of plagiarism dropped to 3% overall. We found that the degree of matching text found correlated with a student's programme of study, but not with nationality.

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