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Education

Student Fights University Over Plagiarism-Detector 949

Posted by michael
from the can't-fight-the-man dept.
(Maly) writes "CBC is reporting that MCGill University has lost a fight to have students first turn papers over to an anti-cheating website before handing them in to professors. The student refused to hand in three assignments to the service, received a zero on those assignments, then fought the ruling. The story doesn't have many specifics, such as the venue of the fight (court or some internal university tribunal), but it is an interesting case. As a recent graduate of the social sciences, I find that practice appalling. The student is right to refuse, as he gets no compensation from the service for making money off his original work (assuming it was original!!). Although I don't like the idea, and I'm glad I never went through it, I suppose its analogue would be mandatory drug tests in sports."
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Student Fights University Over Plagiarism-Detector

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  • SCO (Score:4, Funny)

    by roguerez (319598) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:22AM (#8006640) Homepage
    Has SCO used this to run Linux through it yet?
  • their crawler (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Neophytus (642863) * on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:22AM (#8006642)
    It's been poking about a few times, and at least it appears to obey robots.txt and use anti-hammer tricks unlike another IP rights company (albeit tagged to another market altogether) cyveillance [cyveillance.com] who use false user agents to hide their activity, don't look for robots.txt and can sometimes hammer your entire website off the web if you have a low cap (say daily rather than monthly). Kudos to people who build polite bots. Have they been crawling your site? [gulker.com]
    • Has anyone here had any experience with getting Turnitin.com to remove your site from their database - and prove that they have done so? We just noticed that their bot appears to have done a complete crawl and sucked in our entire site. This violates our terms of service (not to mention copyright) since Turnitin.com is a commercial entity.

      If Turnitin wants to pay to use our content that's one thing, but just taking it for their own commerical exploitation without any compensation is completely another.

  • Damn stright! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PatrickThomson (712694) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:23AM (#8006645)
    Technology is seen as infallible by a great many people - suppose a paper accidentally failed the pagiarism test - is there any way to appeal? who are you going to beleive, some snot-nosed plagiarising punk or a godlike magical website?
    • Re:Damn stright! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Harrison (223649)
      I am sure that the results aren't a simple numeric score. It would have to come back with a list of passages that were copied and where they were copied from.
    • Re:Damn stright! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:19AM (#8006866) Homepage Journal
      well it didn't smell like the student was pissed off about that. he was pissed off about that his work would be instantly inserted into the database, a database held by a company for PROFIT - he would be so required by a (state run?) university - to give profit to a private company that's only claim to that profit would be those hundreds of essays inserted into it(and possibly some holes in their license, and no you are not exactly 'required' to give profit to book sellers, you don't _have_ to buy books to get by in an university, I should know - access to those books may be vital though, or equivalent books, and some custom course material might be necessary but that is usually provided with not-for profit pricing).

      besides.. if you're plagiarising.. why wouldn't you go through the small extra effort of restructuring the sentences and paragraphs? making the essay essentially 'your own' in style(it would be extremely hard after that to decide with a machine if it was plagiarised or not). getting the information(and guessing what the prof wants there to be in the text) in the first place is the biggest bitch anyways and not the actual writing.
      • At First Blush (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DumbSwede (521261)
        At first blush it seems to be a good argument "so and so is making money off my work without my permission"
        Last time I looked, the college itself is making money off other people's work in general, and your only compensation is a diploma (assuming you finish).

        I'm unaware of any prohibition of the schools making a students work public, though they may have to take pains to make sure the author's name is removed. So if they put this work on the web, aren't search engines making a profit off this work? Th

        • Re:At First Blush (Score:4, Informative)

          by Hatta (162192) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @01:21PM (#8008315) Journal
          I'm unaware of any prohibition of the schools making a students work public

          It's called copyright law.

          The college takes on the roll of an employer here, and has full rights to whatever you produce.

          Unless you have a stipend or work/study arrangement you are a customer of the university, not an employee.
  • by rark (15224) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:24AM (#8006649)
    1. This is in Canada, not the U.S. (/. is pretty US-centric, so it seems important to note this)

    2. The article does note that, in addition to being used at 29 schools in Canada, it's used in 'several' schools in the U.S. Anyone know of any?

  • by thenerd (3254) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:25AM (#8006650) Homepage
    My father works as a professor in a large university, and has often had problems with students turning in plagiarised work.

    One day he had to bring someone into his room to tell them that in future, it wasn't advisable to plagiarise from his own book and hand it right back into him, because he could recognise his own style!

    With essays that can be purchased over the internet, why shouldn't McGill safeguard against having crap, plagiarized work handed into them? The students who do this are trying to decieve the university. The article seemed to be saying that the professors were trying to just get out of doing work, and it wasn't to catch cheaters. I don't see why it is wrong to know within a reasonable margin of error that the work you are marking is not plagiarized.
    • by digital photo (635872) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:39AM (#8006718) Homepage Journal

      If the intent is to protect against cheaters, then the teachers should submit the papers to the service for verification. The student should not have to be the one who is being required to turn in their papers to a service.

      It is a matter of being treated like a criminal first.

      The other problem would be false positives when people write with similar styles in two different parts of the nation/world. Given enough "samples" in their filter, the accuracey drops because you now have a much higher likelihood of turning up a match.

      I Agree that plagiarizing work is wrong. But I do not agree that everyone should be treated like a cheater just because some in the student body are.

      • by NoOneInParticular (221808) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:05AM (#8006816)
        The other problem would be false positives when people write with similar styles in two different parts of the nation/world. Given enough "samples" in their filter, the accuracey drops because you now have a much higher likelihood of turning up a match

        Have you actually any idea what the probabilities are of someone writing the exact same sentence for describing the same thing? Just take this particular post apart and feed ten consecutive words through [google.com] google and see how many hits you get.

        Also, take a fairly generic sentence such as "to improve writing and research skills, encourage collaborative online learning" [google.com] and try to find out where I got it from.

      • by Diamon (13013) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:35AM (#8006944)
        It is a matter of being treated like a criminal first.
        Yeah, how dare they.

        While we're at it I think it is an invasion of my rights to be treated like a criminal by having to pass through a metal detector in order to enter a federal court house. Also we need to do away with police laser/radar guns because the police have already decided to treat me as a criminal by checking my speed. Oh and background checks for handguns, wtf? I'm no criminal I should be allowed to by a gun no questions asked and no waiting period. Anti-theft devices in stores, same thing. Security cameras, ditto. Also I particularly dont care for my neighbors having locks on their doors, they trying to say I'm a thief and am going to steal their stuff as soon as their backs are turned?

        We can no longer endure these indignancies. Don't they know we should all be treated as infallible saints until we can be proven otherwise.

        Oh and the whole being arrested and then having to defned yourself in court is a sham to. They should have to prove my guilt before even being allowed to arrest me. How dare they!

        • Funny? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sacrilicious (316896) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:34AM (#8007253) Homepage
          We can no longer endure these indignancies. Don't they know we should all be treated as infallible saints until we can be proven otherwise.

          Parent post is currently modded "funny". I can't tell if it was intended to be funny, but regardless there is an underlying serious issue: that of on whom the burden of proof lies in questions of guilt or innocence. Both Congress and the Bush administration are systematically orchestrating numerous radical reductions to the legal protections formerly held by citizens. These protections should be given much more care and public debate than they're getting. I sincerely hope that the debate doesn't simply amount to chuckles at strawman positions.

      • Bingo! It's not a matter of the student contesting the check, but the professor not accepting the students work UNTIL the STUDENT certified it as checked...that's just wrong. It's too bad there's no way for the students to go after the tenure [isn't that the ultimate irony...tenured profs accusing students of being lazy!] of profs like this!

        But you are right, once everybody starts submitting silly reports to services, the system will flood and EVERYBODY WILL BE PLAGIRIZING! A good student response wou

      • by DavidBrown (177261) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:58AM (#8007390) Journal
        If the intent is to protect against cheaters, then the teachers should submit the papers to the service for verification. The student should not have to be the one who is being required to turn in their papers to a service.

        Maybe the school is giving the students a break. Let them submit their own essays for validation. If they fail validation, the student can rework his essay and do it again until the essay manages to pass validation. This way, you don't have a situation where the school subjects a student to discipline for plagarism - allowing a student to learn a lesson without being punished with reduced grades, etc.

    • by TCaptain (115352) <slashdot.20.tcap ... om ['et.' in gap> on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:32AM (#8007239)
      The article seemed to be saying that the professors were trying to just get out of doing work, and it wasn't to catch cheaters. I don't see why it is wrong to know within a reasonable margin of error that the work you are marking is not plagiarized.

      I live in Montreal and attend Concordia, so I've heard quite a bit about this case. There were two main principles at issue here:

      1 - The fact that students were presumed guilty until proven innocent (ie: ALL students were treated as plagiarists and had to prove otherwise or get zero).

      and (and this is a biggie)

      2 - Copies of the student's work submitted to the service were kept and included into its database...students had no say in the future use of their work, they either had to give up rights to it in favor of the service (so they could add it to their database and use it to make money) or refuse, not use the service and get zero.

      As near as I can tell the student, nor any of the people supporting him, had no problem with using the service as a tool...only to the conditions of using it and the fact that it was used before any suspicion of plagiarism existed.

  • by October_30th (531777) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:28AM (#8006661) Homepage Journal
    We use anti-cheating detectors too. Why? Because a) cheating is wrong and should be punished, b) the process is fair - everyone flagged by the algorithm gets a chance to explain him/herself to me.
  • As a professor.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abbamouse (469716) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:28AM (#8006662) Homepage
    I have two takes on this story. First, I do find it a bit offensive to presume cheating on the part of students and to require them to "prove" they didn't cheat rather than the burden of proof running the other way. I do believe that if you expect certain behavior from people and let them know your expectations, then they are more likely to confirm them. This is the same reason that I find the anti-cheating posters in our classrooms at Wright State University offensive -- students know they aren't supposed to cheat, so the posters just create the impression that it's a pervasive part of the academic experience.

    Second, that little quip about financial compensation is completely off-base. Students pay to learn, and once the prof has decided that they'll have a better learning experience if they submit to the site (presumably because they will feel forced to think for themselves instead of copying from term paper mills) they have no "right" to compensation. The practice is offensive, but from an educational standpoint, it is little different than the professor using their papers in class as examples for others. Either way, other people benefit from the student's work without compensation for the student. That's the way education works. The fact that antiplagiarism sites make money from their line of business (and the examples submitted by the students) is of no import, as long as they aren't selling the essays as part of an anthology or something. It's a feedback loop within the educational process and even though I disapprove of the practice, nobody's "rights" are violated.
    • by PrionPryon (733902) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:37AM (#8006710)
      I disagree with your second statement. Two points, one a niggling one and another that is less so. a) The system doesn't work against paper mills because the output of a paper mill is new content, that's why it is a mill. b) Students have a decent arguement in saying that they own the material within a paper they write (an original one) and the fact that the system indexes their content if it is deemed legitimate (assuming there is no option to opt out) means the company is bolstering its product without due compensation. The papers i write are my property. They are given to a professor for a grade but even the professor does not have a right to show it as an example without my permission. Reproduction without prior consent, and due compensation, is listed in the cover of most (scientific) journals.
      • by Tim C (15259) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:48AM (#8006750)
        The papers i write are my property.

        That's true in the general case, but if I were you, I'd dig out whatever agreement or contract you signed when you were accepted into your school/college/university and have a good read of the small print. I suspect you may find that you've signed copyright over to the institution on anything that you produce in the course of your studies.
        • That's true in the general case, but if I were you, I'd dig out whatever agreement or contract you signed when you were accepted into your school/college/university and have a good read of the small print. I suspect you may find that you've signed copyright over to the institution on anything that you produce in the course of your studies.

          I cannot speak for every or even most academic institutions firsthand. That said, I think this statement is completely false for virtually all universities here in the
        • That's true in the general case, but if I were you, I'd dig out whatever agreement or contract you signed when you were accepted into your school/college/university and have a good read of the small print. I suspect you may find that you've signed copyright over to the institution on anything that you produce in the course of your studies.

          Why on earth is this modded up?

          NO COLLEGE DOES THIS!

          (Look at the other replies.) Even if it did, I doubt it would hold up in court. It would be like the electric
    • First, I do find it a bit offensive to presume cheating on the part of students and to require them to "prove" they didn't cheat

      I agree. But it's certainly better than jsut letting students develop the idea that "researching a subject" means "doing a google search". (And in Brazil, where I teach, the words "research", that we use in assignments and "search", for google are the same, "pesquisa").
      But anyway... Students also need to learn not to take offense. Hey, ti's the rules. Are they offended becau
  • Nothing New (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pike65 (454932) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:29AM (#8006668) Homepage
    Our department at uni used to run all of the submitted coding assignments in the first year through a script that would normalise the ident style, remove the comments and change all the variables names so they they could be diffed to check for cheating.

    No-one threw their rattle out of their pram then.

    I mean, how is this different from someone doing it manually?
    • Re:Nothing New (Score:3, Informative)

      by AKnightCowboy (608632)
      Our department at uni used to run all of the submitted coding assignments in the first year through a script that would normalise the ident style, remove the comments and change all the variables names so they they could be diffed to check for cheating.

      That's kind of unfair considering with most first-year assignments if they DIDN'T look similar then the student probably did the assignment wrong. At least most of our first year programming assignments were very simple things and we were expected to use

  • by WanderingGhost (535445) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:29AM (#8006671)
    I am a teacher... And you guys wouldn't believe how much stuff students just copy from the Internet, or from other students.
    It's important to make students understand taht plagiarism just doesn't help them. They're losing a great opportunity to learn, and to develop their writing skills and intelligence, and maybe abstract reasoning, or whatever the subject requires from them. But unfortunately, some of them just don't care -- and these will slowly, er, "contaminate" (sorry, I'm not politically correct - really) the others with the idea that "you just need pass the course". you can learn what you need "later". This kind of system helps to keep things under control (sort of), by discouraging them. I'd be happy i this wasn't necessary, but as far as I see, there's no other option (in particular for people like me, who have classes with 100 students, or something close to taht).

    Of course, it's much better if you have just a few students, and can read and detect plagiarism yourself. But hey, nobody wil give me a 10 student class. It's too expensive. :-(
    • by digital photo (635872) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:50AM (#8006757) Homepage Journal

      Students are subject to peer pressure. Everyone is subject to it. But if your classmate cheats, that doesn't mean that you will too. Granted, where one's view differs on this is dependant on one's belief/trust/faith in other humans.

      I have nothing against the service itself. I have nothing against schools using it as a screening method to flag potentially problematic papers.

      I have a problem with the institution making the students be the ones to submit their works to have it validated.

      What does that teach a student? That they are not trusted. That their teachers have no faith in their character.

      While this might catch a few cheaters, it stands a high chance of souring good students to do good work.

      If a good student gets flagged, is that added to their record as a "risk factor"? How will that impact their academic and professional career?

      Will there come a point where the service is trusted outright and positives aren't checked and students are penalized and/or expelled by default?

      I agree, there is no easy solution which doesn't have a cost. Stuffing 100 students into a classroom is just wrong from a teaching standpoint. But so is subjecting students to a "academic cavity search".

      I attended a state university and so know what you mean about 100 student classrooms. I currently attend a private university and pay quite a bit more. But there are only 15-20 students in the class and the learning quality is much much higher.

      We depend so much on "services" that the higher ups think that "bodies" and "resources" like schools, classrooms, teachers, and books are expendable. That is WRONG.

      I'm sorry to hear that you are burdened with so many students. However, burdening students' conscience with these screening services is the quick fix which will lead to a death spiral of educational quality.

      It makes me sick to know that my children will have to go through this.

    • by Dark Lord Seth (584963) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:51AM (#8006763) Journal

      And I am a student. And you guys wouldn't believe the crap people try to force down our throaths. Persoanlly, among the worst atrocities college forced upon me is an essay about... *drumroll* THE EFFICIENT DISPOSAL OF ICT WASTE! *ba-dum CHING!* How's that for a class where 50% wants to become a developer, 25% network administrator and the other 25% always skips class? IF I had done that essay as expected it would have cost me quite a bit of time and every second I spent writing that essay would be one second too much, which pretty much everyone though. The end result? 12 nearly identical essays, while 12 others never were handed in. No one was interested, no one gave a damn and no one wrote one original bit.

      Of course it's easy to blame student of being lazy. Tell you what, you make college worth my time AND money, I'll do your goddamn assignments.

  • by Asic Eng (193332) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:31AM (#8006677)
    "What I object to most about the policy at McGill is that it treats students as though we are guilty until proven innocent," said Rosenfeld

    Well it seems the examiner has the right, even the duty to examine the papers which have been submitted. Checking for plagiarism seems fair, and also that he is using technical aids for doing so.

    The article also mentions:

    "The reality is that the high monitoring of students really isn't about catching cheaters, it is a substitute for hiring enough faculty members to take the time to read student work," said Ian Boyko, national chair of the student federation.

    It seems that all the system does is check for plagiarism. Assuming it does that in a sensible manner (not providing false positives without pointing to the reference material) then it's just relieving the examiners from boring repetetive work.

    A seperate issue is if they don't just have to have the paper checked, but also integrated into the database. I tend to think papers submitted to the university examiners should be public domain, though.

  • by RenegadeTempest (696396) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:31AM (#8006682)
    we could force people to use this service before posting on /., maybe we wouldn't have to wade through so many duplicate posts.
  • by digital photo (635872) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:33AM (#8006686) Homepage Journal

    If the teacher is truly concerned about cheating and plaigerism, then the teacher/official should be the one paying the service and submitting the works to the 3rd party business, not the student.

    The student's obligation is to do the work of the assignment and turn it in. Grading and detection of falsehoods/duplicity/cheating/etc are the responsibilities of the teachers, not the students.

    What's next? Submit your work to a business which does the grading?

    My site gets hit by turnitin and at first, I was amused. But if a teacher is forcing a student to go through this process, then that teacher is basically saying that their students are not trustworthy and is an assumption of guilt by default.

    Shame on the teacher for requiring that of their student and attempting to fail the student. Shame on the school for letting it happen.

  • by Czernobog (588687) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:34AM (#8006689) Journal
    All College/University material, regardless of whether it was lectures/notes given or work sumbitted by students is IP of the University, so it can decide what and when to do with it.
    At least that's the reality I've encountered so far from all the places I've been to

    The fairest policy I've seen (and that is by no means fair IMO) was to declare all work joint IP of the student-College, but the College handles it and decides what to do. The student only has "advisory" rights and gets a share of any of the possible profits arising from the IP.

    This means that "His Original Work" is a euphemism and if he doesn't like it, well he should have checked what he was signing when he enrolled. I certainly did.

    • by dcollins (135727)
      All College/University material, regardless of whether it was lectures/notes given or work sumbitted by students is IP of the University, so it can decide what and when to do with it. At least that's the reality I've encountered so far from all the places I've been to

      Please specify what institutions you're talking about, in what country, and at least one piece of evidence that this is an official policy -- because I don't believe it.

      I teach in Massachusetts and talk to many teachers at a number of insti
  • by pieterh (196118) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:34AM (#8006694) Homepage
    Many (most?) schools treat students like a burden. Educate the brats, get them to behave, beat them into line, do whatever it takes to break them and mould them into proper members of society.

    If students regularly cheat in written exams, it's a good sign that the exams are pointless. The proper response is to ask "why are students so unmotivated that they don't bother to make an original contribution", not "how can we catch and punish the bastards one more time."

    Sadly it's always simpler to turn complex questions into easy "wrong and right" issues.

    It's obvious from the Internet that the majority of people can be, in the right circumstances, incredibly creative and original. The challenge is to create these circumstances, not to enforce a dogmatic and broken system of education that students are obviously not interested in.

  • by garcia (6573) * on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:36AM (#8006703)
    No, it's not even close to testing for drugs, being that this plagarism detector is at the collegiate level.

    People aren't *always* tested for every event they compete in. They might have random tests by the NCAA or college and they might be tested by the college for suspicion but they aren't tested every single time at every single event.

    The point in the article about it being laziness and budget issues by the college not wanting to hire enough staff is ridiculous though. Either a single professor grades the papers or a professor and a grad student do it. What are there supposed to be 2 or 3 professors grading papers for each class?

    I don't agree with this particular method being chosen to police the papers... I think that professors should have to grade the papers (for spelling, grammar, and for content -- plagerized or not). If the student has shown issues in the past with this topic then perhaps it should be scrutinized more carefully (even by a commitee) but by a web-based program?

    Let's get back to what's important in colleges... TEACHING and GRADING. Stop worrying so much about how much free time you have to work on your next book.
  • Hm. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mellon (7048) * on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:37AM (#8006707) Homepage
    So, a system that prevents people from cheating is good for you if it works, and if you are not cheating. Why? Because the people who cheated won't be counted in the average, and so your score will go up. It's bad for you if the people who cheated would have gotten good grades if they hadn't cheated, but how likely is that?

    And in what sense is the site making money off this fellow's work? Are they selling it to other students to plagiarize? I'm guessing that what they're doing is making sure nobody else plagiarizes *his* work.

    I don't want to belittle this fellow's feelings, but this really sounds like a case of angry testosterone syndrome - he's identified something, decided that it's an insult, and decided to fight it no matter what. Been there, done that. Hell, I did it yesterday when someone backed a change I made out of CVS. Getting pissed off didn't help. I'd feel more sympathy if, e.g., he'd submitted his paper and been falsely accused of plagiarizing.

    It will be interesting to see what happens if this system sees wide use. At some point, at the level of undergraduate papers, it seems like it will inevitably start reporting false positives simply because there isn't really that much to say about any given topic, so once you have a couple of hundred papers on that topic, there's always going to be one paper that's enough like another that it will show up as plagiarism even though it's not.
  • by mellon (7048) * on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:41AM (#8006723) Homepage
    After all, the teacher could just require that the student submit the paper electronically, and then submit the paper to the website him- or herself. And then, if it turned out that it was plagiarized, the teacher would have to initiate disciplinary action against the student.

    Whereas, if the student submits the paper, and it turns out to be plagiarized, the student has an opportunity to rewrite it without any negative sanctions. If you _are_ a cheater, this sounds like a better deal. If you're _not_, I can see where it would be more than a little bit offensive.
  • by Queuetue (156269) <scott@noSpAm.pantastik.com> on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:47AM (#8006745) Homepage
    The problem is twofold:

    First, the accessability of information increases every day - the people who benefit from it are those that stay ahead of the curve. Those that benefit from the status quo fall behind.

    The system where you are ranked on your ability to function within an autonomous vacuum is probably going to fall apart, because people in the real world no longer enforce that vacuum. Today's kids synthesize from multiple branches of media in everything they do, and sharing data, information, or anything else digital is second nature.

    Judging someone on how well they write a paper is silly, in a world where the paper is already available, and readily accessable. Find something worthwhile to judge them on, and do the hard work necessary to judge them accurately on it, because they won't do it for you. You're laziness will only make more loopholes for them to control you through.

    Secondly, todays educational institutions (most of them anyway) are cheap shams of what they once were. Going to university used to mean a period of hardship and disconnection from your old life where you were shaped into a person who cherished academics, tradition, service, honor and culture.

    Now, it's the place you go to party for 4 years so you can put something "totally rad" on your resume. These institutions are letting the students down, and in turn, the students are letting the institutions down, and the whole mess is sinking into the sewer.
    • Secondly, todays educational institutions (most of them anyway) are cheap shams of what they once were. Going to university used to mean a period of hardship and disconnection from your old life where you were shaped into a person who cherished academics, tradition, service, honor and culture.

      I'm currently enrolled in second year undergraduate studies at a major Canadian University.. I'm taking a BEng in Computer Engineering. And let me tell you, it IS a period of hardship and disconnection from my old l
  • Turnitin@home (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NoOneInParticular (221808) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:50AM (#8006758)
    I mentioned this in another post for this story, but it might be interesting for teachers reading this site.

    It's frightfully easy to write your own plagiarism detector. All you have to do is write a script to scan the paper and run a few samples of 10 consecutive words in the paper as a search term through google. If for two different queries you get the same site in the google result list, it's a practical certainty that you've found a copy at that site. Chances of someone coming up with the same wording of some subject in two disjoint fragments of 10 words are abysimally small.

    Given that most plagiarism happens by copying from the internet (and students usually use google to actually find such documents), you yourself can use google in the same way.

    I once wrote a 20-line python script to do just this, and it worked very well. It even found some plagiarism inside a an (awarded) document that was plagiarised.

    • Re:Turnitin@home (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Alan Cox (27532) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @02:33PM (#8008747) Homepage
      One of the problems with using google is the student themselves can put their paper fragments on the net either to mask other searches or to wind up the lecturer, or even to drop the university into a nice juicy lawsuit so they can get a degree, their fees paid and a bonus.

      You actually need snapshots from before the paper existed to do anything meaningful.

      The second problem is that lots of little businesses sell people guaranteed *new* papers.

      There are things that can be done more constructively to deal with such problems, and at least verify the student knows some of the subject - one of the most obvious being to randomly pick a few students each submission and invite them to a 30 minute defence of their essay.

  • by Liquidrage (640463) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @08:50AM (#8006759)
    The student is right to refuse, as he gets no compensation from the service for making money off his original work (assuming it was original!!).

    I feel the same way everytime I'm forced to reply to an email at work. Why should Mircosoft make money off my original work? Why can't I just enscribe my message onto clay tablets I make myself.
    Everyone seems to think they have some right to profit these days. The nerve.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:07AM (#8006821)
    First, is it legal to cross check students' work against publicly accessible sources? The answer it obviously yes, whether using google or an automated service. If anything, the element of automation is desirable, since it reduces the arbitrariness of cross checking only certain students' work.

    Second, can you make it a condition of a course that work submitted will be licensed to such a service? Debatable. Copyright normally vests in the student. However, it is often the case that universities require that students grant them a royalty free non exclusive license to use the work for essentially internal purposes. See, e.g., McMaster.ca [mcmaster.ca].

    In principle, an appropriately drafted policy, adopted by the university, and made known to students before enrolment, would allow such use. However, I suspect that in this case the policy was never formally adopted by the university (especially given the trial use of the software) and as such amounted to an attempt by the university to unilaterally vary their contract with the student.

    On a personal note, just yesterday I failed a student for lifting the bulk of an assignment straight from the web, while not too long ago I had the dubious pleasure of failing another student who paid me the tribute of taking four pages directly from my own text.
  • by chrisgeleven (514645) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:13AM (#8006837) Homepage
    Man I wish the professors here used this service. You people have no idea how many college students cheat and copy each other's work. One of my roommates actually uses the same work his brother used 3 years ago when he went here.

    Here am I working my ass off because I believe in doing my own work so I can learn while everyone else tries to cheat.
  • by rueger (210566) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:19AM (#8006860) Homepage
    The University will be paying (probably a lot) to this company to check student papers for plagiarism. So how does the University measure whether it gets value for it's dollar?

    Obviously it will look at the number of students who are reported to have plagiarized. If no students turn up as cheating, then either the company's scan doesn't work, or the University's students are so honest that there is no reason to pay for the service.

    In either case, the company reviewing the papers has a pretty strong incentive to adjust their software to generate more positives. "Gee, well, we're just trying to err on the side of caution. It wouldn't be fair to the Good Students to let someone through who might be cheating!"

    I'd even wager that the company in question has already projected that a certain number of papers will be rejected each year. What happens if they miss that agreed upon quota?

    Sorry, but under these circumstances it seems unreasonable to suggest that some 19 year old student can successfully defend themselves against a large corporation that has already been endorsed by the University.
  • by nuggz (69912) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:34AM (#8006936) Homepage
    The problem is that nobody has the balls to sue the copyright infringing plagarism detector.

    They are copying the work, for the sole purpose of destroying it's marketable value. This is very illegal. I hope someone nails them a few times, at the maximum penalty they'll be gone.

    Also as a student I should not have to give rights of my work to anyone.

    Academic fraud is a problem, but the end doesn't justify the means.
  • by dankelley (573611) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:40AM (#8006969)
    I am a professor and I certainly am in favour of catching cheaters. But I have a question. Do these students sign a copyright form permitting the company to archive the essays? And, if so, surely the form would not hold up in court, since it would have been coerced. (Sign this form or fail this course.)

    Why might students not want their essays stored in a company database?

    1. Good writers might fear that their ideas, or even their words, could be stolen (by all sorts of low-life: disgruntled/underpaid company members, malicious/political hackers, underpaid/jealous professors, ...).
    2. Bad writers who are otherwise on a fast track to success might not want folks ever to see their bad writing. Imagine a presidential candidate who wrote total drivel in his undergraduate years ... how hard would it be for an opponent to get that drivel and publish it?

    Sure, the company could claim the storage was secure against hackers, and they could claim that no employee would ever sell the essays, but any /.er knows that such claims would be hard to trust.

    There are probably technological solutions to this problem, involving encryption keys. Folks on /. might have some good ideas on that. For example, how much would it cost, 30 years from now, for a presidential campaign to buy CPU time to break a key that is secure today?

    PS. I noticed that the original posting had just one source, and so if folks would like to read more, they might like to check out the Globe and Mail newspaper [globeandmail.com] website for more discussion, including of students' thoughts.

  • two things (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pruss (246395) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @09:51AM (#8007013) Homepage
    All my students are told that I reserve the right to ask for an electronic version to run through turnitin.com, and that if they do not want to do this, then I will make alternate arrangements. Nobody's asked for alternate arrangements, but if they did, I would ask for an outline and a draft ahead of time.

    My own worry about turnitin.com is that they allow students to access the service as a "deterrent", so that students can see whether their essays infringe. Since students should already know whether their essays are plagiarized, the only point here is to submit essays to see whether one will get caught.

    Fortunately, most plagiarists are stupid. (I keep a mental list of anecdotes of dumb plagiarists, like the one who turned in an essay by Karl Marx--not just any essay by Marx, but one that was assigned for class reading--or the one who got caught because the essay included words like "My mother always said, 'Frank ...'" but his name wasn't Frank, or the highschool student who accidentally stapled a printout of his source website to his paper.)
  • Copyright? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by imadork (226897) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:05AM (#8007091) Homepage
    What's keeping students from putting a copyright notice on the front page of all their papers, with some boilerplate text like "Reproduction of any type without the express written permission of me is prohibited"? If it works for Major League Baseball, why can't it work for a student?

    I had an Engineering teacher once who was too lazy to make up different tests for his courses every year. He got upset that the IEEE student chapter was archiving student's copies of his tests for use in future years (which, since he rarely changed the questions on the tests, was like an answer key), so he required all classwork and tests to bear a copyright notice with his name and the students' name on it. He specifically told the IEEE chapter that they could not copy his class materials. Faced with this, they stopped archiving the tests, even though they probably could have still archived original copies and just not permitted anyone to make any reproductions.

    Of course, a student is in a much weaker position to assert his or her rights, since he needs a grade from the teacher more then the teacher needs to grade his paper. But I'm sure there's more than one law student who was anal enough to try this...

    • Re:Copyright? (Score:5, Informative)

      by grumling (94709) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:54AM (#8007364) Homepage
      What's keeping students from putting a copyright notice on the front page of all their papers, with some boilerplate text like "Reproduction of any type without the express written permission of me is prohibited"? If it works for Major League Baseball, why can't it work for a student?

      US copyright law specifically does this. However, it is up to the copyright holder to defend the copyright. The law is on the side of the copyright holder, and court costs can be included, I believe. However, finding a lawyer willing to defend your copyright could prove difficult, unless your paper has some sort of value to someoene other than you. Remember, many people write music and novels. Not too many people make a living writing and publishing "unknown" talent, so proving damage would be difficult if not impossible. Most copyright infringement cases deal with the infringement after the copied work makes millions of dollars.

      Value of intelectual property, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!

    • Re:Copyright? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @01:59PM (#8008546) Journal

      This post is Copyright 2004 by Anthony DiPierro. Reproduction of any type without the express written permission of me is prohibited.

      What's keeping students from putting a copyright notice on the front page of all their papers, with some boilerplate text

      Absolutely nothing. However, just because you write something doesn't mean it's true. Can I sue slashdot for distributing this post?

      If it works for Major League Baseball, why can't it work for a student?

      Major League Baseball has lost a lot of its copyright fights. Specifically the whole "no description or account of this game" has been thrown out by courts. Doesn't stop them from saying it. But saying it doesn't make it true.

  • Web Usage Stats (Score:5, Interesting)

    by velkr0 (649610) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:14AM (#8007139)
    I have never actually had to use Turn-It-In at my university, the University of Western Ontario [www.uwo.ca], even tough it is used there. However, many instructors still requested electronic copies be sent to them.
    Last term the instructor wanted a electronic copy of everyone's essays since it allowed him to read the papers on his laptop during trips (he was a part time instructor, who travelled a lot)

    Anyway, one day I determined he submitted the papers to Turn-It-In, simply by reviewing my usage on my web site, and noticed many hits from Turn-It-In's crawler. I figured it was picking up on my name, which was included in the header of every page on my essay and which is heavily plastered on my web site.

    This made me feel like a criminal!! Mainly since I was not told about submitting the paper to Turn-It-In. I never would use someone else's work with out citing it and didn't have much to fear, but just the idea of missing one or two footnotes, was enough to get the nerves going. If I personally had to submit the papers and I was fully aware of the process, I would have ensured every source was cited.
    These kids at McGill should have nothing to fear and should not be concerned about the originality of their work, especially if they ARE informed about the process before hand.

    Moral of the story.
    • Have a web site.
    • Review your stats.
    • and never trust your instructors.
  • Source Scan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BHennessy (639799) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @10:20AM (#8007171)
    In the computer science department at my uni, they scan all source based assignments for similarity with other submissions. You can see average similarity and max similarity to change it before the due date. I don't know of anyone objecting to it.
  • by Nadsat (652200) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @11:11AM (#8007465) Homepage
    Technology should be used *ONLY* where it enhances human expression. Books, paint, and the internet are examples of various expressive-friendly technologies, for example.

    *AUTOMATED* technologies used for purposes of control and regulation are inherently wrong. Such automation grossly assumes a kind of ridged non-humaness in how society ought to function. Automated "anti-cheat" devices for schools, automated red light policing cameras, tickets, and racial profiling, as examples, must be stopped now.
  • by YahoKa (577942) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @11:19AM (#8007503)
    It is interesting that Stanford, a top school in the world, trusts the studens to uphold the honor code. I remember reading about the problems of cheating, and McGill's exceptionally strict examination policies - and then they compared this to Stanford. I personally would never cheat, and having to submit my papers to a cheat detector would really ruin the learning environment for me.

    Here is a little blurb on stanford's and U of V's policies policies (Taken from here [millersv.edu], speaking of plagiarizing :P )
    [Stanford] gives students and the community full responsibility of themselves and of upholding the honor law. The university puts all the pressure of academic integrity on its students and it trusts them enough not to cheat so that the faculty is not constantly reminding them of the Code, "The faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent [...] dishonesty [...]. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code." (S. U.) Another school where this idea of ienforcementi is put into effect is the University of Richmond in Virginia. This school lets students "leave the classroom during an exam or [...] may even take the exam home" (U. of V.). The professors trust the students because of the enforcement factor. Instead of faculty breathing down the student's neck about cheating, the student knows it is his/her responsibility not to cheat. Millersville University would benefit by adopting this honor code. The students here are trustworthy and would also benefit from the fact that they are trusted by their instructors.

  • Where's the license? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mr3038 (121693) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @12:55PM (#8008116)
    If I check my paper agains plagiarism, will it be added to their database or not? I'm fine with the prof checking my paper with whatever software or service he wants but I would hate if I were required to use a commercial service myself to "proof" that my work is original. Double so, if the license for the service required me to give rights to distribute my work via the service.

    As I can see it, I return my paper to the prof and because I have the copyright to the paper, it cannot be stored by some for-profit-company unless I license it. Perhaps I should hand out my paper to the prof with a written license that he can use it as required for grading it but the paper may not be redistributed. If this web service doesn't allow comparing the paper without adding the content to their database, then the prof cannot use this service. If, on the other hand, the service allows checking papers without adding the content to the database, I can see absolutely no reason why the prof shouldn't be allowed to use the service if he feels that it's the most effective way to work. If the professor or the university pays the bill, of course.

  • by BigDish (636009) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @01:44PM (#8008465)
    I absolutely hate TurnItIn.com, but sadly many teachers at my school use it. I have never cheated in my life, but as others have mentioned, I feel I have to prove my innocence.
    I'm wondering if I have legal grounds to sue them, as every paper I have submitted to them has had the following attached to the bottom:
    Copyright (C)2003-2004 (My Name). All Rights Reserved.
    Any unauthorized use, reproduction or storage, either electronic or printed, in whole or in part, without written or verbal permission, is a violation of international copyright laws.
    Permission for TurnItIn.com and/or iParadigms.com to retain a copy of this work for more than 14 days, or to incorporate this work into their database(s) is explicitly DENIED.
    They have terms and conditions people automatically agree to when they use TurnItIn.com, it would seem my terms for them receiving my papers would be valid, as they will obviously ignore them and retain my papers.
  • by hross (608039) on Saturday January 17, 2004 @02:15PM (#8008636)
    This testing is NOT the same as random drug testing.

    The problem is at least two fold:

    1) The testing company keeps the submitted essay and then uses it to test further submissions. They are now using the submitted essay for their own profit, and the student is effectively forced to allow this.

    The equivalent drug test would be where the blood/urine sample has a value on a secondary market and the original owner loses the right to dictate how this sample is used.

    2) Also, there are many procedural issues that relate to plagiarism that make the issue worse. It has been defacto at McGill that if you submit group work and one contributor has plagairised - intentionally or not - then all members of the group are held accountable. Teams often divide work for efficiency. To then require that every team member vet every other member's work is simply impossible in theory and impractical in general.

    The equivalent drug test would be to ban everyone on any team that has had any member fail a drug test. For people caught in this net, the heavy-handed practise feels unfair and indefensible.

    For people with professional standing (e.g. accountants) this has long reaching impact far beyond some elective where a team member missed citations.

    In practise, it can seem like the guilt by association with a death penalty.

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