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Web site, education help local teachers squash plagiarism

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Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 10:00 pm

For Suzan Bonnington, senior project coordinator at Lodi High School, finding plagiarism students is as easy as clicking a few buttons.

For years, local teachers and professors relied solely on their memories and suspicions when searching for signs of plagiarism among students' papers.

A phrase a bit too sophisticated for their student's ability here, a familiar sentence from a text there, but only with some real legwork could teachers prove their hunches.

All of that is changing as teachers like Bonnington use a blend of enforcement and education to prevent and detect plagiarism.

Many universities and high schools, including all high schools within Lodi Unified, are subscribing to a Web site called TurnItIn.com to quickly catch plagiarists. But more than that, many local colleges, such as San Joaquin Delta College and University of the Pacific, are educating students on what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it.

TurnItIn.com will compare a student's paper against 12 billion Web pages, 40 million student papers and 10,000 newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals to check for proper citation and originality, according to TurnItIn.com's Web site.

Schools and districts can subscribe to the Web site's services for a fee that is based on the number of campuses subscribing to the service and the number of students at those campuses.

After scanning its sources, the Web site then tells teachers what percent of their students' papers came from other sources.

All Lodi Unified School District high schools now require their seniors to submit their senior project essays to the Web site, said Bonnington.

Typically, a certain percentage of papers will match something in TurnItIn.com's database, Bonnington said. All the essays are research papers, which requires students to consult other sources.

Also, Bonnington said, seniors have a habit of picking out the same topics to research, so there's bound to be some overlap on essays from across the nation.

However, if 30 to 40 percent of a student's paper is a match, she starts to get suspicious.

Although Bonnington said that she hasn't caught a student plagiarizing this year, one year a student turned in a senior project paper that he lifted off a student from the year before.

TurnItIn.com checks students' papers against 12 billion Web pages, 40 million student papers, 10,000 major newspapers, magazines and journals and thousands of books to ensure that the students did not plagiarize any of their paper.
• Upon discovering if any potentially plagiarized passages found by TurnItIn.com's software, teachers may compare a student's work directly to the plagiarized passages.
• The software allows teachers to exclude quoted material.
- TurnItIn.com.

TurnItIn.com's software linked the two papers and the student had to rewrite the essay, Bonnington said.

"Most students aren't that foolish or stupid," Bonnington said.

However, Bonnington said she has seen a significant drop in plagiarism since they started using the software.

"It's most effective because students know it can catch them," Bonnington said.

While staff members at San Joaquin Delta College are trying out TurnItIn.com to see if the Web site will fit their needs, Jun Wang, chairwoman of the college's plagiarism prevention ad hoc committee, decided to take a more proactive approach.

Wang found that most students accused of plagiarism didn't know they were breaking the rules. They just simply didn't know they were doing anything wrong.

For example, Wang said, some students didn't know how to give credit to their sources when paraphrasing their material.

To combat the problem. Wang helped organize a plagiarism prevention week during September on Delta's campus.

During the event, students were invited to informational workshops on plagiarism prevention.

To promote its cause, the college handed out swag, including everything from pens to stress balls with slogans like "Cite when you're right."

The college also printed on the goodies the address of a Web site where students can go to see anti-plagiarism online tutorials as well as other information.

The Web site also includes a plagiarism hall of shame, where students can read about famous plagiarists, what they did and the consequences to their actions.

Such famous plagiarists included Jayson Blair, a former New York Times reporter who was forced to resign in 2003 after he plagiarized and fabricated a number of news articles.

"We didn't develop that to scare students," insists Wang.

Rather, Wang feels that the Web site will help educate students on the consequences and dangers of plagiarism.

While the University of the Pacific requires its students to submit their essays through TurnItIn.com, its freshman also have to take two seminars which deal, in part, with the dangers of plagiarism.

"We're trying to take an educational, not a punitive approach," said Lou Matz, associate dean and director of general education for Pacific.

Matz and other professors try to inform students about how plagiarism harms their peers by giving the plagiarist an unfair advantage, undermines their teachers efforts to help educate his or her students and tarnishes the integrity of the university.

Matz believes that, with the creation of the Internet and an increase in the amount of group work done at the university level, plagiarism is becoming more of a problem.

Pacific is in its first year of requiring that its students submit their work through TurnItIn.com, and Matz said it's too early to tell whether using the Web site has caused a drop in plagiarism.

However, he hopes that the information provided in the seminars is enough to deter most students from academic dishonesty.

"Our preference is to try to educate students," Matz said.

Contact reporter Amanda Dyer at amandad@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 5:47 am on Fri, Nov 30, 2007.


    Every day, children watch adults get away with things much worse than stealing. Bush's administration is chock full of liars and thieves, and our streets are crawling with violent thugs.

    Small wonder children think it's okay to steal someone else's hard work.


  • posted at 3:58 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    One wonders if there's some kind constitutional takings issue when a student is forced to submit a copy of their paper (free of charge) to a for-profit website.

  • posted at 3:57 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    When I did my senior project, it had to incorporate an activity (job shadowing or the like) and an oral presentation as well as the essay. Have those requirements now been removed?

  • posted at 3:43 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    plagiarism? only in iivable lovable lodi unified. just huyett's politically correct word for what my teachers all those years called "cheating"

  • posted at 3:32 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    Correction: One of the slogans we had on a number of plagiarism prevention promotional items is "Cite when you write," not "Cite when you're right."
    Comments: This was a campus-wide collaborative initiative, and members of the Academic Senate's Plagiarism Prevention Ad Hoc Committee were the engineers of Delta's first Campus-wide Plagiarism Prevention Awareness Week. Thank you for sharing our success and extending awareness of plagiarism prevention to our community.

  • posted at 3:16 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    One would think one would find plagiarism students in the plagiarism class.

  • posted at 2:56 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2007.


    You don't think many students will do what it takes to get an A without having to use their own minds?



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