Friday, 4 July 2014

Is your student's essay being sold?

With the ready availability of so much electronic data, there is a great deal of talk about ‘plagiarism’. This is defined by The University of Sheffield’s Student Union as “…the use of unfair means. This means that the work you have submitted is not your own but someone else’s. It is cheating and means the University cannot assess your abilities properly.” (Sheffield University Student Union, 2014)

Students receive an email twice a year from the University, informing them of the need to be vigilant and honest in the way they prepare and present their work – and the potential outcomes if they fail to behave in an expected way.

Most departments at the University are now using specialist software and compulsory e-submission of assignments as a means to assist with the detection of plagiarism and most students are concerned about how to reference the work of others’ correctly.
In some cases, students could resort to the use an ‘online plagiarism checker’. There are many of these websites available – some of which email students directly - and at first appearances, they may be a useful tool. But, as with many ‘free’ online tools, students need to exercise caution.

Sadly, there are some online companies, which seek to cash in on this concern. For example, there are companies who will offer a free plagiarism scan; what may not be so clear is that they could be selling a student’s work nine months after it has been submitted for scanning. Students are offered a ‘plagiarism checker’. There is no such thing as software that can check for plagiarism – the best any software can do is to highlight matches in the text, which can then be investigated further by an academic.

There is a way to avoid this at The University of Sheffield. All  departments and tutors have access to Turnitin and can set up an area in MOLE for tutors to allow a student to submit a ‘draft assignment’. The student can see their own originality report and, with support, learn to understand what it means and develop their citation skills. This can be provided free of charge for the student by the University and all work submitted to Turnitin stays with Turnitin.
'Students who submit papers to Turnitin retain the copyright to the work they created. A copy of submitted papers is retained in a Turnitin database archive to be compared with future submissions—a practice that helps protect and strengthen copyright ownership.'

Students can also get support with their academic writing from 301- the Student Skills and Development Centre- and the Information Commons. So, please make students aware of the dangers of the free online services and endeavor to provide a place where students can develop their skills and check their own work.

In any case where you suspect that a student has plagiarized or not used their own work, please read the following guidance:

Sheffield University Students’ Union (accessed May 2014), Plagiarism. Retrieved from

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