Online plagiarism detection as a student learning tool
The use of the online plagiarism detection software Turnitin, as a learning tool for students, was trialled in a core first year unit within the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Western Australia. The unit involved in this initiative forms the foundation for the professional development component of the engineering degree. To succeed in this component of the degree a high level of written communication ability is required. Despite efforts to instruct students regarding proper referencing and paraphrasing, many students continue to submit written assignments that contain plagiarised material. Before the aid of plagiarism detection tools, approximately twenty cases of plagiarism were detected annually in this unit. The number of suspicious assignments that were never investigated was far greater, with an even larger number displaying at the very least careless source acknowledgement. Turnitin is a plagiarism detection program that attempts to identify the source of a student's written work. It produces a report, assessing the level of originality and identifying text that appears to have originated from known sources. The software is commonly employed in a punitive capacity, detecting plagiarism after assignment submission. In the present initiative however, students were given individual access to the software to self-assess their work as often as required prior to submission. Through the use of Turnitin, students were facilitated to learn how to properly acknowledge sources and improve their paraphrasing. The unit tutors were also available to assist students to reach the writing standards required. Student perception of the use of plagiarism detection software, determined through student perception of teaching (SPOT) survey questions, was extremely positive. The Turnitin statistics across three substantial written assignments throughout semester revealed continual and substantial improvement in student ability to avoid plagiarising. This was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in the incidence rates of plagiarism.
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