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Baylor combats ease of plagiarism

March 27, 2003

By Andrea Nourse

Today's technology allows students to research virtually any topic on the Internet. The ability to copy paragraphs from sources and paste them into a paper or even find a research paper online makes plagiarism even easier than it once was.

New plan to fight cheating

In response, Baylor's Electronic Library has subscribed to the plagiarism service Turnitin.com.

According to Turnitin.com, the proprietary technology supporting the system allows 'Web crawling robots' to retrieve millions of documents on the Internet daily from online paper mills, academic resources, online encyclopedias and news agencies. The documents are stored in a database. The site also keeps a database of previously submitted student papers. Newly submitted papers are compared to the stored documents to detect plagiarism.

According to Turnitin.com, a report is created for every paper submitted. Any text that has been copied or paraphrased from the Internet is color-coded as to the degree of similarity to the original source, and a link to the original source is provided. Users then can determine whether the work was actually plagiarized.

Professors appreciate help

Billie Peterson-Lugo, assistant director of electronic library resources, said the service was purchased after faculty responded positively to a trial of the service in November and December.

Dr. Rena M. Bonem, a professor of geology, currently uses the system in her world oceans and oceanography classes.

Her students submit their papers electronically to Turnitin.com. Bonem said her students have enjoyed the ability to turn in papers outside of class.

'I gave them a deadline, but they had until midnight to turn it in,' Bonem said. 'Most of them liked the ability to have that time that they could submit it late at night.'

Bonem said she has enjoyed not having to handle the large quantity of paper.

'It has definitely reduced the amount of paper I have to deal with,' Bonem said. 'I am printing out the copies and making corrections on those, but it's easier to do that than to deal with multiple formats and lots of attached Internet resources.'

Preventive measures

Bonem said she thinks students are less likely to plagiarize now that they know the software is in place.

'I think that sometimes it's a case of it's just too easy to cut and paste, and a lot of people don't realize that that is plagiarism,' Bonem said. 'Typically I've had four or five people a semester that I've had to go back to and say you can't do this.'

She said that, although she has not read all of the papers yet, that does not seem to be the case this semester. She also said the change might be because of a Web site the library put together with information about what is and what is not plagiarism.

This site can be found at www.baylor.edu/Library/BeyondLib /plagiarism.htm.

Not just for plagiarism

Peterson-Lugo said the Turnitin.com system also provides research resources, which are tools for students and faculty to become better educated about to how to prevent plagiarism.

'We really don't want to be in the plagiarism-detection business,' Peterson-Lugo said. 'We'd rather be in the plagiarism-prevention business and keep it from happening, particularly when it's happening unintentionally.'

'In many cases, students just need to be better educated. They may not realize that what they're doing is plagiarism.'

Interested faculty can contact Peterson-Lugo at 710-2344 for more information.