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New WriteCheck Software Lets Students Check For Plagiarism

Assoc. News Editor

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01

It is undeniable that technology has changed the face of higher education, but it may now be changing the face of cheating.

iParadigms, LLC made major news a few years ago when it released Turnitin, a computer service that allows educators to cross reference their students' papers with a massive database of student papers, journals, books, periodicals, and websites to check for plagiarism. They now offer a second product that is making news, WriteCheck, a service that allows students to check their papers for plagiarism against the same database used by Turnitin.

In light of statistics such as those published by Clemson University's International Center for Academic Integrity, which stated that 62 percent of undergraduates admit to having cheated on written work during college, thousands of universities now use Turnitin. Boston College is one of them, but only certain departments, such as the Communication Department, have purchased a license to use the service. This purchase does not mean that the administration has lost faith in its students, however.

"I'm not a big fan of Turnitin," said Clare Dunsford, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of its Academic Integrity Committee. "To me, it seems like you're assuming everyone is guilty until proven innocent rather than the opposite. As an English major, I would have been highly insulted if every time I turned in a paper it was going to be examined like that," Dunsford said. The associate dean does not believe that BC professors who choose to use Turnitin "think any differently of their students," however.

Though it is unlikely that all members of any university's faculty and administration would ever support the use of a polarizing service like Turnitin, its widespread use makes the release of WriteCheck a big issue. Universities now fear that the service for which they have paid a sizeable fee has been rendered useless.

"It seems like a natural progression for students to use WriteCheck deceitfully when they're being asked to turn their papers in to Turnitin. What's been set up is a game. That's what Turnitin feels like. Why not try to beat the game? I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying you've set up a whole mindset," Dunsford said.

iParadigms, LLC placed certain checks into WriteCheck to prevent students from using the program to dupe Turnitin, such as being able to cross reference a specific paper with the database only a few times, so students cannot manipulate the content of plagiarized papers until they pass Turnitin's test. Despite these measures, the company's integrity has been called into question in the world of higher education.

"They came up with this software now, and soon they'll come up with something else. They're a company that's out to make money, not to clean up American education," Dunsford said.

The invention of WriteCheck reminds educators that the best way to stop plagiarism may not be to catch it using modern technology, but to stop it before it happens. This is easier said than done, however.

"The University is up against a cultural phenomenon because students today may not have the same sense of ownership of language that students did before the Internet," Dunsford said. "We all are constantly grabbing info from the Internet, and it blurs boundaries of ownership. Students usually know when they are plagiarizing, but it becomes less taboo when in our daily lives we have these blurred boundaries."

BC has made efforts inside and outside of the classroom to fight this "cultural phenomenon" and stop students from plagiarizing.

"One thing that teachers are always urged to do is to make their writing assignments as course-specific as possible and as genuinely detailed as possible so students can't go get a random paper from anywhere on the Internet for a general topic," Dunsford said. The associate dean also believes the Online Academic Tutorial, something she helped create a few years ago, may help prevent plagiarism.

"We made it to let students know that BC takes these issues very seriously. We want to make students think before they cheat," Dunsford said.

When the tutorial informs students that a first-time plagiarism offender usually fails his or her class, and a repeat offender can be expelled, students may just think twice about copying and pasting someone else's work.

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