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1.8 Plagiarism detection

Plagiarism detection software is perhaps not a technology you would immediately think of as an online teaching or support aid. However, plagiarism prevention tools (which automatically compare assignments from students with each other, and with content found online) can be used to meet certain learning objectives in an online environment.

Many institutions now provide staff and students with access to a plagiarism detection service. This can be employed to illustrate to learners how to write or compile assessment material in an appropriate manner, how to build on (rather than repeat) previous work, and how to reference and quote appropriately. In this way, these tools can be used to offer formative feedback rather than just being used to identify problematic assessment submissions.

If you would like to know more, the first step is to find out whether there are tools already in use at your institution. If not, or if you are considering changing to use another tool, Wikipedia hosts a list of plagiarism detection software. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

There are potential problems when introducing plagiarism software. One is that the software cannot tell the difference between accidental and deliberate plagiarism. This can lead to assumed guilt where the problem is simply poor academic practice. In many cases, the most appropriate response is to provide students with additional support in referencing.

There are also concerns about whether the storage of intellectual property, such as an essay, in a plagiarism company’s databases is ethical if the author has not agreed to it or is unaware of it. Students should be aware that the technology is being used and should have opportunities to explore how it can be used to support their learning.