Category Archives: Plagiarism

Posing the Right Questions: doing meaningful research

googleGoogle provides almost limitless access to information, but not to understanding. We increasingly need to be able to search and access information quickly, and apply what we find to problems facing us, on the fly, so to speak. In classrooms across the globe students are increasingly called upon to do research for assignments, and no-one would argue that this is not a necessary part of what constitutes good practice. And yet the ability to find a fact does not indicate an ability to incorporate it within our knowledge structures, and research increasingly points to this gap in our students’ understandings.

One of the major problems involved in any research task is how to avoid the cut & paste trap. Given half a chance any self-respecting student will use the cut & paste function to their advantage. It is madness to think that anyone would do otherwise. Simply asking for correct citation does not help, nor does threatening to use Turnitin or other plagiarism checkers. I’m not saying that students should not be providing citations and bibliographies for their assignments, but it is not a bulwark against plagiarism. The key really lies in the question behind the assignment you have set.

Ask a class to write an essay comparing marriage practices in different cultures, and you are inviting a patchwork quilt of cut & paste. But with a little thought, OK maybe a lot of thought, it is possible to pose questions which will discourage, or at the very least not advantage plagiarism. The question should ask for students to research, but not to reproduce that research directly. For example, if you asked a class to write an essay explaining, if they had complete free choice, which culture they would prefer to be married in, their responses would need to interpret and process any research done rather than simply regurgitate it.

To my mind if you pose a question that invites plagiarism, you have nobody but yourself to blame when you get it, and you are doing your students a disservice by not exposing them to questions which invite interpretation and evaluation rather than reproduction.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Critical thinking, Google, Plagiarism


Quizoodle! The Quiz Module in Moodle!

I have been experimenting with the quiz module in Moodle, and I am beginning to get the hang of a very powerful tool, so I thought I’d share my initial forrays into what I like to call Quizoodle! (Quizzes + Moodle)

The picture on the right shows an example of a Multiple Choice type question being used in an online plagiarism unit that all our grade 8 & 9 students need to complete online at some stage.

A huge advantage of the module, which is much improved in Moodle 2.x is that, while it takes some time to set up, it auto-grades responses, meaning you do not have to mark the quizzes yourself! While this may seem an unbelievable opportunity, I was somewhat reluctant to use the quiz module. After all, while it handles True/False, or Multiple Choice type questions magnificently, it cannot be used to assess essay questions or anything pedagogically significant, surely! I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a lazy teacher’s way out!

How does it work? You can set up a series of questions, and feedback for each answer, so that the computer can explain what was right or wrong about your response.. You can also make questions conditional upon answering other questions wrongly, so that students getting answers wrong will get other questions to help guide them. A good feature is that you can include pictures or video snippets in the question. In this particular instance it allowed me to set up the quizzes as practice sessions in drawing information off a title page of a book, for example, to be able to complete bibliographical information.

You can grade answers to construct auto-graded tests, and allow students a single attempt or multiple attempts. You can also set time limits.

A wide variety of question types are possible, including text submitted to teachers or course mentors for feedback. I added this last feature to enable students to submit exercises on paraphrasing for feedback.

In this blog, I cannot go into how to use the quiz module in Moodle. You pretty much have to play with it to see what is possible anyway, as there is so much available. I do feel, though, that if used sensitively, and with care to make the presentation appear user-friendly, that quizzes in Moodle (Quizoodles) could be very useful indeed in developing online and hybrid content of quality.


Plagiarism – My Tuppence Worth!

At the end of last year I volunteered to put together an online plagiarism unit, something that would supplement and complement what we were doing in the classroom to tackle the whole issue. Students were signing a plagiarism code of conduct. Teachers were telling them what plagiarism was; and showing them how to avoid it, and we were using Turnitin and other plagiarism checkers. But somehow it wasn’t working. Plagiarism seemed to be on the increase, despite our efforts.

By the very nature of any whole school response to a problem, the policy was being applied rather patchily. Together with the library staff I, as ICT teacher, was teaching grade 8s and 9s how to use citations properly, but I was getting mixed results. While many students were able to use citations accurately by the end of the unit, many were not, even after explicit instruction. It seemed to me as if there was a kind of mental block – almost as if the why do we need to do this at all question was getting in the way of any ability to learn the procedures for citing, which are in themselves quite simple.

While all teachers were expected to require Turnitin reports with student essays, and many were: many were not, largely because teachers themselves did not understand how to set up and use an account, or what instructions to give students. While we are addressing these issues with extra training, the nub of the problem seemed to me to lie with the nature of plagiarism itself. All human knowledge is built upon on the foundations of what others have said and written. It is only at Masters or Doctorate level that a student is expected to add in some small way to the sum of human knowledge. No teacher really expects students to express an original idea – indeed such a thing may well be impossible even in the higher reaches of academia! And yet students feel under pressure to express their ideas, and are told by teachers that they need to be original, and that they cannot plagiarise.

Set someone an impossible task, and they are sure, not only to fail, but also to rebel against the task, and to my mind this is largely what we are doing with the whole issue of plagiarism. Don’t get me wrong – I believe schools need plagiarism policies.

But really, if you think about it, teachers often convey the wrong end of the message. We tell students not to copy, when actually all academics copy. We don’t tell them that avoiding plagiarism means that you must copy, because that’s what everyone does, but that you must just make sure that you reference your copying properly! Put this way there are no negatives, and that I believe is the key to putting together a more successful plagiarism policy! We shouldn’t be teaching kids not to copy, we should be teaching them how to copy properly!

In essence this implies a more conspiratorial approach, one which said to students: teachers are going blah blah blah about plagiarism to you, and plagiarism isn’t cool, but here’s what you actually need to know to make sure you don’t fall foul of the policy.

For this reason we launched an online course on plagiarism. This allowed me to source student-made YouTube videos on plagiarism. I didn’t want the material to have anything like the whiff of a teacher about it more than was necessary. But I also wanted some mechanism for giving feedback to students on their thoughts about plagiarism. The Quiz module on Moodle allowed this, giving feedback in a way which was less formal.

The course ends with a feedback survey, and we hope to see from this whether the format of the course was helpful to students or not. The course was put together in a hurry, but I would like to improve on it for next year by using student mentors to offer support on the course, and to replace the YouTube content with content made by students in the school.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Pedagogy, Plagiarism


Plagiarism Checkers

My attitude to plagiarism is that it is something that needs to be addressed directly. It is not something that you can leave to chance. Students do need to be taught explicitly how to avoid it. It is also something which needs to be worked through. You can teach students how to use citations, for example, using the Citations and Bibliography tools in MS-Word, but students find it hard to understand why they need to cite, and of course when citation is necessary, and when it is not.

The issue is uppermost in my mind because my grade 8 students are currently starting a major project designed to teach and assess their ability to use citations and avoid plagiarism. The project erquires a Turnitin report to be submitted. My school has a Turnitin account, and many of our teachers require students to submit a plagiarism report when they submit an essay. Turnitin is very effective, but is does cost, and this is always an issue in any school environment. I recently came across a site called Paper Rater, which is absolutely free. The site is very easy to use. You literally cut and paste a paper in the relevant window and click on a Report button. You then receive ratings on spelling and grammar issues as well as a plagiarism rating. The engine even grades your paper!

The reports are extremely user-friendly, and are aimed at students rather than teachers. I have no idea how accurate the plagiarism detection engine is, or how it compares with Turnitin, but I believe that it addresses at least one key element in eliminating plagiarism, and that is that of awareness.

Because it is so easy to use, and requires no registration by students, it should encourage students to use it as a checking device ahead of submission. A drawback is that you cannot print out the report. I actually like this though. It provides, I think, a sense of anonymity around the issue, and allows students to get feedback on their writing without having to formally submit a piece to an engine like Turnitin, where the settings are controlled by the teacher, and are somewhat opaque to students. Students worry about whether they can re-do the report after editing their work to remove instances of plagiarism. In my experience Turnitin is not totally transparent in this regard, and teachers are not always aware of the implications of which tick-boxes they tick. I can imagine students taking ownership of Paper Rater, on the other hand, and this is probably a good thing.

I’m not suggesting that Turnitin should not be used. It is a great tool for generating a formal report, but it is not very student-friendly in its approach, and Paper Rater seems to fill that gap!

1 Comment

Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Plagiarism

%d bloggers like this: