Universities weave web of 4.5 billion ways to catch plagiarised essays

Students who plagiarise essays from the internet could soon have their cheating exposed, if a scheme announced by universities yesterday takes off.

Students who plagiarise essays from the internet could soon have their cheating exposed, if a scheme announced by universities yesterday takes off.

The Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen and Edinburgh University are among those testing out a plagiarism detection service devised by a group of computer specialists from UK universities. They hope the service will curb the growing trend of students cheating in their coursework, driven by an increase in the number of internet sites offering customised essays for sale.

The programme, developed by the Joint Information Systems Committee, checks students' work against 4.5 billion web pages from more than 800 million websites and against essays submitted previously.

Charles Juwah, senior educational development officer at RGU, said: "Although at present the service is voluntary, we have had an excellent level of participation from our students. This software contributes effectively in raising students' awareness of good academic practice of handing in authentic work, sourcing and referencing academic writing correctly and in acknowledging and upholding other people's moral rights. It is a plagiarism deterrent and gives merit for good practice."

Mr Juwah has also held seminars on how to prevent plagiarism for staff at his university.

Justin Greenwood, professor of European public policy at the university's Aberdeen Business School, said the recent surge in internet "cheat sites" had threatened the integrity of degree qualifications. After examining the content of such websites last year, Mr Greenwood decided to stop accepting coursework, switching to assessment by exam only.

But the new technology prompted him to change his mind: "After attending a seminar on the subject, I decided to redesign coursework assessments and use the electronic submission plagiarism detection service," he said.

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