Georgetown University halts student internet cheating

(U-WIRE) D.C. – Georgetown University has taken steps to halt plagiarism throughout the academic year with the implementation of new anti-cheating software from Turnitin.com.

Used by all California State universities and many other institutions
nationwide, the software was created in 1996. The plagiarism prevention system identifies content taken from internet sources, which enables a professor to distinguish quotes that may be cited incorrectly or not at all.

According to Honor Council Director Sonia Jacobson, the fact that most plagiarism occurs from internet research sources and “an overall concern and observation of the kinds of cases of plagiarism that have come through the Honor Council” have led Georgetown to improve its ability to detect plagiarism from the internet.

Provost Dorothy Brown approved the use of the software last spring, and University administrators spent the following months researching related copyright and privacy issues as well as working with the Honor Council and University Information Systems.

“We knew if we didn’t use it right we’d be losing credibility and not being fair,” Jacobson said.

The program will be implemented this semester on a pilot basis, Jacobson said, and departments receiving a large amount of papers that are interested will be encouraged to use the software.

Last fall Charles Weiss, director of the Science, Technology and International Affairs department in the School of Foreign Service, required all of his students to submit their term papers to turnitin.com. The process is done electronically, and the professor can receive the results within 24 hours.

“It serves as both a reminder, and in more extreme cases as a deterrent, and is a way of actually catching people,” Weiss said.

Many students agreed that the new software would reduce instances of cheating.

“I think it’s legit. It will probably deter a lot of people, and if not at least it will get them somewhere down the line if it turns out that person is using someone else’s work,” Sean Ryan said.

In the case that results from turnitin.com indicate that a student did lift information from the internet, the student will go through the standard process for violating the honor code.

There are five punishments, ranging from a letter of reprimand, which remains in the student’s file only while at Georgetown, to a suspension, usually extending one semester, to a dismissal.

“I think (the software) is reasonable, and I think it will work,” Cynthia Redwine said.

According to Jacobson and Weiss, students often mistake the correct approach to citing internet sources.

“I’m not sure students realize that there are formal citation methods,” Jacobson said. “Most students in high school and junior high have learned and used citation methods. I’m not sure I can fault our faculty for not starting over with it.”

Weiss said he also finds that students commonly make mistakes.

Although cases of internet plagiarizing can be unintentional, there are too many to continue without a system to apply the proper consequences, said Jacobson.

“It will be an easier way of investigating suspicious situations,” Jacobson said. “It could be a major deterrent knowing that a billion and a half pages are regularly cross-referable.”
-Meredith McClosky, Georgetown Hoya

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