Programs aim to curb plagiarism

An Ohio University cheating scandal led GW to adopt two new computer programs this spring which could help identify plagiarism.

Beginning this semester, Safe-Assign, Blackboard’s plagiarism prevention arm, and EndNote, an Internet-based tool that runs through Gelman Library, will enable professors and students to check papers against a comprehensive database of all internet source materials, more than 2.6 million ProQuest articles and other student papers.

“It is absolutely critical that writers carefully document where they got what material while they are researching a topic, if they want to avoid inadvertently plagiarizing a source,” said Carol Sigelman, associate vice president for graduate studies and academic affairs. “A big plus is that students can use the program to help ensure that they are not inadvertently plagiarizing.”

More than half of the academic dishonesty cases every year involve plagiarism, Sigelman said.

The adoption of these programs is the University’s response to 2006 instances of plagiarism at Ohio University, she said. Ohio University caught more than 30 students directly copying more than 14 identical pages, including subtitles, from other students’ master’s theses, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education,

Following the incident, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman asked Sigelman to investigate plagiarism at GW, and produce a report on the issue.

Safe-Assign checks all submitted papers against several databases. Students can also use the program before they submit papers as a way to insert citations where they may have forgotten them. EndNote creates a bibliography for students by recording the Web sites and research papers visited.

“I think it is important to note that while these programs are helpful and beneficial in stopping plagiarism, I don’t think that students should be scared into abiding by the code of academic integrity,” said SA Sen. Kevin Kozlowski (ESIA-U), a junior. “While the programs are effective in stopping plagiarism, they scare students into following the code rather than inspiring them to abide by the code of academic integrity.”

Safe-Assign was released in July 2007 and is being used in the trial stage at other universities. According to Safe-Assign’s Web site, all Blackboard clients with Enterprises licenses will have access to this program.

Siegelman said, “No matter what resources we make available, in the end it is the faculty who do the most important education about academic integrity and scholarly practice in their discipline.”

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