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Technology helps students, faculty
detect plagiarism, uncited work

Nov. 27, 2013

This screenshot from BlackBoard of its SafeAssign technology shows the results of a paper checked for originality. Use of this technology can help students avoid plagiarism and help professors detect it. This screenshot from BlackBoard of its SafeAssign technology shows the results of a paper checked for originality. Use of this technology can help students avoid plagiarism and help professors detect it.

Critical thinking is important in the college environment, where students are frequently asked to digest pages and pages of research and primary sources to inform and formulate their own opinions on the theories and issues presented in the classroom. But when plagiarism rears its ugly head – no matter whether the intentions were malicious or simply neglectful – the benefits of critical thinking go out the window along with trust and integrity.

To help combat plagiarism, the Community College of Rhode Island employs a technology called SafeAssign that can be accessed by students and faculty through the BlackBoard system. Professor of English Kathleen Beauchene, who has been using the technology in her classrooms for at least three years, said SafeAssign is an undeniable boon for both her and her students. She hopes that other faculty members who are not yet using the technology will take some time to familiarize themselves with it at a hands-on workshop from noon to 12:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Room 2330 at the Flanagan Campus.

According to documentation provided by MaryAdele Combe, manager of Instructional Support for the Information Technology Department, the cost-free, BlackBoard-integrated SafeAssign works by allowing faculty and students to upload papers to the SafeAssign database. Once uploaded, those papers are checked against thousands of publications and millions of articles. A color-coded paper is returned to the instructor or the student for review.

Beauchene explained that the system doesn’t take citations into account, meaning that not all alerts indicate plagiarism: If a student has properly cited his or her work, she said, he or she has nothing to worry about and can simply ignore the alert. The same goes for multiple versions of the same paper, which will be flagged as suspect in comparison to the original.

Beauchene said that in today’s digital environment, there are as many ways for savvy students to get around plagiarism-detection technology as there are ways for plagiarism-detection technology to detect offenses as they happen. But Beauchene, who serves as a faculty mentor, said that she prefers SafeAssign to simply inputting text into search engines such as Google for several reasons.

“It’s a self-growing database,” she explained, noting that once a paper is submitted for review, it is then added to the database. This means that the more instructors and students who put this technology into use, the more useful it becomes as it grows organically. Students and faculty can also upload papers as “drafts,” meaning that while they will be checked for originality, they will not be added to the SafeAssign database.

Beauchene said she views the technology ultimately as a tool, rather than a potentially punitive system. Apart from blatant plagiarism, she said that it’s not uncommon for a student to poorly cite sources (or paraphrase without citation) by mistake or because of a lack of understanding of procedure. In these cases, using SafeAssign will help the student better understand how to craft an appropriately-sourced research paper. In some cases, she said, a student may realize that if his entire paper comes back color-coded, then they need to revisit his writing together: “I don’t want them to do a research paper where they just grab information from other sources. That’s problematic for them and for me. We’re trying to get them to use their critical thinking skills.”

Self-plagiarism can and does happen quite frequently from class to class, she said, as students attempt to reuse papers from one class to the next. Because it’s that student’s original work, he or she may not understand that it’s not beneficial to his or her academic career to do so. “We’re looking for students to grow,” Beauchene said.

 


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Last Updated: 8/25/16