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More schools turning to plagiarism software to catch cheats

Growing numbers of schools and colleges are being forced to use plagiarism software to try to stop students cheating in their coursework.

The computer program, called Turnitin, checks students' work for similarities to already-published material in its database and the company behind it has seen a surge in numbers over the past two years.

Sam Carr, international sales director for Turnitin, said there has been around a 160 per cent increase in the number of colleges using the software since 2012, while the number of schools using Turnitin has gone up by 65 per cent over the same period.  

Figures from Ofqual show that plagiarism, along with failure to acknowledge sources and copying from other candidates, was the second-most common form of malpractice last year – after taking unauthorised material, such as a mobile phone, into the exam room – and had increased by 24 per cent over 2012.

A shift towards linear GCSE and A-level courses may reduce the potential for plagiarism in examined work, but schools are increasingly using software as a way of giving students a taste of what they can expect at university.

“We are seeing a lot of interest from schools, particularly sixth-form colleges,” said Ms Carr. “More schools want to prepare students for higher education and are using the software in an informative way as a teaching and learning tool.”

More than 130 schools and 200-plus further education colleges in England are now using Turnitin, Ms Carr added.

Dan Davies, head of research at the school of education at Bath Spa University, said he had been approached by a number of schools interested in plagiarism software.

“A lot of teachers say they could spot most cases because of the language pupils use but it is not always easy,” he said. “Teachers are also looking for ways of quantifying it [plagiarism], which Turnitin does by telling you what the sources are and how similar it is.”

He said students could also benefit from finding out how well they had been able to synthesise material, even if it was not being submitted for assessment.

“It is a very useful study skill and anything that gets students into that way of thinking is going to help them at university,” he added.

Lin Smith, immediate past chair of the School Library Association and librarian at Ecclesbourne School in Derbyshire, said that although many schools found the cost of plagiarism software prohibitive, awareness of the risks had increased significantly in the last few years.

“A lot of my colleagues now insist on handwritten work, because the children see copying something verbatim as a chore, or if they are not familiar with the terminology, they are more likely to get it wrong,” she said.

Earlier this month, TES sister publication, the Times Higher Education, revealed that a growing number of students were attempting to hide their plagiarism by swapping key words with those taken from Roget's Thesaurus. 

Chris Sadler, principal lecturer in business information systems at Middlesex University, said the practice led one student to convert the phrase "left behind" into "sinister buttocks".

Related stories:

Computing assessment could be scrapped amid fears of cheating - June 2014 

Practical science to be removed from A levels due to fears of cheating and over-marking - Oct 2013


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