PRIMARY and secondary school teachers are using web technology to catch out pupils who plagiarise.
Turnitin.com, a program developed by Dr John Berrie of Berkeley, California, can identify passages as short as eight words from the web.
It is being used by five schools and seven colleges and universities in Canada; 8,000 high schools, colleges and universities in the US and, since January, by a pilot project in eight colleges and universities in the UK.
"Plagiarism was always hard to prove, but the web gave students the upper hand," said Dr Berrie. This was because of the sheer number of essays available on the web and because sites that sell essays forbid web-crawlers, he said. Teachers can only check against web essays by paying to download them.
Turnitin.com contains a catalogue of more than seven million sources - on-line encyclopedias, scholarly papers, and student and school web pages - that is constantly bing updated.
Also, every paper submitted through the program becomes part of its database. Students submit their work via the Internet, the programme then scans it, sends a report and the paper itself to the teacher. "This prevents one student from selling his or her paper to another in a different class or school," said Dr Berrie.
It also means that every essay written by a commercial essay site, that is submitted to a teacher who uses this program, immediately becomes part of the database. According to Deb Verhart, an English teacher in south-western Ontario: "In the two months since we began using it, we have caught 10 cases of plagiarism, and this is a small school of only 400 students. But even more important is the fact that students know we are using the program. "They don't like it. But it has made them much more aware of the importance of plagiarism."
To access a trial version: www.turnitin.comfree_trial.html