Academic Honesty Unit – Plagiarism Detection Initiative

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Registration Name : eINDIA2011/AN/144
Project Category : digitalLEARNING::Best ICT Enabled Higher Education Institute of the Year
Project Name : Academic Honesty Unit – Plagiarism Detection Initiative

Details of Applicant
Name : D Ramaraju Gavarraju
Address : PO BOX:501564 Botho Education Park Kgale View
City : Gaborone
State : Gaborone
Country : BOTSWANA
Zip Code : 501564

Details of Project/Implementing Agency
Name of Organisation : Botho College
Address : PO BOX:501564,Botho Education Park,Kgale View
City : Gaborone
State : Gaborone
Country : BOTSWANA
Zip Code : 501564
Name of the head of Organisation : Mrs. Sheela Rajaram
Website :

Brief description of the programme/project/Initiative :
The Academic Honesty Unit has a multi-faceted approach to handling plagiarism that can be viewed in three main categories: Prevention, Detection and Handling of cases. Prevention: Includes prevention through education and prevention through deterrence. Education: – Based on CSS classes and understanding of Turnitin Results Deterrence: – Disciplinary action based on confirmation of Turnitin Results. Locally designed software facilitates tracking of cases. Detection: Using manual and Software-based detection. Software-based:-Turnitin, results are analysed and confirmed. Handling of Cases: Cases and results of investigation of cases logged, tracked through locally produced software. This program facilitates exact determination of student’s academic conduct history. The AHU supplements the ongoing quality enhancements at all levels in all programmes of Botho College, Botswana. This is meant to enhance the quality of higher education provided at Botho College while promoting ethical assessment standards and effective learning & teaching strategies. This discussion builds on actions for addressing plagiarism that were taken at Botho College, in early 2008. In particular, the discussion will be about actions that were taken for addressing plagiarism concerns at Botho College. The actions taken and the work carried out in close collaboration with our international academic partner universities Open University (OU), University of Teesside (TU), NIIT, external technological service /solution providers (Turnitin), SAMS and CopyCatch). To help students learn as much as possible a helpdesk was established at which two people are stationed for two and a half hours daily. The two are professionals in the two areas of concern to the majority of students. A qualified English teacher of English to focus on the writing skills, note taking skills, referencing and other skills that fall under the area of Communication and Study Skills. The second is an IT degree graduate through Botho College’s top up arrangement with Open University (OU). Being a graduate of one of the program, this Helpdesk officer has detailed knowledge on the challenges faced by IT students studying at Botho College. This allows the Helpdesk to bridge the two areas of concern, IT and Communication and Study Skills to provide a truly unique and holistic advisory panel for students. Student can voluntarily come to the helpdesk during the stipulated hours or indeed, make a special request outside of the hours reserved to the Helpdesk. Students who have been caught plagiarising could also be referred to the Helpdesk as a means of intensive counselling before heavier penalties are imposed, particularly if they are repeat offenders. One of the most difficult tasks that faced the AHU was that of changing the culture that made plagiarism acceptable amongst students. Some students genuinely believed that they had little choice but to plagiarise based on a number of factors: – IT is a challenging field and competition is very high. The need to succeed supersedes all else and this was, at times, manifest in a “by any means necessary” approach. Some students wanted to make sure they passed, rather than worry about whether or not they were actually learning. – Traditional culture of respecting those who hold great knowledge in a certain area (wiser, normally older members of society). Some consider one of the greatest signs of respect to be imitation. While this was appropriate in some aspects of social life, it posed many unique problems in academic writing for students. One example of this attitude was when a student felt that he/she could not express an author’s idea/concept any better than the author had already done so, thus was less willing to paraphrase or summarise the idea when, instead, copying and pasting appeared to take care of the problem for them. – As learners who speak English as a Second Language (ESL), many felt it was very difficult for them to write properly without relying on the words of English speakers, hence they would copy good explanations to their documents to offset their own mistakes (grammatical or otherwise). This further exacerbated situations such as the one mentioned above where a student already questioned his/her own ability to paraphrase the words of an English speaking expert. – The temptation, so common amongst students worldwide, to use the path of least resistance when under pressure. Many students may have opted for the easy way out when faced with multiple deadlines. This overlapped with other areas of (poor) personal management such as poor time management, late completion of projects, truancy, low self-belief and other factors that can influence a student’s approach to work being done. These are some of the most significant features of a student culture that was tolerant of plagiarism. This was by far, one of the most difficult areas to deal with. Turnitin as a program greatly helped change this culture through the changing of hearts and minds of those students who were well aware of the ethical complications posed by plagiarism. For those students who were a little less enthralled by ethics, a culture of plagiarism proved to be too costly as repeat offences would not be tolerated. The deterrence created by Botho College’s robust Plagiarism policy elicited a change in culture, or at the very least, revealed a plagiaristic culture to be more self-destructive than beneficial. This is an ongoing process and as such will always require vigilant education to reduce the influence of some of these factors as well as maintaining a continued deterrent. Turnitin has greatly influenced Botho College’s Academic Honesty Policy. The policy was designed with Botho College’s unique experience in mind and a robust and informed policy was designed that was fully capable of dealing with the situation on the ground. This policy worked on the 3 main levels that have been AHU’s guiding principle; detecting and handling cases, educating those involved and preventing future cases through education on anti-plagiarism strategies and deterrence. The policy provided structured support for decisions to be made on this basis. With a strong policy backing the use of Turnitin, Botho College formalised a structured approach to dealing with a huge problem. The structure and legal backing facilitated by the Academic Honesty Policy provided the AHU with a standardised way of dealing with cases when and where they occurred. This would be applied to cases, guaranteeing decisions made in cases were based on objective evaluation of the case and its merits.

Why was the project started :
Some students were submitting projects that were not properly written. This was mainly in the form of unreferenced material and copying and pasting of large portions of material from another source. Lecturers had to manually identify suspect sections and investigate further by typing a sentence into a search engine, or by personally checking the attributed source. It was becoming very difficult for lecturers to effectively mark numerous student papers with the same standards. Sometimes, students who cheated got away without being detected. A standardised way of identifying problem sections was needed, where all students were treated fairly and equally, regardless of who is marking their work and when it is being marked. The written skills of students are also improved through plagiarism checks. They begin to learn to analyse and synthesise third party material into their own words without directly copying from the sources. Documents are now submitted online through Turnitin. Each student has an account with his/her own user password. Through this account students submit their documents on of before the due date. Assignments configured on Turnitin, are visible through each student’s account, including the details of how the assignment will be scanned. There are two main functions of Turnitin. The first is to provide students the opportunity to see if there is any plagiarism in their documents and if there is, give them the chance to correct such problems. The second is to allow them to submit their assignments from any location as long as there is internet access. While due dates are important, the assignments are configured to allow late submissions in case of mitigating circumstances. Students can see the results of their plagiarism scans within two or so minutes, depending on how busy the Turnitin servers are at the time. The plagiarism role of Turnitin is not simply to seek and punish students. Students are encouraged to submit their work well ahead of the due date to give them a chance to correct their mistakes. The new versions of their work must be resubmitted before the due date. Resubmissions are not allowed after the due date. The assumption is not that students intentionally cheated, but they may have made some mistakes in how they included the work they found while researching the topic. This is very important considering how easy it is to improperly include electronic sources into one’s electronic work. Botho College students have access to the college’s wide system of electronic articles, books journals and other academic sources through Botho College’s subscription to ebscohost. Before the implementation of Turnitin, there was little awareness both amongst students and amongst lecturers of how bad the situation really was. There was a big gap in awareness of the problem and how best to deal with it. This gap has been bridged through the usage of Turnitin and the locally developed programs that have played a role in the management of the anti-plagiarism procedures. This is exemplified by the Botho College anti-plagiarism posters that were designed to provide basic information on what constitutes plagiarism and the methods available to deal with such problems. Although great strides have been made in dealing with the problem of plagiarism, Botho College will expand its overall use of Turnitin to include online marking and rubric creation. Online marking was voluntarily carried out in one department. On a campus-wide scale, online marking is still has some way to go. Online marking requires quite a lot of bandwidth, and Botho College will have to wait until the Botswana’s slower networking infrastructure can support the required connection. Online marking will help complete the full circle of Botho College’s aim for a greener way of assessing student projects as virtually no paper would be used in the main assessment process. It would also increase the depth and scope of the feedback provided to students through the support of hyperlinks and detailed explanations that can pop up within the marked document thus reducing clutter within the document.

Objective :

To create a standardised approach to ensuring that the academic work that is submitted follows legal, ethical and academic standards; such that the evaluator can verify that he/she is marking a student’s own work that has been correctly augmented with material found through research. Parallel to this, is the other main objective; to provide a greener method of assessing students through the elimination of paper, while using the powerful online tools to provide extensive, detailed and user-friendly feedback that will help students improve the quality of their work and raise academic standards.

Target group : All Botho College Students
Geographical reach : Students at all campuses in the country of Botswana, 3 campuses: Gaborone, Francistown and Maun.
Date from which the project became operational : 7 December 2007
Is the Project still operational : YES

10 points that make the programme/project innovative?

  1. Allows for paperless submissions. Reduces assessment costs both for institution and student and is a step towards a greener assessment process.
  2. Allows students to check their own work and make corrections where possible, as long as this is done before the assignment’s due date.
  3. Helps students understand where they went wrong (before their work is marked), by providing user-friendly results where problem sections are highlighted.
  4. Helps students understand finer points of rewriting material obtained through research by allowing them to compare their own writing with the original source. These comparisons can be made on screen with both sections of text next to each other.
  5. Allows students to identify additional sources, also known as underlying sources in case the identified source was never used by students. The program is not 100% accurate and cannot always identify the correct source. The student can check additional sources listed as they could be linked to the work and thus help identify how the link appeared.
  6. Students are allowed to make as many corrections as possible within the scheduled timeframe. The website, however, runs in such a way that students not tempted to cheat when making their corrections, allowing them to make corrections that help improve their work without using unapproved methods.
  7. Students can improve their overall writing process with all the links and tools available to them on the website. The links to additional material allow students to read a wide range of material that can help them get to grips with the intricate process of academic writing.
  8. The website does not focus solely on “name and shame” punitive measures (though links do remind students of the possible consequences), but makes education an integral part of the process. When used effectively, the website becomes more of a writing improvement tool than a plagiarism detection tool.
  9. Evaluators are able to quickly analyse suspect sections and verify whether or not there is a problem.
  10. Evaluators can adopt a standardised approach to analysing and marking of cases as well as the required disciplinary measures. Evaluators are also able to provide detailed and electronically supported feedback. Feedback can include links to websites that help students work on their weaknesses.

List the 5 achievements of the programme/project?

  1. Has helped reduce overall levels of plagiarism consistently from the start of the project in 2008.
  2. Has helped lower the number of serious cases (outright copying and serious fraud). Some serious cases do occur but they are much fewer than before.
  3. Has helped the AHU reliably track students’ performance in terms of plagiarism over a 3 year period, up to when they are eligible for their top up year.
  4. Has provided a fair and transparent assessment environment for students. Students know their levels of plagiarism are based on a verifiable algorithm and are not prone to objective analysis of an individual. Results are then confirmed based on a common understanding of what constitutes plagiarism.
  5. Has helped lecturers provide focused assistance to students struggling with the academic writing process and referencing methods.

List the 5 key challenges faced while implementing the programme/project/initiative

  1. Negative attitude towards anti-plagiarism software and also the importance of the writing process. – Overcome by educating students on the role of such software and how it helps assure them that they are being assessed fairly. Students were also educated on how important writing skills are in the current market.
  2. Difficulty amongst students in understanding the meaning of the results. – A CSS/Plagiarism helpdesk was added to which students could go for assistance for any clarification or guidance in understanding the reports.
  3. Limited bandwidth in Botswana. – Institution increased bandwidth available to both students and staff to allow for smoother submission and marking procedures.
  4. Botho College is one of the only institutions in Botswana that use Turnitin for all assignments and though this has greatly enhanced the quality of work submitted; students worry that that they are the only ones who have to worry about plagiarism. – Students are reminded that the skills they are gaining now can help them outdo fellow graduates as they would be used to the demands for ethical practice in the work environment.
  5. Lack of knowledge for evaluators in handling plagiarism for lecturers. – Detailed training sessions and workshops are regularly conducted with evaluators allowing everyone to discuss and agree on efficient marking methods through Turnitin and standardised approaches to handling of plagiarism.

List the 5 points how can the programme serve as a model that can be replicated or adapted by others?

  1. Raise awareness of plagiarism and what is wrong with it, both within the academic environment as well in the outside world, to show the seriousness of the problem.
  2. Raise awareness on anti-plagiarism strategies and how they can be effectively employed in the writing process.
  3. Raise awareness on how Turnitin works and how results are interpreted.
  4. Help prepare students to prepare for the industry which has is very strict on intellectual rights and property rights alike.
  5. Ensure any disciplinary actions are based on a standardised approach and apply to all students who fall within that preset categories.

List 5 points to elaborate on the scalability of the programme/project/initiative

  1. The project works on a yearly renewable licence for each student thus can be scaled up or down depending on requirements.
  2. The project can be applied to academic work submitted by staff members.
  3. The project can cover students in any geographical location around the world as long as they are registered students.
  4. The project can cover any work submitted from rough drafts to final papers for any student.
  5. The project can be used to help prospective students understand the challenges they will face when submitting work in higher education.
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