Posted by: rcieri | October 15, 2008

Blackboard tool SafeAssign could curb plagiarism

By Rachel Cieri

Oct. 15, 2008

With countless websites like echeat, cheathouse and termpapergenie.com , it seems easier than ever to plagiarize and get away with it. Blackboard, however, could help reverse this trend.

Although it is not widely advertised, Elon’s Blackboard site has carried a plagiarism-detecting service called SafeAssign for about a year. The program is free to Blackboard users, and it allows professors and students alike to check assignments for “unoriginal content,” according to its website.

“They compare any written document against their database of other written documents, and they come back to you with an estimation of how much of it is plagiarized or not,” said Instructional Support Liason Roger Gant, who heads Blackboard services at Elon.

SafeAssign essentially sends its user a percentage of how much a document has been plagiarized. The higher the percentage, the greater the amount of plagiarized material contained in the document and the small the amount of original content.

The report also displays the sources to which the document’s content matches, and, if the user selects a source, the text of the document that matches the source will be highlighted.

“It really leaves the judgment up to the instructor as to whether they consider it plagiarism or not,” Gant said.

This way, professors who suspect plagiarism can make allowances for paraphrasing and differences in syntax.

The program is an alternate to similar services such as TurnItIn.com, which charges a fee to check the originality of a document.

The SafeAssign’s database is compiled from a multitude of essays, articles, books and websites, and it is constantly being updated. When students or faculty check a document in SafeAssign, it automatically adds it into the database. The only way to keep the assignment from being added to the database is to use SafeAssign’s “draft mode,” which performs the same function without adding the document.

With the database being constantly updated, it helps to keep students from selling their assignments to students at other colleges and universities.

Use of SafeAssign is not widespread because students cannot check their own assignments unless the instructor has set it up, and, to Gant’s knowledge, there are only a handful of faculty members who have been using it.

The university began discussing the use of SafeAssign as a preventative measure rather than a solution to a problem.

“We’re not getting a lot of people asking about it. The one person who did was looking at it from a general perspective of whether it’s a good or bad thing. As such, we haven’t really gotten a directive to go out and advertise it,” said Gant.

Instructors can find SafeAssign if they look for it, but many may not even know that it exists. There was some discussion about whether a program like SafeAssign sends the right message about the university because, to some, it may indicate that Elon does not trust its students.

“I think, as an instructor, it’s a matter of ‘how much do you trust your students?’ How much do you want to be a policeman and how much do you want to engage them?” Gant said.

According to Gant, the administration intends to “take it slow,” making sure that the program serves the appropriate purpose.

“Like any tool, it will be as effective as the people who want to use it,” said Gant.

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Responses

  1. Looks like you are a true expert. Did ya study about the issue? haha


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