Web-based plagiarism scanning system now available

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CSUN has begun to make use of a system designed to stop plagiarism attempts once and for all.

Some professors are now requiring students to submit papers to www.turnitin.com, a website-based system that scans documents for plagiarism in a matter of seconds.

Under this subscription-based service, students log into the website and turn their work in directly as an attachment in the same manner one would use to send files in an e-mail system. The website uses a set of digital algorithms to comb through the document, and sends back to the professor an original report, which shows any matches to published works within the site’s database.

“A few professors really love it,” said Randal Cummings, assistant coordinator of online instruction for the program. “They can use it to catch students in the act, or can use it as a tutorial (for how not to plagiarize).”

Any matches are color-coded, highlighted and linked to their Internet source.

Professors have the option of allowing students to see the report immediately so they can make changes, or not allow them to see the results after the due date has passed.

“It freaked me out at first,” said Cynthia Carpenter, a former student at College of the Canyons, a school that began using the program two years ago. “(I thought), ‘What if I didn’t quote something correctly?’ But I think it’s pretty cool. It puts everyone on a level playing field.”

The program, which can be used campus-wide at any school, is not required to be used by all CSUN professors or students right now. At the present time, it is used by only a small number of professors, and there are no plans to make its use mandatory.

So far, between 50 and 100 accounts have been registered by CSUN professors, according to Cummings.

He said the departments that have shown the most interest are journalism, psychology, English, and history.

“Most would report that plagiarism is on the rise because of the Internet and technology that allows people to go online, get content and cut-and-paste things,” said William Watkins, CSUN vice president of Student Affairs. “You used to have to go to the library and actually research the material (if you wanted to plagiarize). Now, you can just sit at home and do it.”

Watkins said he reminds incoming freshmen that as easy as it is to do an Internet search for material to copy, professors have access to the same resources.

Even though it’s now easier to get information from the Internet, it’s just as easy for professors to check it.

Some professors do make use of Internet search engines and say they have caught students plagiarizing.

“(Plagiarism) is a pretty big problem,” said Amir Hussain, a religious studies professor. “I’ve gotten at least one in every course I’ve had so far.”

Linda Yellin, a sociology professor, pushed for the school’s usage of the system, and said she plans on using it.

“Every now and then, a paper comes along that’s a little too good,” Yellin said. “Of course, we always want to see good papers, but when it comes from a student where it’s not their normal level of work, one can’t help but to be curious. That’s where this program comes into play.”