What the plagiarism detection software isn’t detecting

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Our University is revising an outdated Plagiarism Awareness Tutorial that does little to prevent plagiarism but does provide the “we told you so” necessary when a student actually gets caught. Like many universities, we are users of originality detection software that can review word use, phrasing, and citation with an immense database of journals, internet sources, and previously submitted work.

What these tools are missing is the student who uses a piece of work not for lifting text but for copying structure. If I want to make a case for electric cars and find a great article that lays out an ideal argument and then use the organization of that article to write my piece, I have plagiarized.

Thomas J. Tobin, at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, recently co-authored “Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices.” Last year Tobin wrote a piece in Faculty Focus that explored originality on three levels – content, design, and method. Including structure in a university definition of academic honesty and showing students how to avoid this aspect of plagiarism is as vital as any tool. Tobin encourages the use of originality software but also encourages faculty to get to know their students, to discuss issues among faculty, and to model processes and content for students.

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