Turning to Turnitin to Fight Plagiarism among University Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

Plagiarism is a problem that has hit the education world even harder since the inception of the World Wide Web. With information readily available in electronic form from the Internet, it has become easier for students to copy and paste material into their assignments or reports and submit it for grading as their original work. In the past, for students to plagiarize, they had to take time to write down material from books, but with the Internet, they just cut and paste into their work within a short of period of time (Cromwell, 2006; McMurty, 2001). With billions of articles available on the Internet, it has not been easy for instructors to determine where the students could have lifted the material from. Jones (2006) says the Internet has become a cesspool of plagiarism. Many practitioners agree that plagiarism is a growing problem and they believe that the Internet is partly to blame because it makes plagiarism very easy (CQ Researcher, 2003; McKenzie, 1998; Renard, 2000). The University of Pretoria reports that in a study on plagiarism conducted among 150 undergraduates, 80% of the participants admitted that they often plagiarized assignments directly from the Internet (Russouw, 2005). McCabe (2003) says that plagiarism is more prevalent today because many students do not consider copying from the Internet as cheating.

The University of Botswana (UB) is no exception to the problem of plagiarism. This paper presents a pilot project of the Turnitin plagiarism detection software. The university has a unit called the Educational Technology Unit (EduTech) whose main responsibility is to spearhead the integration of technology in teaching and learning (Batane, 2006). In September 2006, this unit was mandated with the responsibility to pilot the project. The main aim was to determine whether the software had any significant impact on the level of plagiarism among students. A one-group pretest-posttest approach was used to determine this impact. The data in the project was collected from various departments on campus.

Theoretical framework

The theory that underpins this study is the social cognitive theory, which explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioural patterns (Singhal, Cody, Rogers, & Sabido, 2004). The theory posits that people learn in two basic ways: through consequences of actions and social modelling. Reinforcement and punishment has an effect on behaviour and learning.

This study holds the view that in order to effectively fight plagiarism, it is important to understand how students acquired this behaviour and identify factors that encourage them to maintain the behaviour. Self -efficacy is a central element in social cognitive learning and, according to this principle, the beliefs that people have about their capabilities influence their actions in accomplishing certain goals. Plagiarism does not promote self-confidence among learners because they do not get to identify their ability to perform given tasks. When students plagiarize, they do not get an opportunity to interact with the material and, therefore, are not able to reflect on and internalize their own success and failures.

Social cognitive theory provides intervention strategies that could help in changing undesirable behaviour and direct people to a more positive one. According to the theory, this should be done by altering environmental factors that foster the behaviour and personal factors such as cognitive, affective, and biological events (Bandura, 1997). This study posits that plagiarism is a complex phenomenon that requires a multifaceted approach to fight it. The environment needs to be changed so that it becomes more difficult for students to plagiarize. Consequences that do not reward plagiarism need to be reinforced so that those observing are discouraged from emulating the behaviour.

Literature

Student plagiarism occurs in different forms, including incorrect citation and totally stealing someone else's ideas and work. …