To cheat or not to cheat?

20th November 2002

To cheat or not to cheat?

PSYCHOLOGISTS at Aston University in Birmingham are piloting a new approach to plagiarism prevention which is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. The trial aims to teach first year students how to avoid copying other people's work when preparing their written assignments.

In addition to the age old problem of students copying each others work, the internet has opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for students to download information and pass it off as their own and even to buy existing or specially prepared bespoke coursework. Aston is amongst several universities in the UK that have invested in new software programmes that can help spot the cheats.

Copycatch* takes two documents and looks at the lexical similarity between the two, especially through meaningful words that are shared by two or more documents. The programme is especially interested in words that occur only once in each document. It can also identify the source document when several students are using each other's work.

Dr Joel Talcott, lecturer in Psychology at Aston explains At Aston we believe most of our students are honest but we are concerned that they don't know enough about what plagiarism is or how to avoid it. The Psychology teaching group is therefore also using its sister programme 'Copycheck' in a research study to try to teach students how to avoid unintentionally plagiarising another author's work.

One side of the computer screen displays an original source document, while on the other the student works to paraphrase or summarise this text. 'Copycheck' then calculates the lexical similarity between the student's document and the source. It is hoped that such software will eventually be used to help all students to develop their study skills by encouraging them to understand information at a deeper level and summarise it in their own words rather than simply focusing on a simple, superficial re-wording of source material.

Dr Talcott continues: "To my knowledge we are one of the first teaching groups in the UK to routinely use this software on a large sample of students' work and we are certainly the first group to use it for research purposes. Plagiarism is becoming an increasing area of concern in the UK and this is a problem that we recognise. We're aiming to show students how easy it is for their work to resemble an existing printed source. Hopefully this will help us to help them develop good practice throughout their studies. The research findings will also be of interest to staff in other universities as well. "


For further press information/interviews please contact Sally Hoban on 0121 204 4552.

Notes to editors:

*Copycatch and Copycheck were developed by David Woolls and are marketed through CFL Software development in Hampshire. Visit www.copycatch.freeserve.co.uk for more information.

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