Aware – but of what?

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The online Times of India (30 June 2014) carries an item by Somdatta Basu, IIM cuts out copy-paste, which describes how the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C) seems successfully to be reducing the number of plagiarised papers submitted for assessment.

The Institute has been using Turnitin for more than a year. In the article, one IIM-C professor is quoted as saying:

“It has had the desired effect. If a professor finds that a work is not an original one, then there are penal provisions in accordance with the institute’s policy on plagiarism.”

“Penal” might not be quite the right word. Penalties actually imposed (according to the article) include failing the course, repeating the year, or expulsion.

The emphasis throughout appears to be on deterrence – and it appears to be working. An IIM-C dean is reported as saying:

“If the students know that they are being scrutinized for their term papers, they are more conscious and less likely to resort to blatant copying since they fear getting identified.”

It is notable that, in this eleven paragraph article, the words “software” or “Turnitin” appear in nine paragraphs, and notions of penalty and punishment appear in four paragraphs.  This is very much the emphasis.

In only one paragraph is there mention of alternative strategies:

“Just installing the software isn’t enough. “Sensitising students about the methods of doing referencing, ways to write a scholarly document are all part of IIM-C’s anti-plagiarism policy,” said IIM-C dean Anindya Sen.”

While Turnitin might well be having a deterrent effect, could it be that reminding students – or possibly teaching them for the first time? – of acceptable ways to integrate other people’s work into their own, how to write right, are having even more effect?

Having a policy and procedures known and adhered to by all members of the community, these are other factors which may impact on incidence, and on the number of incidents uncovered.

It is all too easy to see technology as the magic bullet, but in this case, I would suggest that more investigation is needed!

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