Monday, September 24, 2012

Delusions of Candour: Why Technology Won’t Stop Plagiarism

English: The figure summarizes the suitability...
The figure summarizes the suitability of different plagiarism detection approaches depending on the form of plagiarism being present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Dr Robert Nelson, Associate Director Student Experience at Monash University, The Conversation:

Plagiarism at university is a time-old scourge. Some would have us believe it can be sought out with ever-improving technology, and with more consistent vetting of student essays with the latest detection software.

But beneath these appeals to superior forensic intelligence lies an unhappy fallacy - that a technological fix can address a moral problem.

It is amazing that we have so much faith in code; but in the face of human nature, the trust in sophisticated digital surveillance is naïve. Text-matching software functions well in detecting word-for-word plagiarism but works poorly with paraphrase.

It also works on the assumption that there is a unique language in the world, which is English, or at least that all students have no access to material in other languages.

You might think that the tangible presence of students from non-English speaking backgrounds would serve as a reminder to exclusive anglophones that great works of scholarship are likely to be written prolifically in other languages; but belief in technology seduces us with an insular fantasy and makes us avert the gaze.

If I want to plagiarise and I read other languages, you won’t catch me with your computer. Ironically, the computer helps me but not you: it lets me locate the texts in foreign languages just as easily as it finds them in English.

Once I have the text that I need for enhancing my essay, I will render it in English in a way that will not reveal the original. Morally, it is plagiarism. But from a technical point of view, the text will appear as mine. It is plagiarism beneath the knowledge radar.

Students are just as resourceful as academics in the matter of plagiarism. Forensic tools are largely futile against much dishonest practice, which continues and proliferates like mutant bacteria in response to antibiotics. Essay mills, for example, will always be one step ahead of the plagiarism-detection software.

While some plagiarism detection software is conceived as helping students identify their own peccadilloes - as if committed inadvertently - the technological campaign to monitor and root out plagiarism is reminiscent of the war on drugs, where a large investment in cameras and dog-squads yields negligible returns in expunging the abhorred dependency.

We chase students as if they are crooks instead of looking at why students are tempted to plagiarise.
Worst of all, the policing strategy inadvertently creates risk by appealing to the gaming mentality of young students who are used to such challenges in their favourite entertainment.

In many video games, the player can get ahead by risky deceptions which cheat the system. When we set up a firewall, we provide cunning students with an incentive to get around it.

And given that the many ways to avoid detection are obvious to this artless author, we can only imagine what tech-savy students can think up. By installing a digital trap, we will only catch the least savvy and in an unfortunate inversion of justice, we reward the most guileful.

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment