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‘Academic fraud’ filtering hopes to crack down on plagiarism


Technology companies hope to curb students' access to term paper sites and crack down on plagiarism.
Some education technology companies hope to curb students' access to term paper sites and crack down on plagiarism.

For years, schools have struggled to crack down on web-savvy students who purchase or download term papers online, and a new option from OpenDNS aims to make plagiarism that much harder.

The free internet security service launched an Academic Fraud Filtering option earlier this year after the company’s users suggested OpenDNS create a filter for term paper sites.

In addition to content filtering, OpenDNS provides anti-phishing security and domain name system (DNS) resolution. DNS is a database system that translates a domain name or URL—which is how the average internet user calls up a web page—into an IP address.

“The idea for Academic Fraud Filtering came from our community’s IdeaBank, a place where OpenDNS users can suggest new features and functionalities,” said Allison Rhodes, the company’s director of marketing. “We recognized [blocking term paper sites] as an excellent idea right away and delivered the service to our customers within weeks.”

Users—including school district administrators, teachers, and parents—can submit sites for inclusion in the Academic Fraud Filtering system. Once the site is verified as academic fraud, it is automatically blocked by OpenDNS. To date, users have submitted thousands of sites to be filtered.

“Academic fraud—including plagiarism, the buying and selling of papers and reports, and other forms of cheating—is a problem plaguing academic institutions around the world. By preventing students from accessing the fraud sites on the school networks, academic institutions can add a simple and effective first line of defense to their effort to prevent academic fraud of all kinds,” Rhodes said.

Although OpenDNS allows for entire categories to be blocked, the service allows for individual exceptions. For instance, a district might choose to block all social networking sites from its computers, but a teacher’s classroom blog can be entered as a permissible site so the teacher and students can access the blog from school.

M86 Security is another provider of secure web gateway solutions that offers a way to block term paper sites.

“We have a category [called Educational/School Cheating] to address cheating and student access to term papers,” said Alison Norris, who does K-12 marketing for M86, adding that sites where students can purchase or download term papers are added to the school cheating category as the company becomes aware of them.

Another tool that many school districts use to try to curb plagiarism is Turnitin.com, a software program that checks the originality of students’ papers. Turnitin allows teachers to compare students’ work to millions of online submissions and internet sources, ensuring that assignments are not too similar or identical to any other published works online.

According to effectiveness research conducted by Turnitin, institutions that use the software see significant reductions in the number of serious incidents of papers with large amounts of unoriginal material.

“On average—across millions of papers analyzed—12 percent to 14 percent of the papers received by institutions from students contain [at least] 50 percent … unoriginal material when institutions start using Turnitin,” said Katie Povejsil, vice president of marketing for iParadigms, the company that produces Turnitin. “After several years of using Turnitin, 5 percent to 6 percent of the papers are turned in with [at least] 50 percent … unoriginal material.”

Povejsil noted that unoriginal material is not necessarily plagiarized, but a paper in which at least 50 percent of its content is unoriginal material is likely to be problematic in some way.

“The instructor viewing the originality report is the one who has to determine if the matches are due to lack of skills or an intent to deceive,” she said.

Many school districts that use Turnitin ask students to submit papers directly to Turnitin.com, where their papers are analyzed and stored in the database.

In 2008, a federal district court judge threw out a lawsuit against the online plagiarism detection service, ruling the web site does not violate copyright laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled that unauthorized use of copyrighted work for news reporting, comment, and teaching did not constitute copyright infringement. In his opinion, Hilton said that although Turnitin profits from compiling a database of student works, the web site “provides a substantial public benefit through the network of educational institutions.”

But some continue to question the use of technological means as a way to combat plagiarism.

“I don’t approve of minors being forced by their schools to use for-profit services that necessarily strip the children of their intellectual property rights,” said intellectual property lawyer Stephen Sharon. “There is no question that plagiarism exists and that sites like Turnitin can help reduce its popularity, but the immeasurable cost in doing so is too high in my opinion.”

Sharon said instead of placing the burden on the students, teachers should improve the way they go about instruction.

“Teachers aren’t promoting creativity as much as they used to,” he said.

Teachers need to encourage more drafts and outlines and follow the development of the paper as it happens, Sharon said.

Turnitin gives school districts the option to avoid having students’ papers added to the database, though he said very few schools choose to do so.

“But I do think that the originality report can be a teaching tool for students who are unaware they are plagiarizing,” he said.

This is something Mervin Bitikofer said he has seen in his math and science classes at Flint Hills Christian School in Kansas. Flint Hills has used OpenDNS’s Academic Fraud Filtering option for the past four months.

“While I’m not an English teacher here, I still give writing assignments in my classes, and students have become so comfortable in the copy-and-paste world of the web that I have personally observed students unintentionally plagiarizing or making poor judgments, just from being uninformed about it or thinking that it is … the ‘norm’ for how people use each other’s work,” he said.

He said OpenDNS’s filter provides an initial barrier and gives students a warning that teachers “do not want unscrupulous parties cheating our students out of the growth that comes from crafting one’s own words skillfully and ethically, not to mention developing an honest work ethic that is increasingly rare.”

Bitikofer continued: “While I certainly can’t prevent students from using other computers away from school [to access term paper sites], I still don’t want to make it easy for them to stumble—whether intentionally or not—into paper-writing sites using our own network. So I was excited to see OpenDNS add an ‘academic fraud’ category to black-list sites that are obviously designed for unethical purposes only.”

Links:

OpenDNS

M86 Security

Turnitin


Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Securing Student Laptops for Safe Learning resource center. Technology is an essential part of a 21st-century education for both teachers and students, and district 1-to-1 computing initiatives and laptop lending programs are on the rise. Most of the focus falls on how these mobile computers and handheld devices will help enhance teaching and learning. However, how a district manages its technology can have a significant impact on its budget. Go to:

Securing Student Laptops for Safe Learning

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