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Delivering the JISC Plagiarism tool as a preventive measure to poor academic writing rather than a detection method

Tony Ingram, Warwick Manufacturing Group affl., University of Warwick


Plagiarism is an emotive subject. High ranking academics have been caught out by it as pressures continue for them to publish in prestigious journals to keep ahead of Research Assessment Exercise criteria. Why should we then not be surprised that students don't also cut corners to keep ahead of hand in due dates?

Academic dishonesty or misconduct, whether it is a fabrication or presentation of material which is due to the endeavors of another, is in large, of great detriment to the educational process.

Academic cheating diminishes the opportunity for the student to learn, and it is harmful to the student population in general who do make an effort to do good work [3].

The discussion about plagiarism is not a new one, but it has to be seen to be dealt with in an auditable, honest, reliable and rigorous way that is fair to any accused delegate. Many issues come into play as to the cause of plagiarism; both culture and academic incompetence come high on the register. The Internet has not only facilitated better research dissemination, but it has also enabled students to access online resources such as, School sucks,  Screw School and The Paper Store [2], this has been detrimental to good academic practice.

Although marking scripts may be considered just one element of assessment of student work it is a very absorbing, problematic and emotive topic that has many issues associated with it [3]. We all have to be pragmatic about this subject and rather than penalise students we should educate them in how to avoid poor academic writing practice.

It has been recognised that e-assessment is now fundamental to the future success of learners and is supported by the Department for Education Skills (DfES). Particularly as more software suppliers and developers become involved in producing e-assessment products. The Joint Information System Consortium (JISC) Plagiarism tool has been developed to detect and penalise plagiarism, JISC provides a centralised and co-ordinated direction for the development of the infrastructure and activities, in line with it’s 5-year strategy, funded by the UK further and higher education councils [4] [5].

The proactive approach is used to develop student writing skills rather than penalise poor academic practice, this has been achieved by creating a student teaching interface via a secure Intranet this allows the students to upload work to it so that it can be assessed before final submission. The work can be commented on and also uploaded to the JISC tool, so that the student and the tutor can then review the results of the JISC analysis as an online process.

Aims and rationale

By taking a different approach to the detection of plagiarism one can use the detection device as a teaching element to enhance the skills of students to write academically honest work that will give them a sound grounding for the rest of their working lives. The cohort of MSc students that I have mentored over a two year period where introduced to my style of assessing their work during interview, they were impressed that I would spend such quality time closely viewing their written output in order for them to succeed. As part of my MSc student cohort supervision I have implemented a compulsory one hour workshop to introduce them to the JISC element of the secure Intranet that I have provided for them.

The work so far has become well known within a small group of academics within WMG, one member found this such a great idea that she put her entire Engineering Doctorate through my JISC account just to make sure she had not transgressed, two other members of this cohort working as MSc student supervisors used my account to evaluate their students work before submission. Although students have access to the JISC Plagiarism tool it doesn’t mean that they will use it. An interactive approach is necessary by staff to facilitate the correct use of this important e-assessment tool.

It has been muted that students would only use this tool to understand if they can get away with plagiarism, before handing in a piece of work. This may be the case but if we can instill a no blame culture of contact with students the more they will trust us to help them rather than penalise them in their endeavors to fulfill course work objectives in a visibly auditable fashion.


  1. Show students how to use the Joint Information System Committee (JISC) plagiarism tool can work in their favour, and particularly how fickle the results can be.
  2. Enable the avoidance of plagiarism by showing students how to reference material properly.
  3. Approach the practical and conceptual understanding of the issues associated in assessment.
  4. Associated with [3] the evaluation of undergraduate and post graduate student work as a way forward in raising the standard of written work within the academic community.
  5. Create a no blame nurturing environment where students feel that they can present work for discussion and assessment, before work is handed in for assessment.

The classifications of the four deliverable elements are:

  1. Although the WMG MSc cohort for the last two years has been given a lecture and notes on the use of the JISC Plagiarism tool, however it has been generally not known by many academics that the university has had a license to use the JISC plagiarism tool for the last two years. Some who have attempted to use it have found the tool difficult to use and returned to tried and tested methods for marking scripts instead. It has been noted that the JISC interface baffles accomplished computer scientists when they first use it, so why would we be surprised it has been poorly adopted by staff and students. Students tend to fear using this type of analysis in case their poor academic attempts are recorded.
  2. When a piece has been submitted to the JISC Tool it can quickly become evident that as we move through the analysis that one should not take the results at face value. It can be seen that as you follow the links to the suggested sources of plagiarism, the tool will list completely irrelevant material which has nothing to do with the subject being investigated. Artificial Intelligence as we all know is only as smart as the code in its program, an algorithm associated with the title of the research would create a finer granularity of result. But at the moment the JISC Tool isn’t that smart, so results still require close scrutiny.
  3. Any student contact has to take into consideration student cultural differences and attitudes associated with their previous student experience [6 ]. Our responsibility as academics is to not only mark student work but also mentor students in the way that will enable them to complete assignments by using good academic practice. From this we should be able to understand the problematic nature of assessment, particularly in producing reliable auditable results, particularly the issues related to equal opportunities in assessment.

    The other two elements have to be included lest we forget why we assess and evaluate student work:
  4. The assessment element is to measure the effectiveness of student learning, in this case through the completion of post module written work. Most of student time, out of the taught environment is spent in completing written assignments that we set, so it is only right that we should get the assessment of this element of student contribution correct.
  5. The evaluation process is used to:
    • Judge or measure the effectiveness of a module or course.
    • Understand the concepts and issues or the academic environment where accountability, performance and quality assurance are a mandatory indicator of student and staff performance.
Evaluation of the initiative

The purpose of the initiative is to enable the student to:

  • Have a broad and conceptual understanding of issues related to the assessment and evaluation of their work in the provision of both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
  • Engage in evaluation activities at any level within the university.

The initial two year trial has enabled great progress with the student cohort; feedback so far has been verbal in nature. However the small initial trial has proved to be so successful, that I plan scaling up and exploring other areas where it might be applied and would consider an evaluation or impact analysis, in order to make explicit the advantages of such an approach. I have therefore created an opportunity for individual interviews and possibly focus groups, after completion of the dissertation.  I think the best way to capture the results is by taped interviews, due to the small sample sizes of the cohort.

Embedded within these two tenets of assessment are the issues associated with plagiarism in student work [7]

I have chosen this one element of the assessment mechanism in order to introduce it into all curriculums in a way that will enable good academic writing skills rather than assume that students have those skills already.

The nature of plagiarism brings into play many issues in how we detect and deal with the problem of creating an original piece of written work, when so many people have also written about a particular topic possibly given as course work by tutors. It has been muted that a tutor should set down an appropriate reading list such that plagiarism can be controlled as the textual format is familiar with the tutor, this may work with set pieces but when it comes to a final year project or a post grad dissertation, the research material has to be far reaching and should in essence push beyond already known material [8]. It has been observed that students do become tangled in information overload, it can be seen that it becomes difficult not to paraphrase experts and then call this their own work, as quite rightly they have put the researched material in their words, but is often the case they believe they should not then reference the original source, as it could be construed as the inability to produce an original piece of written material.

Within WMG we have a large cohort of post graduate students from the Pacific Rim countries, their first degree experience in their own countries is quite different to our own, they are taught to emulate domain experts, rather than discuss and interpret new ways to engage in these areas of expertise. In some cases I have found that students have no presentation skills what so-ever as they have not been required to have an opinion, and when you ask them to stand up and speak they are horrified, vivas in particular can be a very frightening experience for these people. So you can readily see and not be surprised that students will copy work from domain experts, due to the fact that they have been taught to do so.

The introduction of the JISC tool has enabled me to engage the students in a way not considered before. Particularly it has enabled the students through the introduction of best practice in which they actively engage with the JISC environment. The feedback medium is more powerful as it uses an iterative approach that the students appreciate as a positive influence on their work.

Lecturing we know can lose its impact, as in some cases it doesn’t enable interaction, foreign students can often miss the gist of twenty percent of what is delivered by the tutor, particularly in an open forum, in part due to either the speed of delivery, or through local English dialect or through the unfamiliarity of context [9].


My student cohort over the last two years in general have received this approach well, at first they had the suspicion that I didn’t trust them, and that I was trying to fail them. Once we had gone through this process of adoption I found that they would not submit work to me unless they had first put the work through the plagiarism tool themselves, not because they were worried that I would detect large planks of copied text but because they had wanted to demonstrate that they had spent time checking their work before submission.

On final completion of their MSc thesis the students would again put the whole document through the JISC tool to make sure it was bullet proof, what a refreshing turn of events.

I have found that the student cohort soon embrace my mentoring style, and I can see that this interactive approach will bring huge benefits to all concerned in the way that we approach student writing assessment, and the way in which we interact with our students.

The value of this approach to student writing cannot be understated, and I believe that although the JISC tool was not designed to be used in this way, this methodology will better serve education and the creation of academically strong work.


1. The Chronicle of Higher Education Section: Special Report

2. Volume 51, Issue 17, Page A8 (Accessed 14-01-2006)

3. The Turnitin website (Accessed 14-01-2006)

4. New JISC & QCA publication makes sense of e-assessment. (12/01/06)  (Accessed 14-01-2006).

5. The JISC Website  (Accessed 14-01-2006).

6. Fox H, (1994), Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing, National Council of Teachers of English

7. Valmai Bowden (2004) Assessing & Evaluating Module notes U of W (p 28).

8. Barnett & Dalton. (1981). Why college students cheat, journal of college student personnel. 22, pp.545-551.

9. Pennycook A, (1996), Borrowing others’ words: Text, ownership, memory and plagiarism, TESOL Quarterly, Vol 30 (2), pp.210-230


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