Stopping plagiarism: It’s a high-tech business

Andrew Ainslie, a senior associate dean at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Credit: Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times

The Internet can make it easier for students to plagiarism college applications essays. But now, the Internet also makes it easier to catch the cheaters.

Turnitin is “an anti-plagiarism database service that compares student essays to an immense archive of other writings,” according to the Los Angeles Times. In recent years, high schools and colleges have the business to check whether the assignments that its students turn in have been plagiarized from existing work, or from so-called “term-paper mills” online.

Now Turnitin is being turned against a higher-stakes form of cheating: college admissions essays. Business schools at UCLA and Boston University, and more than 100 other graduate schools around the county already run their applications through Turnitin’s database. UCLA’s Anderson School of Business found about 12 essays out of 870 applications last year that showed “significant plagiarism,” and all 12 were rejected, Anderson deans told the LA Times. The Penn State Smeal College of Business annually finds about 3 to 5 percent of its applications are plagiarized.

And there is reason for current high schoolers to beware. This year, for the first time, Turnitin will be unleashed on undergraduate applicants — at Stanford. And it might soon be adopted by the “Common Application,” an undergraduate admissions service used by more than 400 colleges.

Colleges seem to cautiously welcome the electronic plagiarism detector. And interestingly, they seem to see it as not just a tool for creating a fair playing field, but as an indicator of a candidate’s broader character.

Explaining why it is important to weed out cheaters from the applications process, the UCLA dean said, “If they are going to that, they are going to do it in every aspect of their lives.”

2 thoughts on “Stopping plagiarism: It’s a high-tech business”

  1. This (and perhaps the described related computer software) ignores what is called “unwitting plagiarism.” The author of any writing has had a lifetime of exposure to the writings of others. Do we call the use of the phrase (without quotation marks) “due process” plagiarism because the words previously appeared in the Constitution? Where should the line be drawn?

  2. Clearly etymology cannot be included in this debate for then everything would be considered plagiarism; rather, the encouragement of new and original ideas should be the point. Yet, when students are expected to read, digest, and analyze huge amounts of information in a very short amount of time, innovation often loses out.

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