21 July 2011

Turnitin and cheats: what one lecturer did at the Stern School of Business of New York University

Stephen Downes wrote today about one lecturer's experience with plagiarism detection software.

The link, to a blog posting by Panos Ipeirotis, may not work because he has been asked to remove the entry by his employer for legal reasons. However, even if you can't get to his original posting, read the comments from others about his posting (on his blog). Also of interest are the remarks he posted on the Business Insider website. This lecturer has chosen to implement assessment strategies that make it difficult for his students to cheat, rather than relying on Turnitin to identify plagiarised assignments.

He wrote:
I doubt that I will be checking again for cheaters. This is a losing battle: as I use more advanced cheating detection schemes, the cheaters will adapt. I am not a policeman fighting crime. My role is to educate and teach, not to enforce honest behavior. This is a university, not a kindergarten.

Instead, I plan to use assignments that are inherently not amenable to cheating:

Public projects: The database projects that use the NYC Data Mine data is one type of an approach: the projects are public and it would be meaningless to copy a project from a past semester. The risk of public embarrassment is a significant deterrent.

Peer reviewing: The other successful project is one in which students research a new technology, and present their findings in class; the only grade they receive is from their peers in the class. The social pressure is so high that most of the presentations are of excellent quality. This year, the student presentation on augmented reality was so amazing that for an MBA class we decided to simply show to the MBA students the recorded presentation.

Competitions: In order to teach students how the web works, I ask them to create a web site and get at least 100 unique visitors. The student with the most visitors at the end of the semester gets an award (most often an iPod). I had some great results with this project (e.g., one student created a web site on "How to Kill Nefarian" and got 150,000 visitors over 8 weeks) and some highly entertaining incidents.

In other words, my theory is: Cheating (on a systematic level) happens because students try to get an edge over their peers/competitors. Even top-notch students cheat, in order to ensure a perfect grade. Fighting cheating is not something that professors can do well in the long run, and it is counterproductive by itself. By channeling this competitive energy into creative activities, in which you cannot cheat, everyone is better off.
I like his solutions.



S.Y said...

Why not make those assessment approaches systematic? Are there any studies on such approaches? With some scientific validity this could turn out to be a viable assessment method.

Deborah Veness said...

I'm a bit wary about prescribing any aspect of teaching. I think we have to ensure that all teachers have had the best possible preparation for the job, get lots of opportunities for professional development and peer discussion throughout their career ... and then rely on their professional judgement about many things - assessment among them.