Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Plagiarism increased four-fold in Sweden

Svenska Dagbladet reports that the number of reported plagiarisms at the University of Södertorn, near Stockholm, has increased four-fold during the last five years - and that with the total number of students decreasing.

They cite a report put out by the Hogskoleverket, the government university agency, which will be published next month. The report finds more plagiarism in term paper writing than in cheating on exams. Under the Swedish system, students who are caught cheating or plagiarizing are brought before a board, the disciplinnämnden, which decides if punishment should be meted out. Punishment is suspension from school for a period of up to 6 months - usually pronounced just before exam time, so that the deliquient cannot take some exams.

Taking exams in Sweden is vital - if you pass 75% of the credits of your first year at college, you can get funding for the next year, and so on. So there is quite an incentive to get those 75% credits.

The university uses a so-called plagiarism detection software for checking term papers, the article does not mention which one. Out of 15 400 submitted papers last year there were 36 suspensions meted out. 2003 there were only 10 suspensions pronounced. That is a quota of 0.23 % - and far, far below what teachers report when they hand-check term papers. There are reports accumulating pointing to figures more in the 10-30% range.

The report continues that 3 of the suspended students took the university to court - and won their suspension rescinded. That looks to me like an 8% false positive rate in the software. Perhaps they need to look hard at their software, or find other methods - like using search machines - for assessing this problem.

You can't solve social problems with software - and most certainly not with software that is this bad.

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