Saturday, June 26, 2010

4th International Plagiarism Conference

I attended the 4th International Plagiarism Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, this week, and presented a paper on my test cases for testing plagiarism detection systems. I had almost finished a very long version of this report when I wanted to find a YouTube link to add on the end. Since YouTube now insists that you use your Google account, I had to log out of my blog address, but continued typing. And so 2 hours of research and typing disappeared in a flash. I guess that I will need one different browser per Google "service" so that I don't mix them up. I'll try and retrieve from my brain:

The papers are not online (yet), but here are some comments about some of the papers I listened to:
  • Leila Boujnane, CEO of Ideé,  presented Tin Eye, a system for finding pictures or part of pictures elsewhere on the web. It is habit forming. They run a paid service for people who want to keep track of where their pictures are turning up without a license. The free one you give a link or upload a picture, and it finds copies all over the place. It was fun trying out Facebook friend's profile pictures....
  • Diane Pecorari (Mälardalen University, Sweden) and Wendy Sutherland-Smith (Monash University, Australia) spoke about creating a culture of honesty and about plagiarism management. Our current systems of dealing with plagiarism involve criteria-based policies and procedures the focus on detection and punishment and appear strong to media and other outsiders. But punishment is not part of teaching and learning. Actually, we tell students not to plagiarize, but we don't tell them how to do it. 
  • Fintan Culwin and Mike Reddy held a wonderful debate on the topic of using vivas to decide cases of plagiarism. I asked what a "viva" is, and it is a sort of Spanish Inquisition used when one does not have hard facts, but hopes to drag a confession out of the student. The debate was done formally with Jude Carroll making the debaters keep strict time. I had voted with Reddy that vivas can be used to determine plagiarism, but when he launched an ad hominem attack on Culwin, I changed my vote to undecided. And I suppose I really am. 
  • I chaired the session by Iraklis Varlamis on identifying free text plagiarism based on semantic similarity. I had some doubts during the session, so I've asked my grad students to dissect the paper for next week, we'll see if it holds up.
  • Jude Carroll, author of a book on preventing plagiarism in higher education, spoke about the international issues in plagiarism. She spent a year in Sweden, where the word for cheating is the same as the word for plagiarism (fusk).  She quotes Lambert et al (2003) in stating that plagiarism management is not about protecting and defending referencing systems, but oftens seems like trying to dance with your shoelaces tied together.
  • Teddi Fishman from the International Center for Academic Integrity gave a great keynote on "Lessons from the Law". She was trained as a police officer, and noted that something like a police Blue Book, that is used to determine if a crime has occurred, is necessary for teachers. She makes some very important points:
    1) Catching criminals is not the primary aim of the law
    2) We have to articulate the standards
    3) Education is not a shovel [it is the means to dig a hole, not the hole itself]
    4) We aren't the police.
    She noted that often the standards are not defined, rather like what Judge Potter Stewart said about pornography: "I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
    I quite like her definition: "Plagiarism occurs when someone uses words, ideas or work products attributable to an identifiable person or source without attributing the work to the source where it was obtained, in a situation in which there is a legitimate expectation of original authorship. " This so nicely expresses the notion that you don't have to footnote ALL the time (not in sermons or love letters), but in scientific writing. And one of her witty statements at the end was very fitting: People try so hard to not get what they paid for when the come to college and plagiarize.
  • There was a company that was flogging a "Securexam" device that is to proctor exams given to distance learning students. Click on the link and take the second tab for SRPS. This is a device that is fingerprint-activated, has a microphone and a 360° camera for identifying and observing the student. I tried to speak with the young man and discuss the privacy implications and the ways of tricking a fingerprint reading system, but he just did not understand enough of the technology to be able to hold up a conversation. He tried to say that it was not a fingerprint reader, but would pick up on unique data points anywhere on the hand. Duh. 
  • Jo Badge reviewed the electronic plagiarism detection system market, asking if it matters how you use them.  I was honored that she referred to the work this blog author does at (in German).  She discussed whether we should let students use plagiarism detection systems themselves, and criticized Turnitin's slogan "1. Spelling check, 2. Grammar check, 3. Originality check" which makes proper referencing seem like a minor detail to attend to at the end of writing, not something to be worked on all during the writing process. Badge wrote a paper in 2007 with Jon Scott on "Dealing with Plagiarism in the Digital Age". She also does copious social bookmarking on plagiarism on delicious.
  • Ursula Bryne and Mark Tynan from the University College of Dublin have an online quiz about plagiarism implemented in Blackboard. Unfortunately, they don't offer a SCORM package of it, and they use the Obama video that was made by a right-wing organization in order to discredit Obama by filtering through terabytes of data to find someone speaking the same words.
  • Everyone was talking about this video by the University of Bergen on plagiarism. Click on cc for subtitles in English!
  • Ofqual, a sponsor of the conference, has a wonderful collection of broschures in full color on paper for teachers and students on plagiarism. The guides are also availible digitally online. 
  • I missed the games workshop that Mike Reddy put on: Let's put the Play in Plagiarism. He explained some of the games to me on the bus ride, I hope that some of them get developed further!
The dinner was held in Alnwick Gardens, a delightful location about 45 minutes north of Newcastle. The bus ride was a bit stressful, but it was a great location and I spoke with many people who are dealing with plagiarism at their schools. There seems to be quite a lot of awareness of the problem in England, even though there is no clear way for dealing with it. The conference also had a paper by Peter Tennant about a "Plagiarism Tariff" that tries to pull together what kinds of penalties abound in England. I don't agree with the way in which it is done - awarding points for plagiarism and then looking up the punishment in a table. The Times Higher Education has published an article about it with a hot debate ensuing in the comments.

It was an interesting conference - I'd like to have one like it in Germany some day!


    1. Liebe Frau Weber-Wulff,

      das sind ja hochinteressante Zeilen, über die ich hier zufällig stolpere! Hochachtung vor Ihrem Wirken im Allgemeinen, und Ihrem Einsatz gegen Plagiate im Speziellen!

      (Leider findet man so gar keinen Hinweis, wie man Sie per E-Mail kontaktieren kann, daher dieser vielleicht off-topic erscheinende Kommentar. :)

      Ihre Seite bei habe ich besucht, nur leider scheint mir diese nicht mehr gar so aktuell zu sein. Der letzte Software-Test ist aus 2008. Schaaaade.

      Haben Sie eventuell eine Empfehlung für einen leidgeprüften Kollegen der Informatik, der sich zum -zigten Male wünscht, eine verdächtige Diplomarbeit mal "checken" zu können?

      Herz. Grüße aus Hamburg,
      Michael Walther

    2. Hi Debora

      Thanks for the interesting synopsis of the plagiarism conference, which I also attended and enjoyed. I presented a paper which you refer to above, on an online plagiarism quiz which we have piloted at University College Dublin. I would like to comment on what you said about our paper.

      Firstly, my name is Mark, not Mike.

      Secondly, the Obama video which we showed at the conference showing President Obama using similar words to ones already used by Deval Patrick in a different speech was done so simply as one of our means of showing how we seek to raise awareness about the issues of plagiarism to UCD students. Videos, we believe, relieve the rigidity of lectures and allow students to see someone who is a brilliant orator and speechmaker and an idol of the modern western world using words which can easily be shown to be similar to someone elses. The video we show may, as you say, come from a "right wing" background, and we were unaware of this, but it is disingenuous of you to suggest we used it in this context. The point of the video, and other videos and images we use, is to demonstrate to students how easily plagiarism can happen, even unintentionally, which is the key point. The UCD plagiarism policy points out that plagiarism is plagiarism, regardless of intent. We simply use videos to make a point.

      Whether you like it or not, the words Obama used in the video we showed were similar to Deval Patrick's and were raised by Hilary Clinton during the Democratic primaries as an issue because of the fact that Obama used words as the main weapon of his campaign. I don't think you could accuse Hilary Clinton, whom Obama appointed as his Secretary of State, of being "right wing". This is a point we make to students all the time. Plagiarism can and does happen, to the brightest and the best.

      Thank you for coming to our talk but I thought I would clarify what we said on the day as the above post misrepresents us.


      Mark Tynan -

    3. Sorry this has been so long, my comments notification seems to be dead. I've fixed your name!

    4. @anonymous - just Google me ;) And we are currently testing systems, I have a post coming up when I clean up this comments mess!


    Please note that I moderate comments. Any comments that I consider unscientific will not be published.