Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.15

May 6, 2004


Tools to fight plagiarism

By Barbara Black

The Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science will require a student to sign a Confirmation of Originality Form every time he or she student submits work — potentially, over the four-year program, hundreds of times.

Professor William Lynch is the designated administrator of the Code of Academic Conduct in the Faculty. “We could see that some students genuinely didn’t understand [that they had to attribute sources for their work]. The Code makes it clear that it’s the offense, not the intent, so we developed this form.”

Much of the work was done last summer, Lynch said. “Corinne Jetté, who teaches writing in Engineering, contributed greatly. We had substantial input from various departments, and [Legal Counsel] Suzanne Birks reviewed it. By September, we had a version we were fairly happy with, and distributed it on a course-by-course basis.”

At first, there were four forms, one each for a written report, a lab report, software and assignments, i.e. short-term quizzes. Its use spread, and at the faculty council held in April, an omnibus version was adopted.

It is a single double-sided page. One side is headed “expectations of originality and standards of academic integrity,” and sets out clearly the requirements for all submissions. The other side provides the opportunity for students to sign their names and enter the date and their student ID number.

Lynch sees many benefits for the practice, the first being pedagogical. “We explain what we want to students who unknowingly wander over the line.”

The form also “normalizes expectations in the Faculty,” Lynch said. This topic generated much discussion before the form was approved. To illustrate, if the professor gives an example, and then an assignment whose question is very similar, the student is expected to cite the example in the answer.

Another benefit of the form is the opportunity it provides to talk about academic ethics in class. The professor can explain, for example, that direct quotations should be only up to five per cent of a paper.

The form probably won’t stop someone who is determined to cheat, but Lynch thinks that reading the form and signing one’s name is sobering enough to deter many students from trying.