Just a very quick post to point you towards something I recently came across through the power of Twitter – plagtracker.com. This is an online service which will scan a block of text (i.e. an essay/paper) and compare it to internet pages and a database of academic papers. The best thing about it though, is that it’s completely free!
I tested it out by pasting in a block of text from a previous post on this blog, and it seemed to perform pretty well, in that it correctly identified the source of the material as this site. It produces quite a nicely formatted report with links to the source material too:
Pretty cool. The web interface means it probably isn’t that useful for essay-markers who want to batch-check a whole load of student essays, but if I was a student, I would definitely be using this service to check my essays before submission – plagiarism can happen by accident after all, and can often be fixed by just citing the correct sources. I say ‘often’ because you still have to remember the golden rule of undergraduate essays – for the love of God, don’t cite Wikipedia as a source!
The absolute worst experience for any educational professional is to sit down on an evening or a weekend (it always seems to be an evening or weekend, when you should be doing something more enjoyable) with 100 essays or exam scripts, all on the same topic, and slowly, resentfully, plod your way through and grade them. It’s hell. At times like that I would have been willing to cut off a finger if somebody could have showed me a way that they could all be marked automatically.
Well, recently it seems the prayers of educators may have been answered. Several companies are working on software that automatically gives marks/grades to written assignments. This article covers the basics, but briefly, students can upload their work to a web-portal, and get instant feedback on their written work. One particular company has produced a piece of software called ‘SAGRader‘ which they claim uses artificial intelligence and NLP (Natural Language Processing) algorithms to effectively ‘read’ the essay, and thereby provide much more detailed and specific feedback on the content. Such a system should in theory be able to not only grade on simple things like spelling and grammar (Word processors have been detecting and correcting these things for years) but on the actual semantic content of a piece of work. If it works, this would be a massive help, and the numbers and testimonials on the SAGrader website do seem to suggest that it works. What you have to remember is that human graders are massively fallible so, to be useful, a piece of software doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be better than human graders. Read the rest of this entry
This post has been inspired by a couple of very interesting pieces I read over the last couple of days. The first was this article, written by an associate professor from NYU. Unfortunately the original article has been taken down for some legal reason, but you can read a summary here. The second was this piece written by an academic from Imperial College. Both articles bemoan the current attitude of students regarding plagiarism, and both also have something to say about the steps that can be taken by academics and institutions to combat it. I would urge those who are interested to read both pieces and the attached discussion in the comments to the articles.
This is a highly emotive topic, with a lot of issues that surround it. Instances of genuine plagiarism used to be extremely rare, but the advent of the internet, PDF papers and wikipedia made it just so easy to copy and paste sentences, paragraphs, even whole sections into your essay. Faculty members that I know of have found that an increasing proportion of their time is spent dealing with cases of plagiarism, and efforts to educate students about exactly what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it in their work, have only been partially successful. Institutions have in general failed to address the issue, or are only just waking up to the fact that they need to address it. In many cases, institutions have strict rules and heavy sanctions for plagiarism cases, which if they were to be strictly applied to the enormous volume of cases which now occur, would mean a substantial proportion of the student body would be heavily penalised, or even asked to leave the institution.
All that aside, in keeping with the theme of this blog, my aim here is to discuss the technology and software that is currently being used to address (and in some cases, exacerbate) the problem.
Since this is my very first post on this blog, I’ll start off with what I regard as the best bit of advice that can be given to a student of any discipline: Use some kind of reference management software. For my money, this is the number one, absolute-must, tippety-top thing that you can do that will make your life as a student easier, bump up your productivity, and help to increase your grades.
Once more just in case you missed it: Use some reference management software! If you’re an undergraduate student with essays to write and you’re not using it, you’re an idiot. If you’re a grad student with a long-form thesis to write and you’re not using it, then you’re insane. Read the rest of this entry