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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

The Ctrl-V generation

It looks like Michael Gove has not finished with his shake-up in education. In fact, he may be the human equivalent of the Duracell Bunny, he does that much in a week

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Last week, bang went the A level resits hard on the heels of modular GCSE’s demise. This week, he gets rid of 25 percent of the Department of Education (mostly HR and IT... shorter acronyms go first it seems) and is of a mind to scrap GCSE course-work. Phew!

It’s the last item that is of interest and I was discussing it with my older students who follow a 100 percent course-work Level 3 BTEC in Applied Science. 

I sent them off to do some private research to prepare a report which I would later assess. I waved them off with a friendly "No plagiarism now," remark. One young man turned around grinning, and in his faux street-patoi, replied, “Yeh bro’, we is the ctrl-v boys.” No, really he did actually say this.

The ctrl-v generation is causing a bit of consternation in education. The GCSE coursework debate is ironically in response to the solution to the lack of "author authenticity". Course-work is now carried out in-class under supervision - so called "controlled assessment". 

The organisational nightmare that this creates has eaten into the time available to teach, to such an extent that it has all got a bit silly - hence it will be dropped.

In response also to the ctrl-v generation, are plagiarism filters. They match students' work to a bank of known phrases from existing academic work. You won’t get far trying to pass off, "It’s a far better thing I do now..." as your own. 

Students applying for university through UCAS are rightly terrified of the filters which can spot that, "My dream and passion is to study medicine for the benefit of all peoples," just may not be your original phrasing, especially if the applicant hails from rural Tajikistan.

The filters can be fun though. The infamous "Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier" did not pass muster and was traced to a postgrad’s thesis. More recently, they found improbably high matches between police reports filed during the miners’ strike of the 1970s - shock!

What filters are out there? Loads, so to make it manageable, let’s confine ourselves to those that plug-into the No1 virtual learning environment (VLE) Moodle. Nowadays, when you "hand stuff in", it means you upload it to Moodle.

What follows is ctrl-c, ctrl v from Moodle’s plugin pages:

Plagiarism: Compilatio plagiarism plugin ( complilatio is legal in UK)

Plagiarism: Crot Plagiarism Checker ( made in Siberia!)

Plagiarism: Moss ( detects source code)

Plagiarism: Turnitin plagiarism plugin ( we use this at college)

Plagiarism: URKUND plagiarism plugin (?)

Plagiarism: PlagScan ( JPlag java thing)

For the giant VLE Blackboard we can add to the above with:

Plagiarism: SafeAssignment

For UCAS we have:

Plagiarism: CopyCatch

Finally a well advertised free one:

Plagiarism: Plagiarism_Check

"Turnitin" is the most popular of the above and most are based on two engines: the MOSS engine and the JPlag engine. The methods of detection include "fingerprinting", which is basically n-gram matching. 

That is, a document will always have structural, word and grammatical characteristics of its own - almost unique, hence fingerprint analogy. Then, we have simple string-matching and finally, how about the science of stylography?

N-graming my blogs was easy (not that anyone is going to copy them!) - lots of parentheses and ellipses, short paragraphs and an over-use of collusive phrases. ("Let’s do this and that.")

Here come my students back from the library. I’m pretty sure I won’t need the filters to spot the similarities.

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