Professor’s program could be valuable tool for students

To catch students who plagiarize, USF faculty have the option of using a program called Safe Assignment through the Blackboard Web site.

Professors have the option of making the program available to everyone, but most choose to keep the site closed to students.

According to the program’s Web site, Safe Assignment is designed specifically for the Blackboard Learning System to help educators detect and provide proof when a paper has been plagiarized.

“We license from the company called My Drop Box, and that is the way they designed it,” Associate Director of Academic Computing Alicia Balsera said.

The program highlights plagiarized material and gives a grade based on a matching score.

According to the site, overall matching score is basically an average of all sentence scores, weighted by sentence length and word frequency and usage.

According to Balsera, students at other universities found that checking stories with a plagiarism program such as Safe Assignment was helpful.

Some students and faculty at USF also think making the program available to students could be a learning tool.

“Would you leave the spell check on your Word to the discretion of your instructor and still accept points off on a paper when you spell words wrong?” USF graduate student Charles O’Brien said. “Technology like this is meant to help students become self-sufficient and to learn what constitutes plagiarism.”

But sociology professor Rebecca Hensley said students don’t need to use the program because they should already know about plagiarism.

“If you haven’t plagiarized then you won’t have to check it,” Hensley said. “It’s remarkably easy to tell sometimes that someone has plagiarized because you will be reading and it will sound one way and then all of a sudden it won’t.”

To combat plagiarism, some professors try other teaching methods.

“(Safe Assignment) is a bad way to go,” English graduate student and teaching associate Toni Francis said. “I think it’s better to teach instructors how to come up with new and challenging and exciting writing assignments, rather than asking students to write the same paper on abortion or capital punishment. A lot of it is not learning how to cite correctly, it’s unintentional plagiarism, where students need to learn how it is you document information you get from other sources. But the problem is that teachers are giving the same assignments over and over again. If you create new and challenging assignments, then you don’t have a problem with plagiarism.”