Guilty until proven innocent?

There was considerable time spent on my part on the release of this new feature that teachers can incorporate into their workflow if they are using Google Classroom.

It’s called “Originality reports” and it’s Google’s spin on checking for plagiarism in student work.

It’s not the only player in the field. Just do a search in your favourite internet search engine for “plagiarism checker” and check out the results. In Ontario, another product has been licensed by the Ministry of Education.

The genesis of that licensing happened about the same time that online learning became popular. The logic was that since you couldn’t see the student face to face working on a project, there was no way that you could guarantee that the works submitted were her or his.

I remember discussing the product with our eLearning teachers at the time. Their response was pretty negative. Particularly those that were teaching English, they claimed that their professional judgement was better than any program. By working with the student for a semester, they were able to identify writing styles and literacy skills and could see it grow throughout their time together. Consequently, while the licensed product was available to them, none of them said that they had used it.

Now, to be honest, this was long before there was an “app for that” mentality for computer users. It would be interesting to have that conversation today.

Collaboration is something that I promoted when teaching Computer Science. Granted, we didn’t write long essays but I’d argue that any programmer develops their own individual coding style much like writers develop a writing style. When there were times when I questioned original work, it was a matter of sitting down next to the student and have her or him explain the program to me. Between that and my insistence on written documentation for each problem, I think I did an OK job of making sure that things were original.

Like many of the other products, Google starts off by promoting this product as an aid to help students submit their best work. In the next breath though, the article indicates that Google has access to billions of resources online. That makes sense – that’s one of the things that it does best. So, it’s not a huge leap to make the claim that work that isn’t properly cited is easily identified.

We live in a day and age of privacy concerns and Google addresses it in the announcement, claiming that the student work remains the student’s. Unless of course, they blog about it! But the announcement also indicates that there is a plan to expand this to creating a repository of past assignments for checking things already submitted at the school.

I think it’s going to be an interesting follow to see the success of this product.

  • will die-hard users of other products make the switch?
  • will it only be available in Google Classroom?
  • if a teacher was hesitant to use another product because of professional judgement, will they try this one?
  • will a demo at the beginning of the semester frighten everyone enough that it’s not needed throughout the course?
  • how will parents react to their child’s work being used by a Google product?
  • how many submissions for conference presentations will be focused on promoting this tool?

I’d be interested in reading your initial reaction to this product. Are you in or out? Why?

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3 thoughts on “Guilty until proven innocent?

  1. Hmmm.

    Way back when I started teaching, we had ONE Windows computer in the school, located in the library. I remember one instance when a student turned in a single page in response to an assignment. Unlike everyone else, who provided a hand written piece, this one was printed using a dot matrix printer and also included some additional text at the bottom of the page, “printed from Microsoft Encarta.” To quote the peasant Dennis from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Oh, what a giveaway!”

    In the one other instance in my memory, I was once very surprised to receive some significantly excellent poetry from a student. The poetry was really good. Adult quality good. This time, however, I was living in the age of Google and what do you think I got when I typed in one of the lines from the poem? Yup, the rest of the poem!

    I would like to think that most teachers have a good handle on where their students are from the day-to-day work and interactions with the students. When something shows up that is significantly out of line with the norm, it’s going to wave a red flag.

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