Czech Universities using new technologies to catch plagiarists

From the beginning of this academic year, some university students will find it harder if they attempt to cheat. Thirteen public universities are going to use a special computer programme designed to uncover plagiarism, developed and tested by Brno's Masaryk University. It is the first time in Czech history that universities have tried to systematically battle plagiarism.

The anti-cheating system has been in use at Masaryk University for exactly a year now. Students' papers are registered in an electronic database which allows teachers to compare the papers against each other and against other sources from online servers and books. The system generates segments of texts similar to those that were fed into the database. During the first year the system has been in use, the University has uncovered 150,000 similarities in about 450,000 student's papers. Miroslav Kripac, one of the developers of the system, explains it doesn't necessarily mean so many students try cheating.

"The similarity does not mean cheating. The similarity means that one document contains parts that are similar with other documents and the system can exactly provide which part of the document is the same with any other document. So if you compare it you must check whether the student or the author of the document cheated or whether the similarity is normal because of quotations or because of referring to other papers or documents."

Some cases of plagiarism, however, have already been discovered at Masaryk University and a special committee is now deciding how to deal with the cheating students.

Yes, we have also found some papers that were plagiarized by students. There are more types of cheating. Some of them are included inside smaller homework, essays or papers. This type of cheating is usually solved by the teacher who sends the paper back to the student and the student must rewrite his or her homework. On the other hand we found also some plagiarism in theses. Today we have three cases when some students plagiarized their thesis and based on this experience the university may cancel his studies.

With plagiarism being a world-wide problem, I wondered if the university could have used some ready-made system instead of developing their own one:

"We were looking for available solution but we didn't find anything that could be so easily integrated into our environment and no other solution as far as I know is so exactly prepared not only for English but also for Czech and Slovak languages. And finally this solution is very exact. It exactly shows which parts were plagiarized."

The team from Masaryk University would like to make their database available to all public universities in the Czech Republic in the future. They have already applied for a financial aid of 8 million crowns at the Ministry of Education. If they go ahead with their plan, dishonest university students may have to change their ways.