What's Your Originality Score?

Danny Wahl's picture Danny Wahl  •   •  Education

We all know anti-plagiarism software. They take a piece of work and then tell the teacher and the student how original it is. It's a crazy business model. What's even crazier is that schools fork out the cash for it.

So here's the thing, basically these softwares do a search for you and return a certainty-based percentage score that tells you how "original" a student's work is. That's not a very robust feature set for what schools pay for it.

I know the argument is coming about not being able to put a price on academic integrity and blah blah blah, but here's the thing: In higher ed. plagiarism is grounds for immediate failure of the class if not expulsion. When's the last time you expelled a kid, or flunked a kid? Because they're sure as shit plagiarizing. So what are you paying for then? And there's a good counter-point to be made which talks about if it's actually bad to plagiarize or not, but I'm not going there today.

Here's what I want to ask. What's your originality score? You, as a teacher, or even as an individual. If we took the contents of your course and fed them into a search engine that could look across all the internet (including other courses) what percentage would it say is original? Handouts, writing prompts, science experiments, quiz questions, home work, all of it. And don't tell me "but standards" because the point of standards is that you have the freedom to customize the things above as long as they align with the standards.

Put yourself in the shoes of a student as we walk though an imaginary class.

Teacher: Read your textbook (that I didn't write), then download the handout (that I copied off the internet w/o citation) from the course (that an instructional designer made for me). And don't forget that tomorrow we have a quiz (written by a publisher) that includes a reflective essay (which I will assess using canned feedback from the SIS).

Student: ...

Doesn't that reek of hypocrisy? At least a little? Yes, teachers gotta teach. Yes, they're busy because they have 4 preps. Students are busy too; they get this daily from 5 to 9 different teachers.

The point is: Why aren't we leading by example? If it's okay for us to take (hopefully legally!) resources that approximate what we wish to express and rearrange them to suit our purposes, then why can't students? Or, if original expression is so important that saying something unoriginal is grounds for expulsion- shouldn't it also be grounds for termination?