UOW researchers are targeting robo-writing tools which reword student work

Write your own work: Associate Professor Grace McCarthy and Dr Ann Rogerson at the University of Wollongong. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Write your own work: Associate Professor Grace McCarthy and Dr Ann Rogerson at the University of Wollongong. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Students using internet tools to improve their written assignments or mask their plagiarism are doing themselves more harm than good, two University of Wollongong academics say.

Ann Rogerson and Grace McCarthy of the UoW’s business school have completed a research paper showing the range and availability of free online tools to paraphrase large sections of text, including whole assignments.

Their attention was piqued one of Dr Rogerson’s postgraduate management students said another’s contribution to group work “did not make sense”.

The other student said they used the paraphrasing tool “so that the words were not the same as the original to avoid plagiarism” – they had taken the text from a journal article.

It's our job to maintain the stardards

Grace McCarthy

The rest of the group told the student that wasn’t good enough, and helped them with an original submission.

Another instance came when a student had mentioned “constructive employee execution” and “worker execution audits” in an assignment about performance reviews. When asked what this meant the student could not explain.

“Choosing to use output generated by these tools begs the question – is it original work, patchwriting or facilitated plagiarism?” the paper, published in the International Journal for Educational Integrity, asks.

“People are using the tools, trusting them as they would to convert a temperature on the internet, and thinking they’re reliable … trusting the tool when the tool shouldn’t be trusted,” Dr Rogerson told the Mercury.

“Particularly for students who are struggling with English, might be looking for translations and things to improve their English, but not realising the pitfalls of these tools.”

Associate Professor McCarthy said academics must safeguard the standard of the degree they teach.

“It’s our job to maintain the standards, and academic integrity is an important part of that,” she said.

“If we let people through who have just been cutting and pasting all over the place, who weren’t doing the research themselves, and didn’t understand what they’d written, then our graduates would go out into the workplace and say ‘well, what kind of university did they go to?’

“This is why we make such a thing of actually promoting it across the faculty, across the university – to not just the students but to our colleagues as well.”

Dr Rogerson will be discussing how to interpret reports from the Turnitin originality checker resource at noon on Thursday, March 16. Over 1000 people are registered. To join in the free webinar go to http://go.turnitin.com/Apac-WebcastInterpretingaSimilarityReport