A different take on plagiarism detection

I found this interesting piece by Steve Buttry  (a US journalist) on the evils of plagiarism and data fabrication in the newspaper industry this morning. What struck me as useful was the idea of using a Google Alert to pick up stories of interest, as opposed to the favoured academic practice of running students’ work through detection services like Turnitin or Safe Assign. I’ve been involved with Turnitin for years, and increasingly it’s approach strikes me as a rather crude approach to detecting plagiarism. In many ways we can usually tell whether a piece of work has been plagiarised simply by reading it.  – Turnitin’s role seems to be mostly to confirm the offence by identifying the original source.  (I’m not saying that’s not useful, or that Turnitin doesn’t have a role. Besides Turnitin’s other tools, like Grademark and PeerMark are very helpful)

The advantage of setting up a Google Alert on topics relevant to the assignment you are setting your students is that you are notified of a much wider range of sources than Turnitin will identify, and rather more quickly than Turnitin’s robots will find them.  The disadvantage is that you have to read them! Of course the students can use the same technique to research the topic, but presumably that makes any plagiarism easier to detect.  I’m not suggesting that we should abandon Turnitin at all. I’ve always seen detection services as one tool among many to help fight plagiarism. Can’t think why I never thought of Google Alerts in this context before.