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Student plagiarism will soon become significantly easier to detect — at least for those professors who decide to use the library’s new plagiarism software.

SafeAssign is a plagiarism detection tool that works within the Blackboard courseware system.

Professors are in the process of testing the system through a pilot program. The tool will be put to use next semester.

Students of an instructor who uses SafeAssign will submit papers to their course site, much like the way they currently turn in papers on BlackBoard. However, when submitted through the SafeAssign interface, the papers will be checked against SafeAssign’s databases of source material.

These databases include publicly available items on the internet, as well as Penn’s own document archives, containing all papers that have previously been submitted via the site.

“There’s never been a University-wide tool in use for detecting plagiarism,” said Penn Libraries Director of Public Services Marjorie Hassen. “Faculty have always used their own methods in detecting student plagiarism. We’re simply providing another tool that faculty can use should they wish to.”

Students will upload their assignments as usual. Faculty can then make zip files of each assignment and upload them to the SafeAssign software.

Each paper is then assigned a percentage figure according to how much information in the assignment matches other sources in the software’s database.

“There’s no specific threshold to say what constitutes direct plagiarism,” said Amanda Chudnow, the library’s courseware manager. “A large percentage could just sometimes indicate a false positive — a student could just have used a lot of footnotes, for example.”

Several tests are being conducted, including matching a sample student paper to Wikipedia and journal sources. The software should highlight the sections of the student’s paper that are a direct transmission from other sources.

SafeAssign also offers the option of a Global Reference Database that contains papers from other Blackboard client institutions.

Penn students’ papers would also be available to other institutions using the software. According to Hassen, however, Penn will not be contributing to this database “for reasons of privacy and security.”

College sophomore Charley Ma said he would not be concerned about privacy issues, even if this aspect of the software were instated.

“My high school used a similar system,” he said. “I don’t really see why anyone should be worried about privacy.”

The system may not change some faculty members’ habits at all, according to Hassen.

“Those who choose just to have their students submit a paper copy of assignments may continue to do so, even with this new software being made available,” she explained.

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