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How I Use Fixgerald in My Classroom as a Professor

Plagiarism Cases and Statistics

22 Dec 2022

The author of this article is Amelia Kornback, a professor of English Literature with over 14 years of experience now. Fixgerald asked her to share her experience of using our plagiarism checker in the classroom and share all the details with fellow colleagues.

Use of plagiarism checker in the classroom

How to catch a cheating student with plagiarism checker 

As many educators will agree, catching a cheating student is becoming even more challenging. The students use the same tools and tricks as we do. Modern students are smart and implement things like mosaic plagiarism and adjustment of all the bits of text to avoid similarities. It’s the reason why an educator must check the assignment manually before starting with the plagiarism checker. Since most students will use plagiarism checkers themselves, there will be no issues. The students will submit their papers only when they know that the checkers did not catch anything.

During my worklife I’ve implemented some specific techniques that show me whether an essay is plagiarized or not. Of course, when I deal with a student, I already know whether a person is diligent and how much trust I can put in them. Still, here I tried to provide some more objective ways to catch a cheater. The main tricks that I use are:

  • Check for the style of the student and the grammar that has suddenly changed. If there are major changes and style shifts, then it is a reason for concern. I use Fixgerald for both plagiarism and grammar. You don’t necessarily need to check all the paper. If you can see that the previous assignment of a student has been filled with mistakes and tool’s suggestions and the new one is perfect, check things twice. The same goes about the different parts of the paper. We all know that one: it’s not always the whole paper students plagiarize.
  • You can check through the individual sentences, paragraphs, or pieces if you have concerns. This way, a plagiarism checker will be more strict and act in a different way. You should play with the volume of the content to see whether it will check the original sources and scan things differently. 
  • If you can see readability issues and realize that there have been too many odd sentences, you can edit the text a little bit and scan it once again. It will work like re-engineering where the plagiarism checker will help you to scan things again to identify specific issues. 
  • Check for the use of sources and have a look through the references that have been used by the student. See where else they have been met by actually visiting the websites where the quotes and citations have been used. It usually takes me about five minutes to determine if the plagiarism checker has been tricked by the smart student. When you compare the text before and after the quote, you will see if there is any reason for concern. 
  • Check the structure. If there is no structure, you will instantly see whether the assignment has been copied from somewhere else and patched together. You can scan single paragraphs and check them via plagiarism detection tools. It will show you more details when comparing the smaller chunks to the databases. When there are several different pieces in the complete assignment, there will be a different similarity percentage. Not many students know about this kind of checking, which is why I always process things this way. 

Ask your students about what they have written and request small revisions. If the student understands what has been done, you can be sure that the student has at least read what has been submitted. If there are odd sentences and the learner simply repeats the same words without any editing, there is a concern for plagiarism. Still, you should check things twice and not believe the plagiarism detection tools and the reports that you might receive. Since there can be false alerts, it’s necessary to discuss things with the student or consult your fellow professors in case you are unsure. 

How to act when your student is cheating? 

I’m sure that most of us have faced unpleasant cases of students cheating and not admitting to that. I belong to those university professors who believe that kicking a student out is not the way to go. It won't teach an important lesson. I always turn to discussions and do my best to motivate students to avoid cheating even if things seem too challenging and there is not enough time. I believe that students cheat because of fear. There is not enough engagement in the learning process and a lack of support from educators, which forces modern learners to seek alternatives to achieve writing perfectness.

The students want their assignments to look perfect and do not feel confident as they do not even consider including their personal opinions or ideas. When I encounter a case of plagiarism where a student has read the content and tries to defend what has been written, I try to ask for a revision where a person must include more of a personal opinion instead of the content that has been copied. The common rule is not to reveal that you know about plagiarism, which is why it’s a sensitive issue that most educators won’t even discuss. 

However, when I can see that the student has cheated by copying someone else's work entirely and has done their best by using plagiarism checkers to encrypt things, I will act in a stricter way and confront the evidence privately. If the student won’t admit to the crime, I’ll discuss the dangers of plagiarism and academic dishonesty by showing various examples and talking about going through the same risks as an educator.

Some students will learn how to avoid mistakes in the future, yet it's not always the case. Sometimes I encounter individuals who will act in a rude way, which is a direct indication of taking action. Even when you confront them and talk about the report, they will insist that they aren’t to blame or state that the assignment is too complex and it’s not a case of plagiarism. When such a case is faced, there are no multiple opinions. It’s not a pleasant thing to do and you must collect sufficient evidence before you place any claim. Still, I always do my best to help the students see the plagiarism problem through a moral lens before I turn to extreme measures. 

Testing Fixgerald in the class

Despite my efforts to instruct students regarding proper referencing and paraphrasing, many students continued to submit written assignments that contain significant amounts of plagiarized material. That does not necessarily mean that those assignments were suspicious or totally plagiarized. A lot of students face unintentional plagiarism issues just because they don’t have the access to the right tools.

So, I was wondering how much the access to the plagiarism checker helps students cope with their challenges during their studies. I decided to do a test to find out for sure.

Methodology or the way I did it

The main idea was to divide my students into 2 small groups, which, under the same conditions, would test the use of the plagiarism checker on the example of Fixgerald and the second group, which would not have this access. I conducted this test with my first year English Literature class.

The course included five substantial written assignments throughout the semester. Students submitted drafts of the assignments to me with the first group testing it for plagiarism with Fixgerald prior to submission.

After each draft was submitted, we discussed the possible plagiarized text parts with the groups or individual students. They could defend the parts of their paper and confront the results of Fixgerald if they saw the need. If so, we’d sit, look at the source and analyze whether the part can truly be considered plagiarism or not based on the source itself.

I then collected the statistics for every assignment for both groups to compare how it impacted their plagiarism performance.

Results

The results were even more stunning than I expected. Starting from the third work, the level of originality in the texts of the students of the group that worked with the Fixgerald plagiarism checker has grown significantly. At the end of the course, the average level of uniqueness in the assignments of students in the first group reached 94%. This means that they were able to write with virtually no plagiarism. At the same time, for the group working on a regular flow, this figure was 76% (we see that despite the available tools, the ability to write unique assignments grows by the end of the course).

Returning to my previous statements, yes, we can say that the plagiarism rate does not always mean that the students wrote their papers themselves, but even my own observations show a significant improvement in the quality of the papers of those students who used the plagiarism checker.

Assignment

Group 1 av. originality score

Group 2 av. originality score

1

68%

66%

2

74%

69%

3

91%

72%

4

92%

71%

5

94%

76%

 

I believe that there are several factors that led to the success of this experiment:

  1. Use of Fixgerald and individual talks with the group about the plagiarism levels and the questionable parts encouraged more experiential learning. Instead of dealing with simple instructions and university guidelines, the students were motivated to study the sources and work on their citing and paraphrasing skills.
  2. Unlike many plagiarism checkers, Fixgerald allowed students to check their papers over and over without it being considered plagiarism right after the first submission (e.g. Turnitin). It allowed them to get constant feedback on every stage of writing the assignment. 
  3. Active feedback from me on the plagiarism scores provided by the tool allowed students to the perspective of professors on the matter of plagiarism.
  4. Additional grammar and style checks allowed students to improve their general performance by eliminating the basic grammar or structure issues.

92% of the students from the first group admitted that using Fixgerald for their studies was useful and helped them with writing assignments. 64% stated that they started to use the tool for the other courses they’re taking. 58% plan on continuing using Fixgerald for their further studies.

What other tools I use in class

Some other tools that I approach when I am working with the class is the Quizlet app, which is a great way to create presentations by using a plethora of different templates that can be searched via the keyword. It helps me to keep things original and avoid scenarios where I may be risking violating someone's intellectual property. As an educator, it's essential to show a good example to students and explain how the freebies can be used or how some editing can be done to an already existing template based on specific facts. Regardless if you are dealing with English Literature or Engineering, you must provide a positive experience for the students and show the most efficient methods to research things.

Another interesting tool that I am using to keep things private when I need to discuss something with the students without letting the class know is Slack. It's a great content management system that only requires a web browser. It has all the necessary features to discuss things via text content, audio, or video conferencing. It's sufficient to share a link with a student and share some files while pointing out some issues like plagiarism. Since we won't have to deal with the campus environment, Slack is a good place where students can feel safe and admit to unpleasant issues. I have used Slack to provide examples and alert students of the changes that they could make to avoid academic failure. It's also much faster than most campus interfaces, so if you need to get things done quickly, it's one of the tools to consider.

As an educator, I often have to record the comments that are made by my students while I am discussing their assignments or leaving comments. Since most of it is now done orally and not via the digital realm, it's always helpful to use an audio recorder. The one that I tend to use more is the Neutron Audio Recorder app. You can choose any of the alternatives, yet Neutron is the free one and can work both with mobile and desktop interfaces. It has many advanced features, so I can check the discussions that have taken place earlier in the day so I do not forget all the important questions and can replay them later as I work with the comments and revisions. I also recommend it to my students, so they can avoid self-plagiarism and stand for the truth when they have to defend their claims. 

Final words

Summing things up, it's necessary for every educator to look into the usefulness of plagiarism checkers such as Fixgerald and implement them while scanning things differently and talking to the students by teaching them how to stay honest. The main purpose is to help students learn and cooperate by keeping transparency while teaching.

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