New Blackboard tool designed to detect plagiarism

Caitlin Carter

Most students wouldn’t admit to taking someone else’s work.

But many students tend to plagiarize papers without even realizing it, said Wren Mills, instructional coordinator for the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching.


SafeAssign is a plagiarism-detection tool implemented through Blackboard this semester, Mills said.

She said the tool can be used in two different ways.

“It can be used to submit drafts so students can see where they’ve missed documenting or where they’ve maybe not documented as well as they should have,” Mills said. “And it can also be used to submit completed assignments. That paper is actually added to the database to check for plagiarism, and then the teacher can see the results.”

The database compares articles to information from a submitted paper, she said. It also searches the Internet for any matches.

Mills, also an English professor, said she doesn’t use SafeAssign on every paper that is submitted to her.

“With all the assignments I give, if I see anything suspicious, I’ll submit a student’s paper to it individually,” Mills said. “And I think that’s probably what a lot of professors will do instead of Googling. That way, they have a little more reliable information.”

The tool isn’t 100 percent fool-proof, Mills said. Sometimes SafeAssign will mark an area of the paper as plagiarized that a student didn’t properly cite.

“It catches unintentional plagiarism,” she said. “When teachers begin to use it, they’ll have to use it with a grain of salt. They can’t just say, ‘Oh, it says 10 percent plagiarized, so that student plagiarized.’ They need to actually look at the paper.”

She said she encounters plagiarism at least three or four times per semester, but thinks other teachers’ numbers will vary on how often they check for it.

“As an English teacher, I get used to students’ writing, and then all of a sudden something funny may pop up that is obviously not somebody’s own writing,” Mills said.

Sally Kuhlenschmidt, director of the center, sent an e-mail to faculty in which she advised teachers to include a warning in their syllabi that says student work is subject to the new plagiarism detection software.

Kuhlenschmidt said the warning may prevent certain cases of plagiarism because students will know the chances of being caught are greater.

Elkton junior Laura Sullivan said she thinks there are a handful of students who regularly plagiarize.

Sullivan said that number, though, may drop once students find out about SafeAssign.

“It will definitely act as a plagiarism deterrent,” she said.