Detect, Deter, and Disappear:

the plagiarism prevention project at Bilkent University, Turkey

David Thornton


The purpose of the paper is to describe the on-going Plagiarism Prevention Project at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. The paper will begin with a short introduction to the academic situation at Bilkent University, followed by a detailed outline of the project, including the important role of the plagiarism detection programme Turnitin. We plan to share some preliminary results, as well as hopefully illicit suggestions and comments from other members of the Conference.

Founded in 1984, Bilkent University was the first private or “foundation” (vakıf) university in Turkey. Over a quarter of the instructors at Bilkent are international (i.e., non-Turks), and most of the Turkish faculty pursued their graduate or post-doctoral studies in Europe or North America. The greater part of teaching at Bilkent is done through the medium of English. The vast majority of Bilkent’s over 10,000 students are therefore second-language students, and the level of English-language competence varies significantly depending on the secondary educational background of the students. This creates a special problem for academic writing and is compounded by the fact that the multiple-choice system used in the annual National University Entrance Examination encourages rote learning and memorization. Many undergraduates at Bilkent University are therefore not fully prepared for a higher education that expects individual and critical thinking to be expressed formally in – what is for them – a second language. Under these circumstances, the opportunities to plagiarize and use other shortcuts offered by the Internet are therefore all the more tempting to our students. It is worth discussing whether or not alleged plagiarism committed by non-native English speaking students at international universities and colleges should be viewed and treated differently from that committed by anglophone students in the British Isles, North America or the Antipodes.

In the light of these problems, Bilkent University Library has recently launched the Plagiarism Prevention Project. The Project has developed from a one-off workshop for academics on plagiarism held at the University Library last year; and a short survey of workshop participants indicated that most felt strongly that plagiarism constitutes a serious problem at Bilkent. The Project will be co-ordinated by the Library but librarians will work closely with the academic and student communities throughout its implementation. For the University Library, the Project has a number of aims. On the one hand, plagiarism is not only a pedagogical problem faced by instructors, but is also a problem for information scientists: if plagiarism is viewed basically as the misappropriation and misuse of intellectual resources, then plagiarism prevention should go hand in hand with increasing the awareness and usage of the Library’s print and electronic resources by both students and academics. In addition, the Library is currently seeking to expand its role within Bilkent University, beyond its traditional and core function as custodian of data into a number of new areas, including the promotion of information literacy at Bilkent. The aims of the Plagiarism Prevention Project definitely fall within this broader remit.

The Project has three main elements. Firstly, we will prepare separate surveys for students and faculty members. Students will be asked to define plagiarism; to indicate whether they have ever plagiarized and, if so, how and why; and, to state whether they consider plagiarism to constitute a serious problem. Similarly, faculty members will be asked to share their views and opinions about plagiarism, both in general and also at Bilkent. The results of these surveys will hopefully go some way to demonstrate the perceived nature of the problem and will offer a preliminary understanding of why Bilkent students plagiarize. While individual surveys will be anonymous, respondents will be expected to supply some personal information, such as gender, department, age/year etc., which may serve to provide a broader perspective on their responses to the surveys. These surveys will represent the “theory” of plagiarism at Bilkent University.

Secondly, the University Library will promote the use of Turnitin. Bilkent University has subscribed to Turnitin since 2007, though usage to-date has been relatively low and, interestingly enough, largely by non-Turkish faculty. The workshop last year stimulated some increase in usage, but clearly the Library needs actively to encourage use of the database by the whole academic community. Instructors of large undergraduate survey courses will be asked to use Turnitin in their classes, and a variety of departments and student age cohorts will be targeted. In addition, the Library itself will systematically submit Master’s e-theses (dating from 2001 and later) to Turnitin. The raw data from Turnitin will accordingly be correlated with other information about the relevant students, such as grades, department, year, gender etc., to determine whether certain types of student are more likely to plagiarize than others. The results from Turnitin will represent the “reality” of plagiarism at Bilkent University.

Finally, the data from the surveys and Turnitin will be compared to determine to what extent the “theory” corresponds with the “reality” of plagiarism at Bilkent University. The two sets of data will also form the basis for a series of proposals to the University’s administration and to the departments about how best to prevent plagiarism at Bilkent. The main emphasis here will not just be detecting plagiarism more effectively or even simply deterring plagiarism by means of threats and penalties, but also on fostering an intellectual and academic environment in which students and faculty alike are inclined to study and research honestly for the sake of academic integrity and in which the problem of plagiarism may even “disappear”.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.