‘Text comparison software for students’: an educational development tool or quick ‘text checker’ –

examining student use and perceptions of value

Arlene Hunter


Many universities offer their students access to text-comparison software. This is typically done as a

means of engendering a strong sense of academic integrity across the student community, encouraging the development of good academic writing practices, and to help students become more aware of general issues associated with plagiarism. However, very few institutes have carried out follow-up studies to determine whether this is indeed the case, or whether the students simply use the software to avoid being ‘caught’.

Added to this lack of understanding of how students actually use text comparison software, is a lack of awareness of the role and influence of the academic in this process. Depending on how the software is presented to students, it can either be viewed as a formative learning tool that will engage them in a meaningful pedagogically-led discussion about their understanding, synthesis and critique of the academic literature, or as a deterrent, designed with the academic in mind to help reduce the number of cases that require some level of formal action.

Following an institutional wide review of its plagiarism policy and procedures, the UK Open University (UKOU) set about investigating whether text-comparison software specifically aimed at student use, could be integrated across the university. Given the potential scale at which this would need to operate (e.g. ~260 000 global undergraduate and postgraduate students, studying in an online and distance education environment, on ~570 modules, each assessed by a varying number of assignments), a lowresource solution was needed to ensure it could meet on-going management costs, be rolled out easily and effectively, and fulfil an educational development remit, rather than becoming a ‘quick check’ tool.

This paper reports some of the preliminary findings of a pilot study involving postgraduate Science students, examining how and when they used the text-comparison software, as well as evaluating their perceptions of this tool in terms of its value to their learning. As well as the quantitative data on actual student usage, the paper presents some initial qualitative data based on student perception of how this tool has added to their learning development. The paper ends by reviewing some practical and logistical issues from both an administrative and pedagogical perspective, that need to be considered when implementing text-comparison software for student use at the institutional level.

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.