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Anti-Plagiarism: SafeAssign at Otago


This page contains general information for staff about Blackboard’s anti-plagarism tool (SafeAssign) at the University of Otago. We would like to thank Bill Purdie, from Academic Services, for providing this information.


Why we have SafeAssign


In July 2009 a Working Group on Plagiarism set up by the Committee for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT) submitted its report. The report and its recommendations were approved by the Senate in October 2008. As a result of the Working Group’s recommendations –

  • SafeAssign was made available via Blackboard for use by staff
  • Additional information concerning plagiarism (designed primarily for students) will be made available on the University website in late 2009/early 2010.
  • Attempts are being made to make the use of SafeAssign, and the existence of web information about plagiarism, as widely known as possible within the student community
  • Reviews of the effectiveness of SafeAssign, and of other measures being put in place, will be conducted at the end of 2010, and again at the end of 2011.  Although the 2010 review has taken place, the report has not gone to Council yet, so SafeAssign is operating “as is” until Council advise whether there are any changes to the service.

What is SafeAssign?

SafeAssign is an originality checking software tool which can report matches between sections of student work submitted to it, and other material to which SafeAssign has access (i.e. material available via the internet, and content of other student assignments which have previously been submitted to SafeAssign). Such originality checking tools are also often referred to as plagiarism detection tools.

The use of SafeAssign is left to the discretion of individual Departments and/or academic staff. It is accepted that usage might range from some staff choosing to use the software tool only when they have some concern about the originality of a specific student assignment, to others requiring all student work for specific assignments to be submitted via SafeAssign.

The intention is to make a potentially useful tool easily accessible for staff to use as they deem appropriate; not to cause considerable and potentially unrewarded additional workload for staff by attempting to dictate the types and extent of usage.

It was also recognised that a key value in making an originality checking tool generally available within this University, and in making students aware of this, is its potential to act as a deterrent to deliberate plagiarism.

What SafeAssign Can, and Cannot Do

SafeAssign can check student work submitted to it against material which is accessible via the internet, or other student material from this University previously submitted to SafeAssign. As a consequence, its usefulness will be limited in subject areas where much of the material students might be tempted to use exists still only in hard-copy form.

Limitations of SafeAssign and risks associated with its use

  1. Any originality checking tool can only report that some evidence of possible plagiarism exists. Staff need to be aware of the dangers of assuming that plagiarism has definitely occurred, and of the importance of investigating carefully any matches reported, before proceeding any further;
  2. SafeAssign will report matches of material that are identified, even if the student has fully and correctly referenced the sources;
  3. SafeAssign is primarily limited to checking against material which is accessible via the internet or other material previously submitted to it from this University. Failure to detect any plagiarism is not a guarantee that none exists;
  4. A match might be reported with material from another student assignment. This could possibly indicate collusion between students, but is not proof of collusion – it is possible that both students used material from the same source, but it was the match between students which was reported, rather than a match with the ‘original’ source;
  5. SafeAssign may correctly report collusion or unauthorised copying between students, but cannot be expected to identify the ‘prime culprit’. In addition, if the plagiarising student’s work happened to be submitted to the checking tool before the assignments of the other student(s), then it may well have received a ‘clean’ report.

Other information concerning Plagiarism

Dealing more effectively with the issue of plagiarism has much wider implications than simply making an originality checking software tool such as SafeAssign available. Other possible measures might include –

  • improved awareness and education of what plagiarism actually is, and how best to avoid it, including easy access to information resources – for both students and staff. This will be made available on the University website. The intention is not necessarily to replace existing web material made available by individual Departments (providing it is consistent with the information on the corporate web pages), but Department web pages might well include links to the corporate pages, and it is envisaged that departmental hand-outs to students will include references to these corporate web pages;
  • appreciating that plagiarism is not simply an academic integrity issue – it is also an ethical, copyright, and legal issue;
  • being aware of, and addressing, the cultural issues involved – i.e. the academic context in which this University operates places a very high value on full acknowledgment and referencing of the words and ideas of others, but not all cultures see plagiarism as being ‘wrong’;
  • making academic staff aware that approaches can be used in both course and assignment design which significantly reduce the likelihood of plagiarism, and HEDC can offer guidance in this regard

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