Turn-It-In 2.0

18 April 2016

The University of Melbourne is currently trialling new anti-plagiarism software, known as Cadmus.

Developed by two Engineering graduates working for the Melbourne Accelerated Program, Cadmus is an online, monitored space – similar to Google Docs – where students write assessments in a platform programmed to record any potentially suspicious activity. This includes copy-pasting large slabs of text, regardless of source location, and contains detailed information about how and when assessments are written. A response to the threat of essay submissions purchased from third-parties, Cadmus utilises keyboard biometrics to identify the student and to determine whether another text is being transcribed. Data on how the assessment is written is stored and potentially accessible to assessors.

Various concerns about equity and access, along with the Orwellian nature of the software, have been raised. Most salient is the concern that such data runs the risk of prejudicing markers. A marker’s objectivity could be compromised, for instance, knowing that an assessment was written the day it was due. Additional criticisms include the fact Cadmus requires both internet access and a mobile phone, therefore potentially disadvantaging students.

Paul Sakkal, an Education Academic officer at UMSU, is concerned about the potentially perilous and long-term implications of the software. “Cadmus would seriously alter the way assessments are conducted at university and these problems would extend far into the future. If assessors have detailed access to a student’s essay-writing process, there is potentially scope for an egregious breach of privacy to occur.”   

Professor Richard James, Director of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education and Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC) Academic, emphasised the need for a robust response to academic dishonesty.

“Plagiarism is a serious threat to the sector,” he says. “What’s at stake, amongst other things, is the reputation, strength and integrity of higher education. Cheating isn’t just a commercial concern; it undermines public confidence in Australian institutions and devalues Australian degrees. This software is an imaginative technical response to issues of originality.”

Also overseeing the trial is Professor Gregor Kennedy (PVC, Educational Innovation), who says that if implementation occurs, it would be in a “slow, diplomatic fashion, [with] appropriate checks and balances in place”. Both are happy to speak to the media and student representatives about the project. UMSU Education Academic plans to launch a campaign to raise awareness, express disapproval and gauge student perspectives. Cadmus is currently being trialled in six subjects.

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