SafeAssign is an anti-plagiarism tool that generates originality reports on students' papers. Instructors who teach students about NAU's academic integrity policy and use SafeAssign effectively create a learning environment where students truthfully represent their work. SafeAssign is best used to give students practice in properly citing sources, although it can also be used to detect possible instances of intentional plagiarism.

Strategies for teaching students about plagiarism

Students frequently don't know what plagiarism is, so many instructors find it helpful to include information and assignments about plagiarism at the beginning of a course. Some instructors require students to complete an academic integrity tutorial or pass an online quiz about plagiarism. Other instructors require each student to submit a contract or sign an honor code saying that the student agrees to adhere to the university's no-cheating policy. Some instructors use the Introduction to Academic Integrity online tutorial as the basis for a group exercise in which students discuss how they would recognize and respond to a case of cheating. The e-Learning Center's instructional designers can assist faculty in devising other kinds effective learning activities related to plagiarism.

Strategies for addressing plagiarism violations

If you are able to confirm that your student has plagiarized, the NAU Acdemic Dishonesty Policy states that the instructor can enforce any of the following penalties on the student:

  • Assign the student extra course work.
  • Require the assignment or examination to be repeated.
  • Reduce the grade on the assignment or examination
  • Award a zero grade on the assignment or examination.
  • Reduce course grade by one letter grade.
  • Award a failing grade in the course.

It certainly is tempting to give your students the harshest penalty possibly whenever you confirm that they have plagiarized. However, if the goal is to make the student more aware of the importance of crediting sources and how to do it properly, you may be rewarded by a more measured approach. Consider the intent of the student where possible. Was the plagiarism a deliberate attempt to represent another's work as their own, or an unintentional failure to adequately cite the sources? Perhaps the penality for the first offense should be less harsh than the second offense. Perhaps offenses at the beginning of the semester or term should be less harsh than towards the end of the term. Whatever your strategy, make it clear to your students in your syllabus and in the first assignment what penalties they should expect with their first offense and then later ones. Try not to leave them guessing on what you might or might not do.

SafeAssign: An Online Plagiarism Detection Tool in Bb Learn

Despite your best efforts in preparing your students about plagiarism, students may intentionally or unintentially plagiarize during a written assignment like an essay, a discussion post, a term paper, a research paper, and so forth. SafeAssign, an online plagiarism detection tool in Bb Learn, creates originality matching reports that allow you to see at what percentage your students' text matches texts found on the internet and other online databases. While SafeAssign originality reports are not foolproof, they do provide you, the instructor, a way to gauge how accurately students are citing (or are not citing) and they can show when students are blatantly plagiarism (any originality report of 95% or greater matching is usually a good rule of thumb for gauging blatant plagiarism). With this said, if you ask your students to submit first and second drafts through safe assign then matching reports by the third or so assignment will detect a high percentage simply because the students are submitting revisions of the same paper. You need to factor this latter scenario in your analysis of the originality reports.

A Word of Caution When Using SafeAssign

You cannot assume that a high percentage matching report means that the student is guilty of plagiarism. When using SafeAssign, you must review each originality report and determine what might be happening. You might find that the student is having trouble citing properly or paraphrasing more or less verbatim. You might also find the student is citing properly with all resources listed. In other words, you have to determine why the matching report is revealing the particular percentage. A True Story - One instructor almost failed a student on a final paper based on high matching percentage until he realized that the student was revising an earlier version of the paper. Lessons learned.

While SafeAssign contains a fairly robust detection strategy, it may not always detect blatant plagiarism. The tool will not detect matches in more obscure print-based academic journals. Its best detection arrives with open internet materials and within the NAU generated database where students submit their papers to check for institutional plagiarism.

An Approach to SafeAssign

Using SafeAssign is most effective for you and your students coming from a pedagogical rather than a purely punitive approach. Make the assumption early on that students may not understand the breadth and depth of plagiarism and need to learn more comprehensively about plagiarism. For example, you can have your students submit a first "draft" (an option you can check in the SafeAssignment details), which performs an originality matching report for your students' work but is not included in the institutional database. They can then see for themselves what is causing a high matching percentage. You can then assist them in correcting their issues or refer them to resources that will help them do a better job. You can then have students submit a final version without checking the "draft" option, which will be included in the institutional and SafeAssign databases.

How to Use SafeAssign in Your Assignments

Blackboard provides a video tutorial and detailed instructions on how to use SafeAssign in assignments.