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The JISC Plagiarism Blackboard Building Block: 7 out of 10, room for improvement

As an aside, this discussion is hot on the heels of the CourseGenie article in BBMatters 5 th Edition, so I’m starting to think perhaps I should re title this to “a letter from the West Country” ;-)

The aim is to discuss the use of the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service through the JISC PDS Blackboard Building Block. Primarily, the intention is to address the following questions;

  1. What is it?
  2. How does it work?
  3. What are the issues associated with its use?

Some points worth mentioning are that the discussion is narrowly focused towards the use via Blackboard, and I’m simply going to side step the issue of developing an appropriate strategy to tackle plagiarism. Instead I’ll focus on the software. However, a coordinated strategy is important, as “the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service should be viewed as part of a strategy for preventing and detecting plagiarism – it is not a solution itself” Teaching Support Unit, University of Bristol (

I’ll focus on the ease of use for both staff and students and explain that a few modifications could significantly improve the experience of the person who is managing the process. Perhaps with these modifications the overall grade could creep up ;-)

To place the issue into context, we’ve been using the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service ( at the University of Bristol for over eighteen months. The initial pilot study was positive, identifying the potential of the software and it was deemed that this warranted further investigation. The University of Bristol has since committed itself to paying a subscription to access the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service and the Blackboard Building Block until at least August 2009. There are currently 60 registered users, which covers all the Faculties, and approximately 30% of the Academic Departments. The University of Bristol views that electronic detection tools are part of an integrated approach to tackling the issue of Plagiarism ( More information about the issue of Plagiarism at the University of Bristol is available through a recent issue of Interact by the Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS) (

An important driver for the relatively rapid uptake of the software has been the integration with Blackboard. The JISC software “ enables institutions and staff to carry out electronic comparison of students' work against electronic sources, and other students' work.” (JISC PAS Web Site). The Blackboard Building Block allows this to be managed through your Blackboard course, as opposed to having to login to the JISC software direct, and master yet another package. This reason is often cited by staff when discussing their initial thoughts on the software post training. The ease of use and the whole process being contained within a Blackboard course significantly reduced the perceived barriers to implementing the service at the course level.

As mentioned, once the building block has been installed it is very straight forward to use. In an attempt not to re-invent the wheel an online guide is available on the LTSS web site, “Using the JISC Plagiarism Software in Blackboard” - - and I’d refer you to that. However, as a succinct overview the process can be divided into 3 stages.

  1. Create an area on your Blackboard course where students can upload their assignment. This involves using the drop down menu on the right hand side within a content area and then completing a very simple form (standard Blackboard).
  2. Submitting an assignment, the student perspective. To upload a document the student needs to simply click on the appropriate area with the Blackboard course, and then upload the document. This is a similar process to how and instructor would, add a document to an item, i.e., browse and submit. The accepted file types are MS Word, WordPerfect, PostScript, PDF, HTML, RTF, and plain text. There is currently a 10MB file size limit.
  3. Accessing the results. The process of accessing the results is straight forward. Simply click on the JISC PDS Assignments, which will appear in the tools area on the control panel. Then select the name of the assignment you wish to view. The resulting table will allow you to view the originality report, download the assignment or view the assignment online for each person who has submitted.

The question must be, if it is so simple, then why suggest a grade of 7 out of 10 with room for improvement? The reasons are associated with some of the issues that we’ve encountered when using it at the University of Bristol.

Areas that might need addressing in the current version (JISC PDS Assignment Version 1.2.0) include;

  1. No option for anonymous submission. The current version doesn’t appear to offer anonymous submission. The document and the originality report are displayed next to the person’s name. This means that any person with access to the course control panel can see who submitted the work. A work around for some courses which have multiple instructors has been to create a second course in which only one person has instructor status. The students submit their work to this course, and that support person re-distributes the documents for printing/marking.
  2. Downloading the student scripts. Many courses are looking at the combining the use of the JISC Plagiarism Software with a shift to online submission of assignments. A practical problem with this has been that the student submissions can only be downloaded one at a time from the Plagiarism software via Blackboard, as opposed to the Blackboard Assignment Manager which offers batch download. The outcome is that individual download is not appealing on large courses due to the required time taken.
  3. File types. The compatible file types have been previously outlined. At the moment this does present problems for courses which require the submission of presentations (PowerPoint) as part of the students assessed work.
  4. Student extensions. As the use of online submission increases then system such as the JISC Software will need to be flexible enough to allow for student submission extensions. The current version allows all people to submit in a given time frame. Therefore, if students have been granted extensions then instructors have had to be more creative, for instance, creating a general submission area and requesting that student with extensions submit there, or the instructor needs to manually upload the document themselves. Both these approaches take more time.
  5. Drafts. Many students are encouraged to submit a draft of their assignment. In some cases this has also been uploaded to the JISC software and the student would receive comments on the originality report. This can be a very useful formative tool for students who are trying to master the scholarly skills as well as the discipline. However, this does mean that the instructor needs to create two incidences of the assignment uploaded, and must filter out the draft version when viewing the originality report. It would be nice if there was some way of offering a draft submission route which automatically filtered out any first submission by the same person.
  6. Student views. In discussion with instructors many propose that it might be useful to offer the student a view of the originality report, via the Blackboard Tools, similar to View Grades. At the moment this is not transparent, and students could gain through the use as a formative learning tool.
  7. Sharing originality reports. There is no facility to save an electronic copy of the submission report to be shared with others at a later date. This would be useful for evidence when investigating a case of plagiarism, or when using it as a formative tool with student.

The above outlines some of the issues we’ve encountered at the use of the software at the University of Bristol. In defence of the Blackboard Building Block, it is still very much in its infancy. However, as the use of online submission increases, we don’t want to be in the position where we are simply having to work harder to manage this whole process. There is a role for a process review and clearer guidelines on the most efficient submission management process that meets specific local needs. The LTSS are tentatively contributing to this discussion at the local level, through our Guide, “A strategy for using the JISC plagiarism software in Blackboard” (

For more information and the opportunity to share practice on the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service and the use of the Blackboard Building Block then I’d recommend that you join the JISCMail list,

I’d like to express my appreciation to Richard Edwards, who is a member of the Teaching Support Unit at the University of Bristol for his comments on an earlier draft.

Author: Andy Ramsden

22 June 2005

VLE: Blackboard



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