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Turnitinica Mars

It was probably only a matter of time, what with Veronica Mars headed to college and all, for plagiarism to find its way into the plot of at least one episode. And tonight it did, as Veronica's paper for her Criminology class is "lit up like a Christmas tree" by the "plagiarism scanner" used at Hearst College to police its students. Don't read on if the episode's sitting on your TiVo...

Perhaps the most interesting part about the the episode is the fact that the "plagiarism" is engineered by the TA of the course and one of Veronica's classmates. The classmate "reports" the cheating because V has blown the class curve as the only person in the class to get an A on the paper. There's more to the story than this for the purpose of the episode, but the questions of how much security such "scanners" have and to what degree an enterprising student might be able to game them are questions that I haven't seen raised much. Now, part of that is that I don't pay a whole lot of attention to those discussions, as I'm pretty much solidly on the side of better teaching, but still, I'd be surprised if our enterprising, privatized plagiarism police spend a lot of time advertising the weaknesses of their systems.

At one of the schools I've been at, there were groups of students who used their student work positions in campus offices to reserve spots for their friends in certain courses, so it doesn't exactly strike me as beyond the pale that people interested in preserving the curve could sabotage classmates if they so chose. There's a lot of money to be made, and not just in terms of plagiarism, in centralizing and aggregating educational administration, but these kinds of systems are much more vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. The further away these "scanners" are moved from the site of instruction, the less likely it is that teachers will exercise any sort of judgment, and the more likely it is that vulnerabilities will be exploited.

That's pretty much it--time to watch the Midtacular.