We are Anonymous

We are Anonymous

To combat cheating, the University of Oldenburg recently implemented an online tool (PlagScan) to assess the degree of possible plagiarism in student reports and theses.

(As an extreme bit of irony, the program came online the day after I submitted a report on a thesis where there were some instances of sloppy plagiarism. I couldn’t investigate it further because there was no online tool available, the IT-Department naturally having suspended access to the previous one while setting up the current one.)

Use of PlagScan is relatively straight forward. In the University’s online teaching system, you set up a folder in one of your courses that is designated for the program and any file in it gets automatically and magically scanned for any instances of plagiarism. However, because the PlagScan folder is necessarily public (the folder can either be designated for the program or made invisible, but not both), it was explicitly pointed out in the grand announcement of the new service that any personal information in the work should be removed to preserve anonymity and to maintain data privacy.

Let’s follow the train of logic on this one and see where it derails, shall we?

  1. All the students in my group are working on individualized projects. (To maintain anonymity, we’ll label these projects as A, B, C, ...)
  2. Everyone in my group knows what very specific project everyone else in the group is working on.
  3. I have just uploaded an anonymous thesis reporting on very specific project A to a public PlagScan folder to check for possible plagiarism. Both the folder and the results of the check are accessible by everyone in my group.
  4. Gee, now who could have written that thesis?

So far, my working, but far from efficient, “solution” to this problem has been to create an invisible folder and then to bury the PlagScan folder within that, with the hope that the latter becomes invisible to the students but not to the program. (No idea if this feeble hope has been crushed yet.)

My request for a real solution has been forwarded on to the IT-Department for speedy resolution.

(Stand: 17.11.2020)