It had to happen. My Second Life was running along smoothly (meaning that I have had fewer whiney emails from students saying that their friends have been stealing their toy bricks). And then the fearsome spectre of plagiarism loomed large over my lab session.
Plagiarism makes academics wail and gnash their teeth. International students often don't understand the concept, and undergraduates treat it with the same deference as they treat copyright on illegal downloads. Staff in my department are extremely suspicious of course work only modules because they worry that it isn't the student's work we are assessing. I mounted quite a campaign to get a 100% coursework module approved. Not to make it easier for students to plagiarise, you understand, but to make it a fairer form of assessment for the sort of content I teach.
For the portfolio assessment on my SL module there is only one aspect which now worries me about plagiarism and that is the Linden scripting. In the lab yesterday the tutor and I found that the MSc students (yes, international students) were naively complaining to us "this script doesn't work". They would show us a relatively complicated piece of code and tell us what they wanted it to do. Alarm bells would start ringing when we realised that the students had no clue about the simplest features of the code. Or they would have the most basic and blatant of misconceptions. Or they would dig themselves deep into holes by revealing that they couldn't answer simple questions about what a function did and weren't even able to demonstrate they could competently look up the documentation to find out. Others would show us a script which they had downloaded and explain how they had changed it, but only by altering a single parameter. You know, like changing red sparks to blue sparks. I'm going to award MSc passes for changing 3 numbers? I think not. And to further outrage me, one of them said "but there are lots of examples online. Why can't we just use them?".
OK, so there is some subtlety relating to learning from examples and using library code in computer science. It's not a good idea to re-invent the wheel and write a lot of code which has been done more elegantly and efficiently before. But there is a point to assessing people's programming abilities based on programs they have written themselves! Doh! I have explained this time and again to the class. I have taken the view that maybe they were borrowing scripts because their own scripting skills weren't good enough. So I ran extra classes to help with scripting concepts. Now I take the view that after all these warnings that if I see plagiarism when I mark this stuff there will be a trail of destruction and failing grades where ever my red pen falls, so help me God.
How will I know when I see plagiarism, my canny academic colleagues might wonder. At the moment, I intend to use an online detector like Turnitin which is integrated with our VLE (or another system which is recommended by colleagues). It should help by identifying scripts which are similar to those online, although not those which are in world in SL. But I think my best bet is the learning logs the students have to submit. If they can't satisfactorily explain what they learned and what they made in their learning logs, then they will be invited to explain their code verbally to me in a viva. Based on what I have seen of the blogs so far, this seems a promising avenue. For example, a student I know to have copied scripts has written about how he discovered it isn't all about cut and paste because the scripts don't work if you do that (!) And some students who are very good programmers blog it in a lot of technical detail which reveals the depth of their geeky understanding.
Ok, now to put the fear of my Red Pen of Destruction into the students.