PROF DR AHMAD HASHEM is the General Manager
(Chief Technology Offi cer) of METEOR Technology
& Consultancy Sdn Bhd. One of his projects is to
implement a system called “similarity checker” as part of
OUM’s efforts to combat plagiarism. Let’s here what he has
to say about it.
Harvinder: Plagiarism is considered a serious problem in
almost all learning institutions worldwide. I understand
OUM is not spared this problem too and has lately been
using a system called “similarity checker”. Please tell us
more about this system.
Prof Ahmad: A similarity checker is not a plagiarism
detection system. All plagiarism detection systems compare
each submitted essay against internal and external sources.
The external sources include freely available material on the
Internet, digital subscription databases of reference material
and other proprietary sources. Plagiarism detection systems,
such as Turnitin, work on a subscription plan where a fee is
charged on each essay submission.
The similarity checker, on the other hand, compares
essays, assignments and reports in a database against each
other for similarity. It does not compare with external
sources. The essays for a particular course can be compared
with all essays in the current semester or with all essays in
We use a system based on the free open source program
called WCopyfi nd, developed by Lou Bloomfi eld who is
a professor of Physics at the University of Virginia. The
original program was designed for manual operations,
whereas in OUM’s case, with our large student numbers, the
system must be automated and integrated with a database.
Thus, the original program has been modifi ed and extended
to meet the current needs of OUM. More information on
WCopyfi nd can be obtained at http://plagiarism.phys.
Harvinder: Why has OUM preferred this system over the
others and what are the benefi ts?
Prof Ahmad: The major compelling reason is that this system
is free and can be customised to meet the exact needs of
OUM. The usual subscription-based plagiarism detection
system can be expensive for a large operation such as OUM.
For instance, Turnitin charges RM7.00 per essay submission
to be checked for plagiarism. Multiply this amount by the
number of essays and it is easy to understand that free is
The other main reason is that a similarity checker system
is faster than a subscribed plagiarism detection system. In
a pilot trial, we found that our system can compare 1,000
essays contained in a database in less than one minute. On
the other hand, the subscribed detection system takes a long
time because comparisons are made against varied sources
such as the Internet, databases of books, journals, and so on.
A typical OUM course can easily take more than 24 hours
for a plagiarism report to be produced.
Therefore, given that we have to check hundreds of
thousands of essays, the plagiarism detection system is
neither practical nor cost-effective.
Harvinder: What types of assessment can be scanned for
plagiarism using this system?
Prof Ahmad: Any form of text document such as assignment
essays and reports can be submitted for checking.
Harvinder: How does this system function in detecting
plagiarism and how reliable are the detection results?
Prof Ahmad: This system does not detect plagiarism as such
but highlights the extent of similarity among essays that are
compared. Higher similarity between two essays means that
the essays share many similar passages. The result of the
comparison is shown in a report that presents the similarity
index, which is the extent of similarity in percentages of the
total text between every pair of essay being compared. The
assessment of similarity is very accurate.
Harvinder: In your opinion, will this similarity checker
system discourage learners from plagiarising in their
assignment? To what extent will the system prevent
Prof Ahmad: We want to encourage learners to produce
original work and to cite all works that were used as
reference. Proper academic standards must be adhered to at
all times. Writing an essay should be a learning experience.
Research, analysis and thinking must take place.
The aim of using this system is to identify essays that
may not be original and separate them from the rest of the
documents in the database. It may not prevent plagiarism
absolutely - no system can - but it is hoped that with
the system in place, it will help to advance honesty and
Harvinder: Will the similarity checker system be viable for
future use in OUM or will it be outdated in time?
Prof Ahmad: Because this system does not rely on external
sources and all essays are compared against each other
within the internal database, it is apparent that this system
will be useful as long as the comparison can take place.
Harvinder: What are OUM’s future plans with regards to
the use of the similarity checker system?
Prof Ahmad: This initiative on our part is still in its infancy.
However, it is hoped that new approaches and strategies
could be developed based on the learning experiences and
lessons learnt from using this system.