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Sydney Uni trials creepy anti-plagiarism software

Cadmus tracks students’ location and keystrokes while they write assessments, as Siobhan Ryan reports.

Cadmus tracks students' location and keystrokes while they write assessments, as Siobhan Ryan reports.

The University is considering trialling anti-plagiarism software that tracks students as they complete their assessments, verifying their identities using multi-factor authentication and keystroke analytics.

The software, dubbed “Cadmus”, is set to be trialled this semester in PSYC3020: Applications of Psychological Science.

According to a University spokesperson, the trial is part of the University’s commitment to “exploring means to further protect the integrity of assessment and therefore the integrity of University of Sydney degrees”.

If it goes ahead, “An evaluation will be made on its educational merit before a large trial is considered.”

Cadmus was developed by University of Melbourne alumni Herk Kailis and Robbie Russo, and has already been trialled there.

Cadmus requires students to complete their assessments in an online word-processing application, which has a number of anti-plagiarism features. These include a copy-paste restriction, which links students to University anti-plagiarism resources when a student tries to paste a large amount of text.

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Tyson Holloway-Clarke described the University of Melbourne’s trials as “ongoing, with a number of problems unresolved”.

He attended a meeting with members of University of Melbourne management and the developers of the software, which he said was limited to a discussion of technological improvements to the program, rather than debating whether or not it should continue to be rolled out.

UMSU representatives were not given full access to an independent review of the software commissioned by their university, but from a small excerpt they were allowed to view, “It was clear that users were unhappy with the usability of the program and were generally unsatisfied with the user interfaces, connectivity issues and confusing nature of the program,” Holloway-Clarke said.

Kailis told Honi the software is open to feedback, operating with a “user-centric design approach”.

“We have multiple direct channels to students, and take every piece of feedback, and use that to inform new features and improvements,” he said.

He noted two features – students being able to copy in text from their notes to a ‘scratchpad’, and being able to work offline after signing in – that were both implemented following user feedback.

Students have raised concerns about how data collected from the program will be used, and whether universities will be notified of how long students spend writing their assessments, and how close to submission deadlines they begin writing.

“Data will not be given back to universities to inform or prejudice marking,” Kailis said.

“In line with University policy, if the University suspects academic dishonesty, only then will data be requested from Cadmus to aid in a formal investigation,” a USyd spokesperson said.

Kailis and Russo developed the software after Fairfax Media uncovered large “essay mills” from which students could purchase pre-written essays.

“The case for Cadmus being the vaccination to the essay-buying scourge is, in my opinion, not functionally strong enough,” Holloway-Clarke said. “[As Cadmus] necessitates further university control of student life and academic approach.”