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Last month's, "Link of the Month" was TurnItIn.com. This month, Patrick Pluscht, Director of the Center for Distributed Learning (CDL), gives us "the goods" on this service. -- Ed.
By Patrick Pluscht, Director, Center for Distributed Learning
As an instructor, it’s very likely you have suspected one or more of your students of submitting an assignment which was not the individual’s own work. It happens. So what do you do? Many instructors have had some luck using the search engine Google to scour the Internet for occurrences of suspicious text and then confronting a student with any results that suggest academic dishonesty. This approach is better than nothing at all, but the University has now empowered its faculty to systematically combat plagiarism in the classroom by licensing a powerful plagiarism prevention tool provided by TurnItIn.com.
So what constitutes plagiarism and how is it penalized?
According to UNT’s Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities (http://www.unt.edu/csrr/csrr_home.htm), plagiarism is “(a) the knowing or negligent use by paraphrase or direct quotation of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgement and/or (b) the knowing or negligent unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or by an agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.” Penalties for student academic misconduct range from a verbal warning to expulsion and could include the revocation of a degree previously awarded to a student who is guilty of egregious academic misconduct.
So how does TurnItIn.com help prevent plagiarism?
On the surface, TurnItIn.com is a powerful search tool with access to both current and archived versions of the Internet as well as databases of scholarly publications, literary works in the public domain and the millions of student papers that have previously been submitted. The product of TurnItIn.com is an “originality report” which identifies any passages in a paper that are found to be duplicated in one of TurnItIn.com’s other sources. However, TurnItIn.com does not judge what is and what is not plagiarism. Instead, it provides an instructor with the evidence to make that assessment. If properly cited, a document that TurnItIn.com has been identified as having a large amount of duplicated text would not meet the definition of plagiarism. This judgment call remains with the instructor. The instructor has the option to ignore properly cited selections and resubmit the paper for analysis. The mechanism by which TurnItIn.com prevents plagiarism is both passive and active. It allows a faculty member to actively review papers and screen for assignments with a high likelihood of plagiarism and it provides the faculty member with “proof” should it be necessary to pursue disciplinary action. The knowledge that TurnItIn.com is being used by the faculty has proven to deter many students from plagiarizing because of the fear of being caught.
Does TurnItIn.com violate a student right to privacy?
Although TurnItIn.com does keep a copy of each student submission in its database for comparison to all future submissions, it does not release the identity of the student nor the actual student work to others. Instead, it provides the contact information for the instructor to whom the original work was submitted and then confirmation of the duplicated material is negotiated between the faculty members.
Are students upset about having their work submitted to TurnItIn.com?
You might expect that those most likely to be caught would be disappointed about its use at UNT and you’d probably be right. However, the systematic use of TurnItIn.com levels the playing field for all students. Those with access to a term paper from a fraternity brother or a cousin who previously took the course may get through TurnItIn.com the first time without being caught, but it’s a risky proposition. Likewise, the paper a student might buy off the Internet may have just been purchased by someone else whose instructor uses TurnItIn.com. In a positive way, instructors can use TurnItIn.com as a teaching tool by allowing students to submit a draft directly to TurnItIn.com with subsequent revisions up until the final due date. In this way, students can observe instances where they have improperly cited others’ work and endeavor to practice proper citation. Shortly after TurnItIn.com was implemented late last fall, the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities saw a dramatic increase in the number of plagiarism cases being submitted. Does this mean students started cheating a lot more often late in the semester? No, this is a predictable result of using TurnItIn.com. From the experience of other universities, it’s also predictable that UNT will see a sharp and lasting drop in the number of plagiarism cases in UNT if the community embraces its use.
Who can use TurnItIn.com?
The Center for Distributed Learning purchased a one-year license to TurnItIn.com that allows any UNT instructor to generate an unlimited number of originality reports for UNT student work. Additionally, instructors can allow or disallow students to directly submit their own work and to see the associated originality reports. UNT’s license is set to expire in late fall of 2005; however, financial support to renew the license will be sought from each College and School in proportion to their historical use of the service. If faculty adopt and encourage the use of TurnItIn.com, it will certainly be successful.
How can I begin using TurnItIn.com?
To begin using TurnItIn, an instructor will first need to send an email with the instructor’s name and college/school to Patrick Pluscht, firstname.lastname@example.org, requesting access to TurnItIn.com. An email with an Account ID and an Account Join Password will be sent back to the instructor. Once this information is received, the instructor can visit the TurnItIn.com website to create a personal profile and begin using the service immediately. The Account ID and the Account Join Password are the same for every UNT user to gain initial access to TurnItIn.com and, therefore, this information may be freely shared with any UNT instructor though it must remain confidential from all others. Online training is available directly from TurnItIn.com. The following link provides a great animated quickstart tutorial which steps an instructor through creating a profile, setting up a class and assignments, submitting papers and understanding an originality report: http://www.turnitin.com/static/training_support/idfvl1.html.
Other training materials including comprehensive instructor and student manuals are available for download at: http://www.turnitin.com/static/training_support/.
Thank you for your contribution to preserving Academic Integrity as a core value of the University of North Texas.