You’ve assigned a final project and told your students they must submit original work and cite their outside sources. When its enabled, Turnitin will analyze those 30 files and let you know whether students followed your instructions. What a time saver! In this scenario, Turnitin is an enforcement tool.
Much of the ill will towards Turnitin has to do with it being used in this way—as a plagiarism detective. Its detractors are quick to point out that the software can be fooled and that it can be inaccurate in what it identifies (or fails to identify) as matched text. And, that’s at the heart of it—software like Turnitin matches submitted text to text in a database; it can’t identify student intent. What appears to be cheating within the context of Turnitin may actually be a lack of knowledge on how to write in an academic setting and how to cite a source properly.
Let’s rewind: You’ve assigned a final project and told your students they must submit original work and cite their outside sources. You’ve created two assignments: one for a draft and one for a final version of the project. The assignment for the draft has Turnitin enabled on it and closes two weeks before the final project. Students are allowed to see their originality report. If they disagree with the report or have questions about it, they can make an appointment with you or the writing center on their campus for help in preparing their final submission. In this scenario, Turnitin is a learning tool with you in the role of instructor.
Paula Lentz, Business Communications instructor, further explains how she has used Turnitin as a learning tool:
I told students that to me using Turnitin is like a using spell or grammar checker. It alerts the students to potential issues that they may or may not need to correct—that ultimately, students need to look critically at their writing and know what to do with it. Because of Turnitin’s reputation as a policing device, though, I made sure to communicate to students that Turnitin provided a safe, low-stakes space for us to talk about issues of citations and plagiarism.
- As always, be clear in your expectations. Let students know that outside sources should be cited. Sometimes visual images or infographics can be useful in explaining what constitutes plagiarism.
- Point students to a source(s) that can help them with citation and writing (e.g., Purdue Online Writing Lab, Business Writing & Business Presentations Studio).
- Tell students not to put their names in the text of their document in order to protect their privacy.
- Tell students how to interpret their Turnitin originality report and how to click through the matched text.
- In addition to the above, please read 20 Best Practices for Using Turnitin Feedback Studio
- Fearn, H. (2011, January 20) Plagiarism software can be beaten by simple tech tricks. Times Higher Education.
- Stappenbelt, B. and Rowles, C. (2009) The effectiveness of plagiarism detection software as a learning tool in academic writing education. [Conference paper] 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity (4APCEI) 28–30 September 2009, University of Wollongong NSW Australia.
- Turner, C. (2014, August 25) Turnitin and the debate over anti-plagiarism software. nprEd.
- Vanacker, B. (2011) Returning students’ right to access, choice and notice: a proposed code of ethics for instructors using Turnitin. Ethics and Information Technology, 13: 327-338
- Turnitin. (2016) Turnitin White Paper The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism [online image]. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from http://turnitin.com/assets/en_us/media/plagiarism-spectrum.