Although the Internet has been an easy source for collegiate plagiarism, it is now the remedy as well.
Professors and administrators at UCSB are deciding whether to continue using TurnItIn.com, a web-based service designed to deter and catch plagiarism in student papers.
Nearly 1,000 schools in the United States have purchased the ability to use TurnItIn.com, which checks students’ papers against all papers previously submitted to the system and most available Internet sources, said Paul Wedlake, director of sales for iParadigms, the company that runs TurnItIn.com. UC Berkeley alumni developed the site and the parent website, Plagiarism.org.
Within 24 hours of a paper’s submission, the instructor may receive a report indicating possible sections of plagiarism and links to the sites where the student obtained the information.
Approximately 30 percent of all students in the United States plagiarize on every written assignment they complete, Wedlake said.
“Plagiarism is one of the most serious offenses in the academic world,” he said. “It has occurred as long as there have been teachers and students, but the recent growth of the Internet has made the problem much worse.”
UCSB has approximately the same amount of academic dishonesty as other campuses that have conducted studies and found high rates, especially of Internet plagiarism, said Brandon Brod, Conduct Educator and Hate Incidents Response Coordinator. This year, there have been 25 cases of cheating and plagiarism brought to the attention of the Student Faculty Committee on Student Conduct and Joe Navarro, the Associate Dean of Students, Conduct and Student Relations, Brod said.
“This technology will directly benefit students. The value of one’s degree is in part determined by the reputation of the institution from where it came,” Brod said. “It does take a little getting used to – the idea of turning in a paper over the Internet is something new to most of us. I estimate that at most, this software adds only 60 seconds per student, per paper, in processing time for an instructor or TA.”
After UCSB’s free two-month trial period of TurnItIn.com ends this quarter, Vice Chancellor Michael Young will make the ultimate decision on whether or not UCSB will purchase use of the software. The decision will be based in part on feedback from the professors who have implemented it in their curriculums this quarter, and on Brod’s recommendation, based on his experience with the service and its support staff.
“I see no problems with the use of TurnItIn.com as far as the technology itself is concerned,” Brod said. “It seems to be extremely accurate, provides the instructor herself with the tools to make the ultimate decision as to whether or not academic misconduct has taken place, and is extremely simple to use – even for those who aren’t very computer-literate.”
Students receive a password from their instructor, which they use when submitting their paper to the site. To submit their papers, students cut and paste the text, Brod said. After the papers have been in the system for a full day, the professor is notified that the comparison reports are ready, and he or she can use the password to get into the system and view them.
“The steps involved in turning in one’s paper through the software are extremely simple,” Brod said. “It takes only about two minutes total for a student from the time they log on to the site to transmit his or her paper.”
When students know ahead of time that they will be required to submit their papers on the Internet, TurnItIn.com best serves as a deterrent, Brod said.
“At the bare minimum, you know the instructor takes academic misconduct very seriously and is on the lookout for it,” he said.
The process will also free up professors’ time for student interaction by making it unnecessary to spend time searching the web for plagiarized works.
“We do not label a paper as plagiarized or original. We simply list sources where we have found matching text,” Wedlake said. “It is up to the individual instructor to check whether the student has properly cited their sources and determine if the paper is original work and to what extent that it may be plagiarized.”
Art History Professor Bruce Robertson said he believes the program has been successful, insofar as it has not identified any major problems with papers thus far.
“This is good news because there is a lot of plagiarism that goes on at UCSB,” he said. “I suspect it will be a deterrent as much as anything, but it is only one of a number of things faculty can do to send out the signal that plagiarism is not permissible.”
Even if UCSB purchases the use of the TurnItOn.com software, it will never be required for campus-wide use, Navarro said. Individual departments may require their professors to use it, however.
The software’s one drawback is that instructors who do not require their entire class to use the program may still use it themselves to single out a small number of students and emphasize punishment over prevention and deterrence, Wedlake said.
“Using it in this manner has a negative effect which produces punitive results and does not teach the majority of [the students] proper writing skills,” Wedlake said.
In addition to checking for plagiarism, TurnItIn.com has services such as Peer Review, which provides a forum for students to post and learn from each other’s work. Soon it will offer digital archiving of a class’s or school’s work, an online grading system and admission-essay screening.