Don't even try to tell us it's not plagiarized!

I’m an instructional aide at a public institution. We’ve just started using Turnitin and students are now submitting their papers. Third paper submitted - bingo. 56% of the paper comes from a website (which I found independently via google when I got suspicious) We’re giving the student a chance to remedy this with a healthy warning. Student calls back and he denies copying anything. Whole blocks of text are taken verbatim - come on! I know this has happened to others on the board in the same field. Do they think we are that stupid? This is your freakin’ academic future and if you heard one word on day 1 you should have heard the warning.
Rant over but liable to be started again as more come in!

Ah, yes, turnitin.com. When I used it while student teaching, I caught three papers that were purchased off the Internet. What killed me was that they were all the same paper, two of the students were in the same class, and all three of them were friends who hung out together.

Oh, and when I called parents, one mom asked me how her daughter would have purchased a paper on the Internet. I explained about credit cards and such. There was a long silence, and then the mom said, “I see. I will be speaking to my daughter about this. She will have an original paper for you on Monday.” Muahahahahahahahaha.

Oh, yeah. It’s funny that they think they are being so smart, when their stupidity gives them away every time.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. They do this because they get away with it more often than not.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. They do this because they get away with it more often than not.

Knot quiet truly. They do this because they get away with it more often than not.

According to a posting on The Straight Dope website, they get away with it more often than not.[sup]1[/sup]

Sources: 1 - www.straightdope.com website, Chicago Reader, March 9, 2010.

Do you have your students run it through turnitin themselves? My HS senior and his friends were complaining at the beginning of fall on how hard it was to get a paper to come up “original”.

I know he didn’t think he was copying, and I don’t know if he was getting gigged for footnoted quotes or what - possibly his paraphrasing/regurgitating was just too close. I never read the paper in question to see what the problem may have been - he seems to have worked it out on his own.

I know I am easily amused, but the three-peat+1 up there had me giggling and snorting at my desk!

I’ve never actually used TurnItIN, but i’ve still managed to catch my share of plagiarists at various post-secondary institutions. While i’m sure there are probably students who have plagiarized in my classes and gotten away with it, i think the number is probably pretty small.

Firstly, when i read their papers, i do so in a context where i’m already familiar, to a greater or lesser degree, with how intelligent they are and how well they understand the material. If someone who has previously been barely able to construct a comprehensible sentence and who can’t tell the different between “there” and “their” suddenly submits a paper full of flowing, complex sentences full of unusually sophisticated adjectives, i know i’ve got a candidate.

Second, a fairly high proportion of plagiarists plagiarize not only because they’re lazy cheats, but because they’re not very smart. They also seem to think that i don’t know how use Google.

Finally, one of the keys to heading off plagiarism in the modern academy is to be thoughtful in setting the written assignments. While there will always be information that students can find on the internet, a well-thought-out question, based on specific materials that have been covered in class, will often make it very difficult for students to buy an ideal paper online or cut and paste stuff straight out of websites.

Despite the fact that i love the way it can help catch plagiarists, i actually have some problems with the TurnItIn model. My biggest problem with it is that TurnItIn keeps a copy of every submitted paper, adding them to its database to use for future comparisons. This, of course, makes the service increasingly efficient and reliable as time goes on.

But i also see this as a violation of the students’ authorial rights over their work. I have an ethical problem with forcing students to turn over their work to a for-profit corporation, and allowing that corporation to use those papers as part of its revenue model. If TurnItIn were a non-profit educational organization run by a consortium of universities and accountable to educational professionals, i wouldn’t care so much. TurnItIn has made Fair Use arguments in its own defense, but i don’t find them very compelling.

I have used it in the past, and I loved the color coded system showing how much is stolen from various sources. I could quickly skim by the quotes - as long as they were footnoted. I did have one student who quote an entire page of a turned in 3 page paper.

It helped that on day one I would show a turn it in report so that they knew exactly how easy it was to catch them.

**mhendo **- you make an interesting point. However, any university could easily overcome this by simply stating in the appropriate place in the course catalogue and/or syllabus that anything written and turned in for credit automatically gives a certain use license. I leave it to the attorneys to clean that up, but I don’t think it is insurmountable.

Ha, I really thought those were simulposts for a second.

The assignments are based on traditional tasks that academics normally do; it’s hard to explain because I’m trying to be as nonspecific as possible, but he can’t introduce much variability in the form of the paper because certain things are required, and they are in no way connected to the lecture material.

I’ll let him know about their insistence on proprietary rights to the material. Actually if I thought about it I’d think the material belongs to the institution and would take precedence, but color me surprised. I don’t think he’ll give a rat’s though.

But yeah, either this is extreme naivete or stupidity.

But for me, it’s not a question of whether it’s insurmountable. I’m sure the TurnItIn site probably has some sort of disclaimer saying that, by using the service, you grant them permission to make the copy.

The problem for me is not just a legal one but, as i said above, an ethical one. I don’t like the idea of forcing students to turn their work over to a for-profit corporation in order to receive a grade, especially when that corporation also gets to keep a complete copy of the paper to use for its own money-making purposes. The right to copy is something that needs to be granted freely by authors, not handed over under compulsion, IMO.

I know with my papers throughout college, it kept popping up with like, some small percentage copied each time. It was always the footnotes- always.

I can see your concerns about authorial control and rights, and agree it can get pretty thorny. I certainly don’t have a solution that will allow any kind of similar service to exist, while still protecting the student’s rights to their work.

But I have to say I am skeptical of your faith in non-profit institutions. I don’t think that it’s suddenly going to make things better if the organization taking the students’ work is not directly making a profit - just covering their operating expenses. As a counter example: ETS is a non-profit, and I have some grave reservations about their power and even the justification for their existence. Let alone the utility of their tests. And how their near-monopoly means that they make people pay to be lab rats.

Simply transforming TurnItIn into a non-profit will not make the rights issues go away.

Wasn’t there a lawsuit about this in the last year or two?

At least one, where the court sided with TurnItIn.com.

Well, i didn’t just say non-profit. I explicitly said a non-profit run by the universities themselves. I agree with you about ETS.

I also specified a desire for accountability to the educational professionals that they serve. I’m not naive enough to think that such a system would be completely immune to problems, but at least then the universities requiring the use of the site would be able to offer the sorts of assurances that i believe should be part of such a system.

56%? Holy moly! That’s got to be a bit depressing, as a teacher.

I have no idea if any of my teachers ever used Turnitin, though I always wondered if my papers would pass (none were plagiarized but I was hardly reinventing the wheel with my structure and conclusions – luckily my writing style at the time was quite consistent).

The worst, somewhat unsurprisingly, were the business and science students who had to take required English classes.They got kicked out in droves. While I’m sure they didn’t expect to be caught, most of the time, somewhere between their culture of origin and grasp of English, I honestly don’t think they knew it was frowned upon to plagiarize.

I know you were trying to build in some protections, and safeguards - but isn’t ETS still heavily influenced by Princeton? (I’ll admit I’m not all that current on it, now.) One of the several reasons I brought them up was because I thought they might be one of the better real-world example of what you are advocating.

If you have a better example of the sort of multi-university organization you’re proposing, I’d love to see it. The only other one that comes to my mind, right now, is the NCAA - which is even worse a boondoggle than ETS, IMNSHO.