Website Wednesday: TurnItIn

Website Wednesday is a (mostly) weekly feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.

For years now, I’ve treated plagiarism as a learning opportunity for students. Given how differently students are taught (especially taking into consideration national and international variation in terms, definitions, and valuations) and how varied the levels of enforcement may have been in their educational past, I provide students with a definition in my syllabus and an explanation of the consequences (students found to have plagiarized may dispute the claim and choose to have their paper/appeal reviewed by the college disciplinary committee OR receive a Zero on the assignment, watch a Web tutorial about plagiarism (it’s the one you’ll find in the list of links), and complete an assignment that demonstrates their new, thorough knowledge of the most common varieties of plagiarism prior to submitting their next assignment. A second instance, then, results in an F for the course and referral to the disciplinary committee.

For years I relied on my own sense of students writing–honed through in-class exercises and multiple papers–to find violators, and I still rely primarily on that. Over those years I scrupulously avoided using plagiarism detection software on account of various objections I had to the way it worked–specifically I did not like that students papers would become part of the database and, so, contribute to the profits of the company without compensation to the students (not to mention the possibility of false positives on account of self-plagiarism). Similar objections to mine are discussed here. After years of experimenting (and failing to find) a way to speed up and improve the feedback I got my students on their writing, without sacrificing detail, Jen Asimow finally talked me into giving TurnItIn a try, persuading me that it is easy to provide common comments, as well as paper specific ones, offers a great option for voice recorded feedback, has an opt-out option that allows for keeping the students’ papers out of the company database, and otherwise convincing me that it is a pretty swell tool, and my experiences since have confirmed all that she said and more.

It remains true that some plagiarism slips through, but I don’t care because I don’t really use it for that. I almost never look at the originality reports unless I have suspicions. I’m using it for the feedback capabilities, and I like it pretty good.

Still, plagiarism is their bread-and-butter and this fall I found that they had put out some pretty good stuff on feedback and plagiarism. For example, there is this infographic (and white paper) about student and faculty perceptions related to effective feedback was interesting, and I put this online quiz about plagiarism in the folder full of “Writing Tips” that I post under “Course Resources” in Blackboard for all of my classes. I didn’t tell them that I got two wrong, though.

Anyway, if you’re interested in making more use of TurnItIn, you can (and should) check out their instructor training videos, sorted by topic.

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