TurnItIn raises controversy

By Meghan Hurley
October 13, 2006

The anti-plagiarism website, Turnitin.com, is causing controversy across the nation. High school students in McLean, Va., have banded together to fight against the mandatory submission of all papers to Turnitin, according to the Washington Post.

Other colleges have dropped their contracts with Turnitin and the Conference on College Composition, an organization of 6,000 college-level educators, is discussing whether use of the site “undermines students’ authority over the uses of their own writing,” according to the Washington Post.

“When used as a disciplinary tool, Turnitin fosters distrust between students and professors,” Laura Barber, a sociology and psychology major, said.

The argument being presented is that not only does the site imply that students are guilty until proven innocent, but it also raises questions regarding students’ rights to their own work. Students are required to submit papers to a company that is making money for them, but students don’t receive compensation for building Turnitin’s database of papers. Papers stay in the database and are used to compare to others papers for plagiarism as well.

“We use Turnitin to create an environment of academic integrity on campus,” Dr. Charlie McCormick, dean for academic affairs and member of the Academic Honesty Board, said.

Although it is not required at Cabrini to submit all papers to the site, Cabrini does pay to use it. It is offered to all faculty as an option for their classes. Cabrini pays about $2,000 a year for the use of turnitin and has been using the site for four years.

“There was an interest on the part of the faculty.they were looking for a teaching tool,” Dr. Roberta Jacquet, director of the Holy Spirit Library, said. “The library delivers resources and services to learning community and this is another resource.”

In 2005, 21 professors used turnitin.com and 1,500 students submitted papers to the site. This year, there are 32 professors that use the site for their classes and 950 students who are submitting papers.

Anne Schwelm, the coordinator of information access and user services for the Holy Spirit Library, has used Turnitin in her classes. “The way I used it I believe served as a teaching tool rather than as a punitive measure,” Schwelm said. “Students would create their own accounts and then upload their documents directly themselves.”

Turnitin allows students to see there submission and what is considered plagiarism. They can then go back and see where they didn’t cite properly or reword their paraphrasing. Dr. Kathy McKinley, professor of sociology, feels that this is an important teaching tool.

“From my experience it encourages students to be careful with citations and to make sure they use quotation marks where appropriate,” McKinley said. “When I assign Turnitin.com the student has access to the results. So, they get to see the same report. In a sense the student gets an additional editor for free, reminding them of quotations.”

Ruby Remley, assistant professor of business administration, lets students submit papers to Turnitin before handing them in to her so they can see their mistakes and make corrections. “My decision to use Turnitin with my classes was to enable students to avoid inadvertent plagiarism, which would result in a failure in my class,” Remley said.

Academic honesty is a main concern on campus and turnitin is one way of enforcing that principle. Dr. Maria Elena Hallion, associate professor of exercise science and health promotion and chair of the Academic Honesty Board, said that the board does see cases that result from a student caught plagiarizing by Turnitin, but not an overwhelming number.

“I feel it is a learning tool and it provides students the ability to reference adequately and properly,” Hallion said.

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Meghan Hurley

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