1. Kevin Schut
    April 21, 2017 @ 12:45 am

    Yoicks, so much of this post is so wrongheaded, it hurts. The only legitimate complaint–and it is a significant one–is the use of copyright material without permission. Copyright, however, has many exceptions. Turnitin does not own the copyright of material submitted into its database–it simply takes advantage of fair use/fair dealing exceptions–as, I might add, do many scholars. I am a published scholar, by the way, and I have no problem with people using my copyright material within fair use/fair dealing guidelines, and that includes being able to make a profit from it in particular situations. But it’s a borderline thing.

    The rest of the critiques, not so much. I’m sorry, but anyone who uses Turnitin without checking the original source is using it the wrong way. Yes, it turns back false positives (although honestly, I can’t really remember this happening, and I’ve used this for hundreds of papers over many years). You never just go off of Turnitin’s results–you always try to find the exact source. If you can’t, you can still have a conversation with the student, but you can’t go in guns a-blazin’–just ask where the material comes from.

    Second, who the hades says we don’t teach our students what plagiarism is?!? They are taught in multiple contexts. Maybe some students get it more than others, but all students will get some lessons on plagiarism at some point. I know I regularly have “honest and open conversations with students about plagiarism” in most of my courses. And amazingly, Turnitin still regularly turns up evidence of plagiarism! Clearly, it must just be due to a lack of instruction on my part.

    Third, maybe a bit of explanation on the accusation that faculty set up their assignments to encourage plagiarism would be in order, since as it stands, that’s a bit insulting. To be honest, the article as a whole makes quite a few generalizations about professors who use Turnitin, apparently on the basis of a single statement from a single professor (yes, clearly there’s more experience behind the post than just that one statement, but I can overgeneralize too, right?).

    The takeaway for me: For people who instruct students properly and do not attack them and do all the other negative things that this post indicates faculty do, Turnitin still plays a useful role. I typically find at least 3 or 4 cases of improper citations and occasional outright plagiarism every semester that I would be very unlikely to catch without the service. In each case, I talk it through carefully with the student and treat it as an opportunity for education. Think of the very important lessons those students would not have had without that service.


    • Profile photo of Colin Madland Colin Madland
      April 21, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your reply (and for reading my post)! I appreciate the opportunity to consider my view in light of your perspective.

      I think the relevant difference between our published work being used by others, even for profit, is that we have the power to make that decision ourselves. Students who are compelled to submit their work to turnitin don’t get that choice. I’m aware that turnitin won the court challenge against them and they consider their use of student work to be fair use, but I remain unconvinced that it is actually fair to students.

      anyone who uses Turnitin without checking the original source is using it the wrong way

      I agree! Turnitin also agrees, from their Canadian Legal Document, “The system used by Turnitin.com does not, and cannot, determine if plagiarism has in fact occurred.” And by your words, it seems you are using it to open conversations with students, and that you are teaching your students about plagiarism, for which you should be commended. However, evidence suggests that too many students (from other schools) don’t always ‘get it’. Some think that if something is on the internet, it is fair game to be used (Fish & Hura, 2013); others see no problem with lending their own work to other students (Dawson & Overfield, 2006). And there are particularly striking differences in cultural expectations regarding academic propriety (see https://vimeo.com/80017802).

      Here are some assignment and course structures that (unintentionally) encourage plagiarism (I have no idea if any of your courses or assignments fit these categories, but, since we’re overgeneralizing already;) ):

      • determining final grades from only a few high-stakes assignments,
      • having high-stakes assignments due at the same time as most other profs (major papers due in the last week of class),
      • not scaffolding the process of academic writing
      • using the same assignments from semester to semester
      • using disposable assignments that have no (or minimal) opportunity for connection to students’ individual contexts and are created for an audience of one person (the professor)

      The idea of using renewable, as opposed to disposable, assignments is going to be a topic of an upcoming post.

      I do have a question for you. What do you think of the idea that requiring students to submit through turnitin shows innocent students that we do not trust them and that they have to prove themselves innocent before we will accept their work?

      Here are some resources from the web addressing ways to discourage plagiarism in assignment and course design:



      Thanks again for sharing, Kevin! Hope you have a great weekend!

      Dawson, M. M., & Overfield, J. A. (2006). Plagiarism: Do Students Know What It Is. Bioscience Education, 8(1), 1-15. doi:10.3108/beej.8.1

      Fish, R., & Hura, G. (2013). Student’s perceptions of plagiarism. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(5), 33-45. Retrieved from http://josotl.indiana.edu/article/view/3654/3865

      Turnitin. https://s3.amazonaws.com/storage.pardot.com/45292/7098/canadian_legal.pdf


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