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 “WHAT IF THE INTERNET COULD HELP STUDENTS TAKE MORE RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEARNING AND LET TEACHERS FOCUS ON TEACHING?”


by Alan Mickelson
(Director, Center for Faculty Professional Development)
and
Dr. Anne King
(Professor, English Department)

A while ago a scandal erupted around a wealthy college student’s hiring her roommate for $20,000 a year to do all her college work. The scheme succeeded so well that the grateful parents endowed a stadium for the college, named for the successful graduate. When it all came out, the name was taken away, as well as the young woman’s degree.

Turnitin.com might not have unmasked this flagrant type of plagiarism, but the service does detect the kinds with which we are all too familiar. Its huge databases recognize the true sources of student papers, though it also fulfills a pedagogical function: teaching students how to use source material and training them to write original papers.

During the spring 2005 opening week Professional Development Workshops, one of the items in the Writing Summit thread was an online session with Meggan Clark, a representative from Turnitin.com. She gave a presentation and then answered questions from the 18 people present at the session. This workshop was set up because the college has subscribed to the service as a pilot project for spring 2005.

Whether this project will continue is contingent upon signup and use by faculty members.

Dr. Anne King has used Turnitin.com in the past, and has been using it again since summer 2004. She has successfully sent in many student papers to test them for authenticity. In some cases, the “plagiarism” is actually “sloppy scholarship”: forgetting quotation marks, page numbers, or just lazily summarizing without editing for originality. In these cases, it is a good lesson, and sometimes a chance to rewrite and revise. In others, students are caught dead to rights and referred to the office of the vice president for Student Services, with follow-up penalties possibly extending to an F for academic dishonesty. Sometimes the plagiarism is so clever and humorous that one wishes the effort had been expended on completing the assignment or test honorably!

Here is a text that Dr. King includes in all syllabi. It seems to work, though some think themselves cleverer than Turnitin.com or their professor!

TURNITIN.COM – what is it?

For all my English and Women’s Studies classes from Dr. Anne M. King:

I know that most of my students do their work honestly, originally, and well. I expect that in this course you will continue to do so. Occasionally, though, sometimes inadvertently, students copy material from a source without acknowledging it, hand in someone else’s work as if it is their own, or otherwise act academically dishonestly. If you follow the MLA or APA style directions, you are unlikely to have this problem. Just in case, though, I have a solution.

Turnitin.com is a service I use to check on researched papers and other papers to make sure your work is original with you. I send these papers electronically to the Turnitin.com address, and within a very short time they send back to me a report on the sources of your paper. You can find out about this service and how it works by going to http://turnitin.com. You will see that they have a big database of sources. Please check out this Web site and look at the “student” link for information. 

Since you will know ahead of time that I will be checking your papers for originality, if I find that the report indicates plagiarism on your part, you will receive a zero for that paper without any chance of re-writing it. This will lower your grade for the course considerably. This is a   serious offense in this college and elsewhere; if it is repeated, you are in danger of being expelled from the college. I send these reports to the vice president for Student Services of the college.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 2 

Spring 2005