Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I know there's a lot of hatin' on Turnitin going on out there in the Composphere, and I am sympathetic. I really am. I had my students submit their research papers to Turnitin, though, and I think I'm glad I did. They submitted rough drafts, not final drafts. I wasn't trying to do a "gotcha" thing. I just wanted to have an object lesson in paraphrasing without subjecting myself to reading 3000 (bad) paraphrases.

It's worked out pretty well. They bring me their reports from Turnitin, and I tell them which parts really should be reworded and which parts strike me as insanely silly. It marks things like "in the United States," for example, as plagiarized.

I have noticed that no one yet has submitted a paper Turnitin said was 100% plagiarized. My theory is that the people who were planning to cheat have opted instead to just not turn anything in.

So if I have a point it's that automated plagiarism catchers can be made into useful exercises if the power to decide to take their advice or not is in the hands of the students. That is all I have to say.


Rosa G. said...

A friend of mine in ESL said that some students don't realize that they are plagiarizing and that TII helps teach them (along with the teacher's instruction)about the American (Western?) conventions of documentation.


Mike @ Vitia said...

Your example of "in the United States" as plagiarized strikes me as a primary argument against you, as a teacher, know that such a phrase isn't stolen, whereas seeing a phrase like "frog blast the vent core" in two different essays would give you pause. To take it a step further: at what point did academics who read Foucault decide it was OK to stop putting quotation marks around the phrase "always already"? is a tool for teachers who don't want to read papers; a tool for teachers who don't want to have to pay attention to their students' writing. It facilitates pedagogical laziness. (Let me make it clear, Sharon, that I'm certainly not accusing you of pedagogical laziness, especially not after hearing your CCCC presentation -- I'm just saying what I think does.)

I'm writing this because I have a plagiarism case in front of me right now, and I found it because I knew the student's style, and there were phrases in the plagiarized essay that simply didn't sound right -- so I googled them, and sure enough, I found the sources. I found the plagiarism because I paid attention to the way my students write.

What happens if makes it OK for writing teachers to not pay attention to how their students write?

Sharon Gerald said...

I see Turnitin as being akin to spell check. It's not always right. In fact, at times it's embarrassingly wrong. Since it's there, though, it might as well be used just in case it helps.

The difference is that no self-respecting English teacher would rely on spell check to locate mistakes while grading. People are doing that with Turnitin, and it is wrong for all the reasons you cite, Mike.

So many composition classes are being taught by people who are so overloaded as to have very little time for careful attention to student writing, though. I disagree with Turnitin as a "gotcha" device, but I can't always blame people for resorting to short cuts.