Con: Should teachers use Turnitin.com?


Nov. 14, 2006, midnight | By Justin Vlasits | 14 years, 2 months ago


Justin Vlasits says NO: The web site violates intellectual property rights.

Cheating happens. Whether it is the renowned historian stealing research from his graduate students for his bestselling books or the high schooler trying to get ahead in his or her Honors English class, plagiarism has increased drastically due to the availability of free information on the Internet. In 1999, 10 percent of students admitted to copying information from the Internet without attribution, according to a Duke University study. In 2005, the number had skyrocketed to 37 percent.

Over the same period, Turnitin.com has become one of the most popular ways for teachers and professors, from local high schools to world-renowned universities, to detect violations of academic integrity. While having only limited success preventing plagiarism, Turnitin.com violates the intellectual property rights of the students who are forced to submit their work.

Turnitin.com is designed to prevent theft not only from web resources such as scholarly journals and current events articles, but also from the work of other students. As a result, the subscription site compiles a database of all student work ever submitted in order to prevent students from using materials written by their peers, past and present. In effect, Turnitin.com makes a profit - about 80 cents per student, according to a Bloomberg article - by checking students' work for possible plagiarism and then using that work, without the author's express consent, to augment their database. Their database essentially is filled with student-written work that the web site has no right to use.

Article 1, Section 8.8 of the U.S. Constitution says that Congress should "promote progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Whether or not students plan on publishing their work does not matter. Turnitin.com has no right to use the work of others for their own profit when the students are not compensated. Especially at the college level, taking student work could be taking material from future books or other published works.

Because of the site's questionable legality, MCPS should discontinue use of Turnitin.com. Ironically, by stealing the students' intellectual property, Turnitin.com commits the very evil it claims to combat. If teachers believe that the web site is aiding in learning, they can request students and their parents to sign waivers authorizing Turnitin.com to use their work, thereby avoiding the abuse of the students' intellectual property rights.

And this further proves that students still plagiarize, even when their teachers require them to use Turnitin.com. In the case study, almost 9 percent of the assignments submitted had at least 25 percent of their material copied, constituting egregious plagiarism. The students knew that their work was being checked on the web site and continued to plagiarize. While students might be caught and reprimanded, Turnitin.com does not reinforce a positive message about academic integrity.

Checking in with students periodically and making them submit their work gradually creates an environment that fosters academic honesty. By giving the students incremental deadlines, they do not resort to plagiarism after procrastinating and not having enough time to write a paper properly.

Instead, the teacher can check for problems in the research process before the paper is written so that the students can learn the proper methods of citation and research, and the trust between student and teacher will never broken. On the contrary, it is enforced by a more proactive relationship between students and teachers.

If plagiarism is to be stopped once and for all, it must be through a mutual effort between both the teacher and the student not through a punishment-driven online detector such as Turnitin.com. Integrity can only be instilled, not commanded.




Justin Vlasits. Justin Vlasits is a CAP senior who enjoys It's Academic, baseball, guitar and frisbee in addition to watching weird movies and contemplating the meaning of life. Justin is also a revolutionary member of SGR and will someday overthrow oppressive capitalism all over the world. More »

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