Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Catching Plagiarism in the 21st Century

Today’s educators and administrators struggle to promote the honest, thoughtful, and legal use of information by students, in a world of ever-changing technology.  With access to billions of Internet source documents, students can “cut-and-paste” entire written passages in seconds.  This, combined with a growing emphasis on performance and assessment, has led to pervasive use of unoriginal content in student essays and research papers.  In 1996, a group of University of California-Berkeley professors recognized the problem this posed to the academic world and developed a program we know today as“Turnitin.com”.

 Currently used by over 10,000 educational institutions spanning 126 countries, “Turnitin.com” has over 150 million student papers, 100,000publications, and 14 billion web pages of information compiled in their database.  An increasing number of classes at GLHS require the site to be used for research papers and essays.  Most of these classes will have you make a login and then periodically use the account throughout the year to "turn in" papers. The site compares the writing that is turned in to all of the items it has amassed electronically and at speeds exponentially greater than any previous methods.  The goal of the site is to make students create work with more original content and learn appropriate ways to use and cite source material, all by discouraging plagiarism.  They want students to know it's okay to use information from other sources, but to know how to give credit to those sources.  But does it work?

             Well, a statistical analysis of 7 years of data from high school and college submissions to Turnitin.com, found that after two years, instances of unoriginal content and plagiarism in student writing decreased by 20 percent or more. After four years, educational institutions experienced improvements of 35 - 70 percent.  Other independent research studies show that “Turnitin.com” is substantially more effective than manual plagiarism detection methods.  Teachers no longer have to spend hour after hour using online search engines to identify plagiarism.  A recent survey of educators showed that “Turnitin.com” not only reduced plagiarism, but also helped improve student writing skills, reduced instructor workloads and increased the productivity of both students and teachers. 

Benefits like these help to maximize the educational impact that schools like GLHS can have.  However, I still think there can be ways to improve the system.  Sometimes when I'm writing a research paper that is to be sent to "Turnitin.com", I'll find myself focusing more on rewriting the information to minimize any chance of unintentional plagiarism, rather than write what I think sounds best.  Perhaps my fear of unintentional plagiarism is irrational, but I wish there was a free alternative to "Turnitin.com" that could give me instantaneous input on my writing before I sent it to "Turnitin.com".  I think a good policy for GLHS would be for teachers to explain and demonstrate how the site works at the beginning of the year, so students can clearly understand what risks there are with unintentional plagiarism.  In spite of this, I believe that the use of “Turnitin.com” greatly benefits students and teachers by deterring academic misconduct in an age of technological dominance.
By Evan Thorn, editor

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