On the Effective and Appropriate Uses of Turnitin
As part of our effort to provide faculty and students with tools that teach research skills while also encouraging academic integrity, Lehigh has renewed its campus-wide license of Turnitin. Turnitin is a web-based software application that allows students and faculty to check for unoriginal material in papers, homework, lab reports, computer code, etc. All Lehigh instructors have access to Turnitin and are free to use it if they choose to do so.
It is our hope that Turnitin will be used primarily as an instructional, and not merely a policing, tool, and that it will be one part of a thoughtful approach to fostering academic integrity. Note that Turnitin is a powerful tool, but it alone will not encourage academic integrity, nor will it deter or detect all acts of plagiarism. Nevertheless, together with well-designed assignments and effective communications between student and instructor, Turnitin can play a valuable role in educating our students and emphasizing the importance of academic integrity.
How does Turnitin work?
Instructors can submit papers individually or in a group, or they can have students submit their work directly. For the latter, instructors set up a ‘Turnitin Assignment’ in Course Site, making choices for how submitted work will be reviewed (specific options are discussed below) and whether students will be able to view their results. Students then submit their work— in either draft or final form—via this Turnitin Assignment area. Turnitin then generates an Similarity Index and an Originality Report. At a glance, instructors (or students, if permitted by their instructors) can see the Similarity Index of each submitted assignment and, with a click, can view the detailed Originality Report that highlights material in the students’ work that matches Turnitin’s database of papers, articles, websites, etc. Instructors must then judge whether or not the paper contains any inappropriately used material.
How to Use Turnitin Effectively and Appropriately:
…whether or not Turnitin is the correct tool for your class. Perhaps you want another way to help students become aware of the causes and consequences of plagiarism; perhaps you have seen instances of plagiarism in the past and have reason to think there are other undetected instances; perhaps you simply cannot avoid repeating assignments used in the past. If so, Turnitin may be the tool for you.
…which of the databases your students’ assignments will be compared against (you may select any or all of the following databases: current and archived internet material; student papers in Turnitin’s database; and Proquest’s archive of academic journals).
…whether your students’ work will be added to Turnitin’s database. Note that if you elect not to submit your students’ work to their database, you will not be able to compare your students’ work against this database.
Second, make a plan for how Turnitin will be used as part of your course
Third, let your students know that you are using Turnitin and why. Include a statement in your syllabus and/or as part of each assignment. Here is an example of what you may wish to say:
“Academic writers have long faced the challenge of how to build on the work of others without inadvertently plagiarizing. Given the ready access to vast resources on the internet, you face even greater challenges. It is not difficult to find material on the web that will be useful to you as you compose your papers. However, I expect your work to be your own and want to help you make sure any borrowed material is used appropriately and cited correctly. As we work on papers for this class, I will help you learn how to do these things. Part of this learning process will include the use of a software program called Turnitin, a web-based plagiarism detection resourc, which allows both of us to check for the presence of unoriginal material in your work and thereby ensure that this material is used appropriately and cited correctly. When you submit your paper, it will be immediately analyzed by Turnitin.com. You will be allowed to view Turnitin's analysis of your paper, which should be available shortly after you submit it. Turnitin detects unoriginal work by checking the content of your paper against internet resources, journal databases, and an archive of student work. Although your work will also be added to Turnitin's archive of student papers, your paper will not be accessible to anyone else besides me and you. ” (2)
Fourth, strive for a tone of respect and fairness in your class.
If you play cat and mouse with you students, you will likely create ever more clever mice. However, if you treat all students equally and fairly, and let them be a part of the process, you will obtain better results and achieve the ends of academic integrity we all want to foster. For example, it is unfair to expect students to possess writing skills or understand standards that they have never had an opportunity to learn.
Last, if you discover something that looks like plagiarism, be quick to investigate but slow to judge. You may wish to ask for help from your colleagues, from your college’s librarians, from the Office of Student Conduct, or from the director of faculty development in interpreting the results before confronting a student.
As we gather experience with the use of this tool at Lehigh, I hope you will ask questions when you have them and share your thoughts with your colleagues about what approaches work best. Feel free to contact the director of CITL or a member of your college's IT support team, your college's librarian if you have questions or need help. In this way, we can join our students in cultivating a spirit of academic integrity across our campus.
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning
Adj. Professor of Philosophy
orig. 11/23/2005 (updated 3/4/2012)
(1) See Don McCabe and Gary Pavella's "Ten (Updated) Principles of Academic Integrity" online at <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40177967>.
(2) This sample was written by the author; readers should feel free to use it as a model for their own syllabi. For additional examples from Lehigh faculty, see http://www.lehigh.edu/library/infolit/faculty/plagiarismproofing.html. Also helpful is Bill Taylor's "Academic Integrity: A Letter to My Students" online at http://www.jmu.edu/honor/wm.../Letter%20To%20My%20Students.htm
(3) Information presented here is based on the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) letter to St. Thomas Aquinas College (106 LRP 31577, 2006)
Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning
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Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) fosters excellence and innovation in teaching, learning, and research by providing faculty and students with development opportunities, teaching tools, course development opportunities, classroom and instructional support, and consultation services.
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