Thursday, September 17, 2015

My Love-Hate Relationship With TurnItIn

I’ve fully embraced the benefits and strictures of being a professor in the digital age. In both my online courses and live ones, I have come to rely upon our online classroom portal to disseminate course information, post reminders, log grades, and to serve as the primary method by which students turn in their papers. I don’t know if it is necessarily sounder to do everything electronically, but it’s a system that’s been honed course after course and seems to work well for both sides of the lectern. Still, there are aspects of it that trouble me. Every paper turned in to my class Dropbox gets automatically run against TurnItIn’s plagiarism-detection tool. I detest plagiarists; they are the bane of my professional existence. I’ve done my best to stamp out plagiarism with antiformulaic assignment prompts, rotating exams, and gentle reminders through the semester that committing plagiarism invites the devil into your soul. Still, I get students who, either from Machiavellian overconfidence or through abject laziness, plagiarize. And so if asked, I’ll not pretend otherwise — I love TurnItIn. It’s painless, effective, and just as important, already there for me to use. It saves me some relatively significant number of hours each term, agonizingly Google-searching the paper of an unremarkable student who has suddenly turned into David Foster Wallace on the final exam. And when I am forced to pursue an instance of academic dishonesty, it provides a nice, tidy, official-looking report that tends to convince students of the authority and weight behind the meeting we are currently having. So I use it, happily. But recently I got an email from a student concerned about TurnItIn on dual grounds. The student was nontraditional, and this was his first college course in some years. He was concerned first about accidentally plagiarizing, and wondered (naïvely, but completely understandably) if TurnItIn let students run their work through free to make sure this didn’t happen. Second, the student didn’t like the idea of being forced to surrender his work to a company that would make money from it. He was articulate, respectful, and tentative. Read more...

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