In June I signed up to attend staff training on Turnitin and academic integrity run by the Learning and Teaching Department at UCA. This was my first experience of using the Turnitin software which is utilised in a number of universities to check written work for text-based plagiarism.
The workshop was really useful for gaining some initial insights into the issues that are faced surrounding text-based plagiarism. This included:
Text-based plagiarism detection software is effective but not perfect
Turnitin compares student work against an extensive index of websites, articles, and previous student papers. It proved easy to use and effective at finding copied text, but as with all technology, there were some foibles to look out for. For example, any text that is given in double quotes will be disregarded, whilst any text in single quotes will be highlighted by the software as plagiarism. The software also doesn’t detect content taken from very recent publications, for example, we found that it couldn’t detect a ‘copied and pasted’ newspaper article that had been published online in the last few days. The workshop leader therefore confirmed that Turnitin is an additional technical aid to assist staff rather than a replacement for human judgement and appraisal.
Balance between formative and punitive
This leads on to another point made by the workshop leader about the potential use of the software as a formative learning tool for students and not simply as a detection tool for staff once students’ work has been submitted. We were shown how students can check draft essays using the software before their work is handed in for marking. We were also introduced to the new academic integrity web pages on the university website which provide information and advice to staff and students on referencing and plagiarism. UCA Library has also developed In-Cite, a series of four online tutorials to explain why, how, and when students should reference sources.
Time is of the essence
The issue of staff time and busy teaching schedules was also raised. It was noted that the university’s Study Advisory Service can also provide help and support in this area and offers bookable tutorials for students to develop their research skills and academic writing skills.