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.
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.
-The use of Turnitin without a broad strategy for fostering academic integrity may be counterproductive to achieving that end. In general, instances of academic dishonesty can be reduced when faculty build trust with students, discuss why academic integrity is important, and announce their plans to deter and detect acts of dishonesty (1). Turnitin can help send a strong message that academic integrity matters and that dishonesty will not be ignored. However, to avoid undermining trust, instructors are encouraged to give students the help they need to avoid plagiarism, to become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of Turnitin, to know why they are using it in their classes, and to explain all of this to their students (see the tips below for guidance on these topics).
-If you submit a student's work without his or her knowledge, you may be in violation of FERPA regulations if the work contains the students name, student id number, or other personally identifiable information. However, if you create a Turnitin assignment in Course Site (see 'Tutorial' below) and if you inform students that you are using Turnitin and why, then you are not violating student privacy because students will have submitted the work voluntarily (3).
-The use of Turnitin alone is not an adequate strategy for deterring plagiarism. Instructors are encouraged to clarify plagiarism policies frequently, to choose course materials and design assignments that diminish the likelihood of plagiarism, and to build in frequent opportunities to check students’ progress on their assignments. For detailed advice on each of these topics, see “Plagiarism Proofing your Course” on the Navigating Information Literacy website.
-Turnitin does not teach students how to use source material appropriately, nor will it teach correct citation conventions or standards of evidence.
-Turnitin identifies text that matches text found in other documents, but it cannot differentiate between a document that uses source material correctly and one that contains plagiarized material. Similarity Indexs indicate the percentage of matching text, and Originality Reports highlight matching text even if the matching text is correctly cited and appropriately used in the submitted assignment. When viewing a report, you can choose to ‘exclude quoted’ material. Doing so will calculate a new Originaliy Score and Report without text that is surrounded by quotation marks; however this still will not identify whether the citation is correct. Such decisions require interpretation by the instructor (or, in the case of a draft, by the student).
-Turnitin will not detect all instances of plagiarism. For example, it cannot match text that is found only in print documents and it cannot detect an original work that was not authored by the student who submits it (e.g., if student X submits an original paper that was written by student Y, Turnitin would report it as original work). Similarly, the software scans text, not ideas, so a paper that expresses a plagiarized idea using original language will not result in a match. If you would like to learn additional strategies for discouraging or detecting these types of plagiarism, again see “Plagiarism Proofing your Course”
-Turnitin is not the only tool available for detecting plagiarism. For advice on other strategies, see "Checking for Plagiarism."
-Experiences at other universities show that, when used appropriately, students perceive Turnitin as a tool that encourages responsible use of materials, improves fairness, and helps prevent inadvertent acts of plagiarism. However, when used inappropriately, students perceive it as an expression of distrust and an intrusion of privacy. Read on for additional help using Turnitin.
-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:
-Fourth, strive for a tone of respect and fairness in your class.
-Lastly, 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 faculty development or a member of your college's support team 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.
Director, Faculty Development
co-Director, Lehigh Lab
Adj. Professor of Philosophy
orig. 11/23/2005 (updated 11/11/2010)
(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