Usage of Turnitin Program

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Usage of Turnitin Program


The issue of plagiarism in academic institutions has affected students and educators in different ways. The increasing cases of cheating and plagiarism compel many professors and teachers to use plagiarism detection programs, to ensure that students turn in original work. These programs detect instances, where the students have plagiarized their work. Incidences of plagiarism have increased, as students have more access to electronic texts. The internet has eased the way students conduct their research. It has provided the students with many sources, which they can use to conduct their research. Many websites claim to help students with their assignments. Such sites provide students with the chance to buy essay papers. The students buy the papers, and they turn them as their own work. This has lowered academic integrity, and it has compelled professors to use plagiarism detection programs. One such program is the turnitin program. The Turnitin program is used to detect plagiarism in a student’s work. The Turnitin program checks the student work against internet sites, previous work submitted by students, academic journals, and other sources. When a student hands in the work, the program checks the work against the internet using the web pages. It then checks the same work against published works such as periodicals, and electronic books. The final step involves checking the work against student papers that have ever been submitted to turnitin. The phrases or words plagiarized are color coded or underlined, and linked to their original source. The program shows where instances of plagiarism in a student’s work are detected. Various legal, social, and ethical issues arise because of using the turnitin program.

Role of Internet Technology in Education

The turnitin program is one of the software programs that are used by many academic and learning institutions. Learning institutions have embraced internet technologies to assist them in their work, and to enhance student learning. The technologies enable educators to improve their level of communication with the students. It also enables them to reduce time and costs. One of the most important and significant benefits of internet is online education. Online education has benefited many communities in the rural and underdeveloped areas access education, thus giving them a chance to get quality education. This has reduced the cost of education, as online education tends to be more affordable. It reduces some of the costs of traditional tuition such as the cost associated with boarding fees. It does not consider one’s location and anyone in any part of the world with access to the internet can access the internet. Internet technologies have enabled students to get access to many learning resources, a feature that was previously not possible.

Benefits and Challenges of Turnitin

Many academic institutions have adopted the turnitin program as a means of detecting plagiarism. Some seem not to have analyzed the benefits and challenges of using the program. Obviously, there are several advantages of using the program. Some of the people who have implemented the program in their institution allege to the fact that plagiarism incidences in their institutions have decreased. They assert that students are less likely to cheat on their assignments, when they learn that the teachers will use the program to check their work. Some colleges use the turnitin program to check admission essays. This helps them to ensure fairness, especially when there are many applicants, and there are only a few admission places available. These factors help educators to maintain and enhance academic integrity in their institutions.

The professors and other educators do not seem to consider is the fact that some of the instances of plagiarism are usually not intended. Using the program provides many incidences and rates of false positives. Moreover, the program does not detect plagiarized work from subscription resources such as journals. It does not have access to subscribed journals and other databases, which the students might have used when researching. In most cases, the program searches for materials in the English language, and it cannot detect plagiarized materials in other languages (Rogers 608). The program cannot establish whether the student bought a paper from one of the many online sites available. Some students plagiarize work even though they know that it will be submitted to the turnitin program. In one of the studies conducted to establish the effectiveness of the turnitin program, some of the students who were told that their work would be checked for plagiarism had plagiarized their work. They cited reasons such as lack of time, and lack of knowledge concerning references and citations as some of the reasons why they had plagiarized their work (Shaw). Such issues mean that the program is not effective in combating plagiarism.

Legal Consequences of using Turnitin

The Turnitin program has a database containing millions of papers submitted by students, and billions of web pages. Once the program checks a student’s papers, it retains the paper in its database. This makes it one of the most popular plagiarism detection services preferred by most universities and colleges. Other electronic plagiarism detection services are not as popular as turnitin because they do not retain the students’ papers. Therefore, they have a smaller database to compare the students work. The act of retaining papers appeals to many people who support such services, and it makes turnitin one of the most profitable detection programs. Despite its popularity, some professors are cautious, about using the program. Some people discourage using the program, citing the fact that it infringes on the students rights. They claim that the program infringes on a person’s intellectual property for profit (Rogers 608). This is because the program retains the student’s original work in its database, and it uses the work in the database to check the work submitted by students later. Turnitin cannot claim fair use because it uses and retains the student’s entire work for commercial purposes. Despite this, the courts have ruled that the services offered by turnitin are transformative and are used for the benefit of the public, not considering the financial purposes of the program.

Turnitin does not compensate students for using their papers, although they make a lot of money by using the papers on their database. The copyright law provides that a person can quote another person’s original work, but only of that person has the permission to do so from the owner. Institutions that compel their students to turn in their papers to turnitin are in effect assisting the turnitin program to violate the copyright law. This is because turnitin does not ask for the students’ consent before using their work. The courts however, ruled that this was not a violation of students’ intellectual property (Brown, et al. 114). When students work on their assignments, they often use sources from other scholars who have researched on the subject, or conducted studies to complete their research and present their argument. This means that the student do not present work in its original format, although they may have searched for the articles and books to use in their research. Despite this argument, it is important to remember that a student’s work is protected under the copyright law.

Most students hand in creative work for their assignment. This means that they present original ideas that they have thought of, or which they have experienced. When the turnitin program retains their entire work to expand their database collection as part of their commercial venture, it is clear that they have violated the copyright act, and they cannot claim fair use in this instance. Students only receive a grade for their work once they have given faculty the authority to grade their work after submitting it (Rogers 608). Turnitin defends itself against copyright violation law by insisting that it checks the similarities between the student’s work and other documents, and thus the copyright law does not apply. Some people claim that the turnitin program violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The act protects students’ records, which include written documents, video and audio tapes, photographs, films, CDs and other computer media. The act provides that the students should give their consent before their materials are used or disseminated in any way.

Turnitin does not have the authority or permission to use or to make digital fingerprints of the students’ materials, as this violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. In essence, academic institutions that choose to subscribe to the program are the main culprits, since they have the option of using other means to check for plagiarism. Many academic institutions are aware of this, and they require the students to turn in their papers. When this is mandatory in the institution, the students usually have no option but to comply with the demands of the institutions. This results to coercion, since the student is forced to submit their intellectual property. It is important to note that some institutions forbid their students’ work to be distributed or duplicated in any manner. Plagiarism detectors defend themselves against violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act by citing the fact that the students work is not part of the academic records since the student has not submitted for grading (Rogers 608). Despite these accusations, educators and other people who support using the turnitin program must realize that students have the right to give their consent before they use any of their academic materials. They must agree to the license terms, and they should have the bargaining power to negotiate these terms (Herrington 94).

Often students do not have any bargaining power, and they have to comply with the rules and regulations set by their institutions. In one case in Arizona, some students sued because of using their works. The school required the students to submit their assignments to turnitin, failure to which they would be penalized heavily. The signed students clicked an “I Agree” button, meaning they had accepted the terms and conditions. The students however added a disclaimer after they had submitted their assignment, indicating that they did not want turnitin to use their work in any other way. The students did not win the case. They realized that despite their disclaimer, they did not have any bargaining power, and because of this, they could not win the case. This means that learning institutions should not coerce students into using turnitin.

If educators feel that the issue of plagiarism is a major problem in their institutions, then they should first let the students know the importance of using the software program. They must teach the students the importance and value of maintaining academic integrity. They must teach them all the aspects of plagiarism, and they should make sure that they understand. Instilling the students with a sense of self-worth and self-esteem will enable them to avoid cases and incidences of plagiarism. The program can create a situation where it violates the teacher and student confidentiality. The teacher can submit a student’s paper to the turnitin database, and someone else can expose this work to other people on the net. Some people have expressed concern over the use of turnitin because the government can access the database, and access millions of papers submitted by students, under the guise of the US Patriot Act (Bretag and Mahmud 200). The government uses such means as one of the ways of ensuring security in the country.

Pedagogical and Ethical Consequences of using Turnitin

Some professors do not use the program because they claim that it interferes and breaches their relationship with the students (Brown et al., 115). They claim that using the program creates a situation where the students feel that their teachers do not trust them to hand in original work. This can create a seemingly negative learning environment. It can discourage student learning, by discouraging them from using different sources to research their work for fear that, they will be accused of plagiarism. In some cases, the faculty can turn in the students work to be checked for plagiarism without informing the student. This raises several ethical concerns on the part of the faculty, and it is a violation of their privacy (Rogers 609). By handing their work to a third party such as turnitin, educators show a lack of respect for the students work. They show an abuse of power, since they have more authority than the students do. The students know that the faculty has the power and capacity to affect their lives while in school and this can affect their future (Herrington 94).

Students feel that they are presumed guilty until proven innocent, once they are asked to turn in their essays to turnitin. This violates the constitutional right of innocence until proven guilty. The teachers assume that the students have already plagiarized their work, by asking them to submit it to the program. Many students are opposed to this, and they feel that it does not present a good image of the students, or the school. On the other hand, some of the professors who use the service claim that they help the students to promote ethical behavior. This helps the students in turning in quality work. This helps to enhance the relationship between the teachers and the students. In most cases, the teachers who use the turnitin program give the students a chance to rectify their work. The students hand in the first draft of their work to be checked on the turnitin program. They then get revisions where the program has detected various instances of plagiarism. The professor gives the student another chance to rewrite the work, based on the results of the program. This in turn helps the student to detect various areas where plagiarism occurs. This feature enables teachers to use the program as a teaching tool. Students learn how to cite and reference their work. They also learn how to add their analysis to the research. Students appreciate the chance to rectify their mistakes.

In most institutions, the students are not allowed to use the turnitin program. The administration only allows the faculty to use the program, since it is a subscription service and they spend a lot of money to use it. The students appreciate the chance to use the program because they understand the consequences of plagiarism. Some of the consequences of plagiarism include a reduction in their grades, rejection of their paper, a warning, disqualification, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion (Herrington 103). The consequence will depend on the school, and the extent of plagiarism in a student’s work. Teachers do not only depend on the program to check for plagiarism incidences. This is because of the limitations of the program. The program indicates all the instances where a student has used a source, and it even detects direct quotes. This then means that the teacher has to check the evidence presented in the originality report and examine carefully, the highlighted cases. The teachers evaluate the quality of the originality report to ensure that they treat the students fairly. It is important for the teachers to maintain fairness in institutions and give the students a chance to rectify their mistakes. This enhances the relationship between the teacher and the student, and it creates a good and positive learning atmosphere.

Students find it unfair that teachers would consider using a computer program to check and grade their papers when they have put so much effort in writing the papers. The turnitin program does not recognize citations and quotations. It gives a higher percentage of plagiarism when the students use citations and quotations in their work, yet this is the basic element of research papers. The turnitin program does not recognize vague research, and it presents it as original research. This can in turn encourage low quality work from the students. Students who have done thorough research in their work, and who have cited the resources they have used produce papers and essays of high quality. They show the extent to which they have used external and diversified research when writing their papers. This makes the system unfair since it does not recognize a student’s efforts. Students feel that it is better for the teachers to check their assignments because they will be able to offer a better and fair grade, than the turnitin program does. Moreover, some students and teachers feel that using the program undermines the teachers work and makes them lazy.

Alternatives of using the Turnitin Program

There are obviously many limitations and challenges of using the turnitin program. There are many social, ethical, and legal challenges involved when using the program. Many students are adversely affected when they are forced to submit their papers to the turnitin program. As noted, this has affected their relationship with the faculty, and this has affected learning in various institutions. In order to reduce these limitations, educators can use other methods to detect plagiarism in their students work. These methods not only emphasize the importance of originality in work, but they also emphasize learning and they result to production of quality work. When teachers give their students assignments in class, they are able to know the students’ writing style, his areas of weakness and the use of verbs and grammar. This will enable the teacher to determine whether the students have done their work, or whether they have bought papers from one of the many paper mills around, something that turnitin is not able to solve.

Instructors can also give the students assignments, which they should complete in class. This enables them to supervise the students as they are doing their work. Teachers can be creative and assign students assignments that are hard to plagiarize. They can assure that the assignments they give the students reflect the topics and themes they have studied in class. Turnitin does not point out areas of weaknesses, which the students should improve on, but it is seen more as a way of punishing students for plagiarism, whether accidental or intended. Ultimately, the solution of plagiarism is instilling a sense of self worth on the students by emphasizing the importance of academic integrity. It is important to note that some of the major universities around the country, including where turnitin was developed, do not use the turnitin program. These schools have instilled discipline, integrity and trust in their students, and they expect the students to abide by the rules.

Summary and Conclusion

The issue of plagiarism is one of the most difficult and challenging factors that educators have to deal with in academic institutions, especially in colleges and universities. The development and advancement of technology and the internet have made it more difficult for teachers to curb and deter plagiarism. Thus, many teachers have resulted to using electronic plagiarism detectors such as turnitin. Solely depending on these detectors is not enough to end the problem of plagiarism. Turnitin has many limitations, which can result to legal, social and pedagogical consequences. Teachers have to advocate academic integrity among the students, and they have to make sure that they are ethical, especially when they are dealing with the students work. They should learn to teach by example. They should not coerce the students to submit their papers to the turnitin program. They should make sure that they do not violate the copyright laws, or any other laws that pertain to protecting the students work. The turnitin program compromises the relationship between the teachers and the students. Students feel that teachers do not trust them, and they feel that the teachers proclaim them guilty before proving them innocent when they ask them to turn them to turn in their papers to turnitin.



















Works Cited:

Bretag, Tracey and Saadia Mahmud. “Self-Plagiarism or Appropriate Textual Re-Use.” Journal of Academic Ethics 7 (2009): 193-205

Brown, Victoria et al. “Strengths and Weaknesses of Plagiarism Detection Software.” Journal of Literacy and Technology 11.1 (2010): 110-131. Print

Herrington, K. TyAnna. Intellectual Property on Campus: Student’s Rights and Responsibilities. SIU Press, 2010. Print

Rogers, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Volume 1. United Kingdom: Idea Group Inc (IGI), 2009. Print

Shaw, Claire. Use of Turnitin Software does not Deter Cheating, Study Finds. Jan 19 2012. Web. 2 May 2012


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