Using Turnitin's OriginalityCheck as a Learning Experience

My aim when I first began using Turnitin's OriginalityCheck was to detect and punish plagiarizers, especially those who might be recycling papers from a previous section of my International Marketing course. Very quickly, within the first term’s use, I came to realize that my students were not intentionally cheating. Rather, they just did not know the mechanics of research and acknowledgment practice. As a result, I switched my focus from punishment to teaching the basics of source identification, selection of material, quotation, paraphrasing, citation, and referencing. I now tell my students to view submission of their papers to as a learning experience. And to bolster that message, I admit to them that I have submitted several of my own papers to the service.

After several quarters’ use of Turnitin, I wrote a research paper (Teaching Acknowledge Practice Using the Internet-Based Plagiarism Service) chronicling my experiences and testing student reactions to my emphasis on learning as opposed to punishment. In the course of my secondary data search, I discovered a minority research stream that does not take a hard line on student plagiarism. Quite the contrary, "ignorance, sloppiness, or panic” is how one researcher described the cause of the alleged cheating. And "mixed signals” sent by "faculty who require group projects and other forms of collaboration” is how another described it. Most telling was this quotation (all citations to be found in my paper): "Students are apprentices, and some of them learn the scholarly trade slowly.” I took this to mean that we as teachers must maintain our positions as teachers and not become cops and punishers. (See, published after my paper, for a thoughtful commentary on cheating.)

In my modest analysis of 662 papers from eight sections of International Marketing, 88% of the papers came back from with a similarity score of 24% or lower. Of those that had higher scores, 10.6% included matches that resulted from anomalies in the software, that is, for example, properly quoted text and Internet URL codes that were highlighted as matches in the database. For any paper receiving a score higher than 25%, my syllabus states that the author can revise and resubmit in order to strive for a lower match. This is the real learning benefit for those students who are not confident of their skills in acknowledgement practice.

To further evaluate how well my plan of having students view Turnitin as a learning experience, I administered a brief questionnaire to three sections of my course (n = 125). Not surprisingly, the lower a student’s understanding of the meaning of plagiarism, the higher the value of using Overall, answers to open-ended questions revealed by a three-to-one margin that use of the service was valuable. A few students, however, who already knew the meaning of plagiarism and possessed the skills of good acknowledgement practice expressed contempt at having to submit their papers.

Therein lies the challenge to teachers who want to use Turnitin. Requiring students to submit their papers to the service sends a message of presumed guilt. Making the effort a learning experience is my attempt to take the edge off. But that edge is still there.

About the Guest Author
Jerry Kirkpatrick is a Professor Emeritus of International Business and Marketing at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. He has authored two books and published several papers including "Teaching Acknowledge Practice Using the Internet-Based Plagiarism Service" in Marketing Education Review.