When you get wrong answers to the wrong questions…

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There has been a bit of a splash in the last few days, publicity regarding a study of Turnitin by Susan Schorn of the University of Texas.

iSchoolGuide, for instance, splashed an item by Sara Guaglione: University Of Texas At Austin Writing Coordinator Susan E. Schorn Finds Turnitin Software Misses 39 Percent Of Plagiarized Sources, and EducationDive posts a similar take on the story, this by  Tara García Mathewson, Plagiarism detection software often ineffective.

There is not a lot new here, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective.

Both articles are based on a post in InsideHigherEd by Carl Straumsheim, What Is Detected? worth reading, for its content and for the comments it has generated. Again, not a lot new, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective (as are other so-called plagiarism detectors, it is not just Turnitin which is problematic).

Straumsheim goes further (than Guaglione and Mathewson), pointing to Turnitin’s propensity to assign false negatives Continue reading

Aware – but of what?

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The online Times of India (30 June 2014) carries an item by Somdatta Basu, IIM cuts out copy-paste, which describes how the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C) seems successfully to be reducing the number of plagiarised papers submitted for assessment.

The Institute has been using Turnitin for more than a year. In the article, one IIM-C professor is quoted as saying:

“It has had the desired effect. If a professor finds that a work is not an original one, then there are penal provisions in accordance with the institute’s policy on plagiarism.”

“Penal” might not be Continue reading

Studies in statistics

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Following last year’s publication of Turnitin Effectiveness: Plagiarism Prevention in U.S. High Schools, Turnitin has recently published a follow-up research study, Turnitin Effectiveness in U.S. Colleges and Universities.

Similar to the earlier study, the college and university study purports to demonstrate that, although schools and colleges which qualified for the study often experience an increase in the rate of “unoriginal content” in the first year of Turnitin use, most schools and colleges experience a decrease in the rate of unoriginal content in the second year of use, and, on average, all schools experience decreases in the third and subsequent years.

Unlike the earlier study, Turnitin does not use unfounded assumptions of increase in rates of use of unoriginal content in schools which do not use Turnitin in an attempt to demonstrate how effective use of Turnitin can be (see Imagine… (another flawed study)).

However, just as in the earlier study, Turnitin only considers papers Continue reading

Imagine… (another flawed study)

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The problem with plagiarism, as with any activity that those who indulge prefer to keep secret, is that we don’t know how prevalent it is, so we can’t say how effective are the measures we take to prevent or detect occurrences, or whether what we do really does make a difference.

Turnitin, probably the most well-known of the various online text-matching services (aka plagiarism checkers or plagiarism detectors), tries – possibly needs – to have it both ways.  They try to show that more and more students at all levels of education are plagiarising, so schools need to buy their detection services, and they also try to show that schools which use their services have reduced levels of plagiarism. Continue reading

Never mind the quality, just keep taking the tablet

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I have just taken part in a live Turnitin webcast, Grade Anywhere: Turnitin for iPad (free but you need to register your email address; you’ll then be sent a link to the webcast).

The webcast is meant to promote their new iPad app, and it seems it is true, now you can grade (almost?) anywhere. You don’t even need a live internet connection, as long as you synced your iPad to your Turnitin account and downloaded student work before you went offline.

turnitin for ipadA pity then that Turnitin itself is flawed. Continue reading

Fewer cases of plagiarism

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The online THE (Times Higher Education) recently carried a headline: Turnitin is turning up fewer cases of plagiarism. That’s good news.

The subtitle of Paul Rump’s article runs “Cases of serious cheating fall by 60 per cent, company says.”  Serious cheating is apparently defined as essays where more than 75% is made up of unoriginal material, and the figures as given in the article are impressive: Continue reading

Carried away

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Every so often, we have a good laugh – or cry – at a newspaper report of someone who, believing their GPS rather than their own eyes, drives a high vehicle into a low bridge, or drives into a river,  or maybe drives 3000 km across Europe on what should have been a one-hour journey. No, surely not?

And then there is Turnitin. I often wonder whether Turnitin and its sister companies sometimes get carried away, Continue reading

How much plagiarism?

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Every so often, in workshop and in forums, someone asks, “What percentage of plagiarism is allowed?”

The short answer is, of course, zero per-cent.

The question is usually asked by someone who has received an originality report from Turnitin or other online text-matching software, turnitin-report
and it has come back with passages and paragraphs brightly coloured. The highlighted sections indicate text for which the software has found matches, on the internet or within its own databases.

Highlighted text does NOT indicate plagiarism. Continue reading

Flattering flaws

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It’s ironic that I have to thank Turnitin for bringing Retraction Watch to my attention.

Retraction Watch is a blog written by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky. It aims to report on retractions made in science journals.  Scientific knowledge is not static, but it does tend to develop slowly. New knowledge is gained as connections are made, Continue reading


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An article in today’s online version of Campus Technology catches my eye: “Tackling Plagiarism” by Bridget McCrea.CampusTech-p2

The article deals with Brevard Community College’s decision to adopt Turnitin as an anti-plagiarism tool. I’m pleased to see that the College realises that it is a tool, that the reports it generates do need further checking by teachers, that matches are not necessarily indicative of plagiarism.

But I am puzzled by a statement made on screen two of the article: Continue reading

Plagiarise better?!

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There’s an interesting article in a recent Palo Alto Online News. trading-postIt’s headed “Plagiarism website: trading post for English papers : Palo Alto High School students can run an ‘originality check’ before handing in papers on Turnitin.com” and the first paragraph reads:

An Internet-based plagiarism detector has become not only a tool for teachers but also a plagiarism instructor for students and a trading post for English papers.

I wasn’t sure – I’m still not sure – whether staff writer Chris Kenrick had used that term intentionally or not.  “Plagiarism instructor”…  How to plagiarise right (and get away with it?).

I’m definitely sure that Kenrick fails to make the case for Continue reading