Turnitin does little to tackle plagiarism

A recent study has found that the Turnitin software, used by the University, has little effect on the extent to which students are willing to plagiarise.

The software is well recognised and is used by over 10,000 educational institutions and 20 million students across the world. Departments at the University encourage students to attend workshops and learn how to use the Turnitin software to help cut down cheating.

However Dr Robert J. Youmans of California State University analysed two groups, telling one group that the software would be used and the others that it would not. Youmans found that there was very little difference between the results.

Although the results of the survey suggest the software does not make a significant contribution to combating academic plagiarism and cheating, YUSU still believe it is a useful tool.

Graeme Osborn, YUSU Academic Officer, stressed: “Turnitin by itself is not the solution to plagiarism; the only way to prevent plagiarism is to make sure that students are aware of exactly what plagiarism is, and the reasons for it being considered academic misconduct.”

Turnitin has been employed by the University of York since 2010 and Simon Ditchfield, Chair of the Board of Studies for History at York, argued that it is important to continue to use the software,“as a diagnostic tool to assist students in being more self-aware and self-critical writers.”

In a piece in the Times Higher Education supplement, Dr Howard Fredrics commented that the study showing that Turnitin is not fully successful in counteracting plagiarism necessitates the need for “strong sanctions” and a “zero tolerance policy”.

Though he argues this is not likely because: “Universities are afraid to fail students or to kick them out of their courses because that would have a financial impact on the university.”

A University spokesperson commented: “As stated in the THS article, Turnitin (or any other text-matching software) may not significantly reduce plagiarism if used solely as a deterrent. This is why, over the last two years, the University has invested in establishing a way to make the Turnitin software available to students as an academic learning tool.

“This approach was trialled for a year with positive student feedback, which informed UTC’s decision to establish Turnitin as a resource for students. As a result, University of York students have been given the opportunity to receive the necessary training and then access to Turnitin (either through sessions embedded in their department programmes or through open sessions offered every Wednesday throughout the year) so that they are able to monitor their own use of academic sources and, through checking their own work thoroughly, learn to cite and use sources more appropriately.”

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