To call TurnitinUK "plagiarism detection software" is perhaps somewhat misleading, as we shall explore in this short review. Rather it is more realistic to refer to it as a text-matching tool which identifies similar text in students' submitted work with material from internet sources, other UK students' work and a range of commercial texts and electronic journals widely used in educational institutions. The software itself is currently used by around 97% of UK universities, increasing numbers of further education colleges and schools, plus all the unitary awarding bodies for GCSE and A-Level qualifications as part of their malpractice investigations.
TurnitinUK was selected by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of a national strategy to discourage plagiarism in HE and FE institutions, and following a technical review of tools available in this area in 2001 (Bull et al.). Following a six-month pilot of the software with a range of institutions in various subject disciplines the service was launched in 2002 as part of a holistic approach to plagiarism prevention via the JISC-funded Plagiarism Advisory Service (successor to PlagiarismAdvice.org). The software was initially provided at no cost to HE and FE institutions in order to encourage adoption, however, the service is now paid for by institutions via a subsidised licence. The software was re-endorsed as JISC's preferred solution by an independent review in 2007 (Scaife).
Capabilities and use
TurnitinUK, at its most basic can identify the heritage of a piece of student work, whether sources have been cited or not, and where the document demonstrates either small fragments of matching text, large paragraphs, or what is referred to "patchwriting" where various sources of text have effectively been sewn together, with little student input or critique. However whether any of these practices amount to plagiarism is not something a blunt tool such as TurnitinUK, is able to determine, and this decision is subject to institutional guidelines and the judgment of the tutor viewing the resulting "Originality Report". What the software arguably does offer, however, is a valuable learning experience for students on the origin of textual material and the need for attribution of electronic sources.
The obvious assumption is to view TurnitinUK in the first instance as a summative tool, and refer to it in suitably punitive language for "catching" and "policing" cheating students. Certainly this model of use has definite merit, after all, this was JISC's thinking back in 2001, and certainly the software can and does, contribute to an institution's plagiarism prevention strategy. It is a pedagogic tool to assist tutors with the decision-making process when determining whether plagiarism has occurred, and used with all students within a class or module ensures all are treated equitably, and that any assumption of guilt is founded on definite proof, and as such many institutions use the Originality Report as case processing evidence.
Key to the debate surrounding plagiarism and authenticity is the development of student study skills, information literacy and appropriate use of electronic sources of information, and therefore a formative approach to using TurnitinUK is also widely encouraged, and is arguably highly effective, as is evidenced by this user's comment:
"most of the staff who are using Turnitin on a regular basis seem to see it as a useful tool for teaching students about plagiarism, rather than a method of "catching them at it" The practice is for the students to submit a formative assignment and the tutor to discuss the implications of a high scoring match with the student concerned should this occur." (Beckton, 2007)
Not only does the Originality Report, reinforce the need for appropriate referencing and citation, it also graphically demonstrates the origin or words and ideas, and where material, …