Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Is It Cheating - or Learning the Craft of Writing? Using Turnitin to Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Is It Cheating - or Learning the Craft of Writing? Using Turnitin to Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

Article excerpt


Canterbury Christ Church University is a new university, originally established in 1962 as a teacher training college. It is the largest provider of programmes for the public services (notably education, health and social care and policing) in Kent and has around 18,000 students, many of them part-time and mature students, across five campuses. A total of 1,500 students are from overseas, around a third of these from outside the EU.

The aim of the study was to develop the University's policy and practice through establishing staff and student understanding of the plagiarism policy and how Turnitin relates to it, strategies for using Turnitin and the role of Turnitin in education to avoid plagiarism.

A further aim was to contribute to the sector's body of knowledge. In 2009 Badge and Scott concluded that in relation to plagiarism detection an area lacking in research is "investigation of the impact of these tools on staff teaching practices". Although a number of recent studies have considered the educational use of Turnitin (Davis and Carroll 2009; Flynn 2010; McCarthy and Rogerson 2009; Wiggins 2010), they focus on individual programmes or subject areas rather than institutions as a whole and the relationship with policy. Our understanding was that at the time this study was undertaken (2010/11), this was the first institution-wide study of the use of Turnitin.

Review of literature

The problem of plagiarism

Plagiarism is a growing problem for universities. A Daily Telegraph headline (Barrett 2011) highlighted "the cheating epidemic at Britain's universities" with "thousands of students caught plagiarising, trying to bribe lecturers and buying essays from the Internet." Higher education institutions (HEIs) have met concerns over the increasing problem of plagiarism with a range of measures, particularly electronic detection systems. The UK national licence for Turnitin was only introduced in 2002/3 but by 2009 the software was used by over 95% of HEIs [Barrie 2008 cited in Badge and Scott (2009)] and is now used worldwide by over 10,000 institutions in 126 countries (iParadigms 2012). SafeAssign, launched by Blackboard in 2007, processed one million papers in its first year (Blackboard 2008). None of the systems available actually detect plagiarism, they merely detect and flag up non-original text (text that matches to another source), which may well be legitimate, e.g. correctly cited direct quotations.

Detecting non-original text is one issue but defining plagiarism is another. As de Jager and Brown (2010) point out, plagiarism is complex and can involve a number of different behaviours, ranging from deliberate dishonesty or negligence to ignorance of what plagiarism is or an inability to deal with it. In the West, plagiarism is usually defined as taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own: in an academic context plagiarism is regarded as dishonesty or cheating, and penalties can be severe. Definitions of plagiarism have varied over time and differ between cultures. Historically painters and others were encouraged to copy the works of the masters - it was even thought presumptuous for writers to invent their own plots - and in some cultures it is still seen as a mark of respect to incorporate someone else's work into your own (Hayes and Introna 2005, p. 215).

On the question of detection, Woessner (2004) says that unless the penalties and consequences of plagiarism are made clear to students, detecting plagiarism will offer no deterrent but there is a growing view that not all incidences of plagiarism are the same, and treating them all as academic misconduct may not be appropriate as some students struggle to acquire the skills of academic writing. English as a foreign language and science students often use the "mosaic technique" (Ashworth, Bannister, and Thorne 1997, p. 201) or "patchwriting" (Howard 1999) (weaving together a paper from different sources, properly referenced, but where the writer's input is merely to thread the material together) to learn the academic writing style of their discipline through imitation (Eckel 2010). …

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