As it turns out, TurnItIn isn’t very popular with UC Davis professors.
TurnItIn is an online database that checks papers for plagiarized content. UC Davis subscribed to the service on a trial basis during fall quarter, but officials decided it was too costly and ineffective to warrant an institutional subscription.
Don Dudley, associate director of Student Judicial Affairs, said SJA tested TurnItIn by submitting papers to the service that had already been identified as plagiarized. TurnItIn did not consistently identify those sources, Dudley said.
“While the use of TurnItIn by an instructor may have a deterrent effect, it is not clear that TurnItIn is any better at identifying sources than a Google search of questionable phrases,” Dudley said.
Katie Povejsil, vice president of marketing for TurnItIn, said the service may not flag papers as plagiarized because it does not index the entire internet. Rather, TurnItIn sends its web crawlers to sources commonly used to plagiarize papers, she said.
Professors who find other online sources used to plagiarize papers can request to add them to TurnItIn’s database, which includes over 11 billion pages, 70 million papers and over 10,000 professional, academic and commercial journals, Pojevsil said.
“We index over 11 billion pages on the web, but also have a database of publications that would not be in the Google database, such as academic journals and books,” Pojevisil said.
TurnItIn also stores every paper ever submitted to it in its database, so recycled papers turned in to the database will be flagged as plagiarized.
Storing papers also allows TurnItIn to find additional offline sources for plagiarism, Pojevsil said.
“We have so many papers in our database and students tend to use the same sources and often we will match two student papers in our database that actually are matching to a source that is not on the internet,” she said.
TurnItIn licenses can be purchased by professors, departments or entire institutions. It costs $1 per equivalent full-time student per academic year. But UC Davis is not among the 8,500 institutions that have decided the service is worth its cost.
Instead, professors at UC Davis combat plagiarism by choosing unique topics for papers that require specific readings and by searching the internet for questionable phrases that are not consistent with a student’s ability or writing style, Dudley said.
History Department Chair Ted Margadant said web searching is a reliable way of detecting plagiarism.
“Typically, if an instructor suspects a student of plagiarizing a portion of a paper, a web search for two or three lines of this text will turn up the source of plagiarism, and the student will be referred to Student Judicial Affairs. The same principle applies to entire papers that have been downloaded from the web,” Margadant said in an e-mail interview.
Faculty in the English department assign in-class writing assignments to get a sense of a student’s writing ability that can later be used as evidence in possible instances of plagiarism, said Margaret Ferguson, the department chair.
Despite faculty confidence in detecting plagiarism without the use of electronic paper submission services, some students think TurnItIn would be an effective deterrent.
Joemar Clemente, a junior political science major, said he has never taken a class where the instructor announced that TurnItIn would be utilized. Still, he believes TurnItIn would curb plagiarism, especially since students can cheat by turning in recycled papers.
“I have heard of some people reusing their papers for numerous courses, but most people are unaware that this is an academic violation,” said Clemente, also a member of the Academic Affairs Commission, in an e-mail interview. “Also, I have also heard of some people exchanging papers with friends.“
Even if this is so, Dudley said professors occasionally detect recycled papers from a previous quarter or different class. A professor may modify the requirements of the assignment and notice the difference in the paper, he said.
By university policy, students caught plagiarizing are referred to Student Judicial Affairs. To avoid such a predicament, students can visit the Learning Skills Center in 2205 Dutton to ensure their papers have proper citations.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.