‘Turnitin’ Plagiarism Software Available to All Mason Faculty

Posted: September 13, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

“Google it.” For many university professors across the country, doing a Google search has been one common, and fairly quick, way for them to check on student papers that had signs of plagiarism.

Now, George Mason faculty members can also use Turnitin, a plagiarism-detection service. The online service was piloted at Mason in the School of Management and the College of Health and Human Services last year, but is now available to every department as of this semester.

The campus administrator of Turnitin is Star Muir, director of Learning Support Services.

Muir says he has encouraged faculty who plan to use the program to make that clear in their syllabus. Professors can decide whether or not they want to use the service.

“I would like to see it used as an educational tool and not as a punitive tool,” says Muir, who notes that Mason has an honor code.

Don McCabe of the Center for Academic Integrity surveyed about 50,000 undergraduates from more than 60 campuses for a study on academic integrity. Some of the findings released last year:

  • On most campuses, 70 percent of students admit to some cheating

  • Honor codes help to reduce cheating

  • Studies of 18,000 students at 61 high schools show that cheating is a problem with high school students. “More than 70 percent of respondents at public and parochial schools admitted to one or more instances of serious test cheating and more than 60 percent admitted to some form of plagiarism,” according to the report.

  • Internet plagiarism is a growing concern on college campuses, according to the report. Most students feel “cut-and-paste plagiarism” from sources on the Internet is not a serious problem.

In addition, Muir says he was dismayed to learn from the study that 77 percent of students felt such cheating was not a serious issue.

Muir says it is important to have standards in place since Mason attracts several thousand new students each year. He also notes that with a diverse student body, coming from many different cultures, Mason needs uniform systems so students know what is expected of them when it comes to academic integrity.

“I don’t think that George Mason has more of a (cheating) problem than any other institution,” says Muir. “When used correctly, Turnitin provides the student with an awareness of the expectations and standards for citation of the sites they use.”

So how does Turnitin work?

In a memo to faculty members, Muir wrote, “Turnitin compares paper submissions to ProQuest databases, Internet sites and a bank of previously submitted papers, providing an originality report that yields a numeric estimate of the percent of plagiarized material and direct comparison windows to review the paper text side-by-side with the Internet material.”

One of the misconceptions about Turnitin is that its plagiarism software is basically a Google search. “Turnitin is far more powerful than Google in at least three ways: 1) It searches proprietary databases (ProQuest) with tens of thousands of journal articles that Google cannot access; 2) It provides a comparison to the algorithms in other previously submitted papers; and 3) It provides a clear side-by-side comparison between sections of text found in the paper and that same section of text found online, which is exceptionally helpful in making a determination of plagiarism,” according to Muir’s report to faculty.

“It is way of communicating to our students that we set a standard … for originality and attribution,” adds Muir. “That is appropriate in a highly diverse community. Clearly, we have expectations. A final benefit is that Turnitin helps out the overworked faculty member.”

Muir notes he once had to grade 50 to 80 papers, from eight to 10 pages each, on any given week. Many faculty members, he notes, cannot check all possible instances of plagiarism with that kind of workload.

“They literally do not have the time,” he says.

Faculty members who want to use the service can obtain an account ID and password from their departments or from Muir.

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