Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Inside Higher Ed is reporting on a controversial new use of Turnitin.com's anti-plagiarism software; admission officers who use it to catch applicants who plagiarize their college admission essays. As you may know, Turnitin is a service that allows teachers to submit suspicious-looking student work to a database that compares the writing in question to all other student work that has been submitted by teachers across the country. (A bit of legal trivia for our IP readers - four high school students sued Turnitin for copyright infringement claiming the company violated their rights by including student work in a database they sold to teachers. However, the court granted summary judgment to Turnitin on fair use grounds).
But there are risks to using this software in connection with application essays rather than work submitted for academic credit:
Some admissions officials, like those at Penn State, welcome the service. They feel that the problem is serious enough that they need help. Others, however, are skeptical, saying that the push by Turnitin will shift the focus away from more serious issues in college admissions and suggests that colleges aren't capable of uncovering plagiarism themselves.
Others worry about due process: Current students accused of plagiarism on the basis of a Turnitin (or a competitor company's) review have whatever rights their colleges give those accused of academic dishonesty. Colleges almost never tell applicants why they are rejected, however, so some fear that this system could lead to some would-be students being rejected on the basis of "false positives" for plagiarism on their admissions essays -- an accusation that they may never know about.
Turnitin is a huge force on campuses: it is currently used at 9,000 high schools and colleges, and has processed more than 100 million papers. Many professors value Turnitin and can be seen at scholarly meetings thanking its representatives in the exhibit hall. These faculty members tend to say that they used to feel helpless to fight plagiarism -- and that they were tired of using Google to try to find proof about work they suspected wasn't original.
In other academic circles, however, Turnitin is controversial. Some have raised intellectual property concerns about its use of students' essays. And many composition experts believe that colleges -- by focusing on scaring students that their plagiarism might be caught -- have missed an opportunity to teach students about issues of writing ethics. Others believe that software detection services produce an unacceptable number of false positives.
You can read the rest here courtesy of IHE.
I am the scholarship dude.