Detecting unoriginal student work with insightful software
Over ten years ago, members of the humanities division at Blinn College, a two-year community college with four campuses and 18,000 students in central Texas, long suspected students were either not submitting original copy or working with peers on projects when collaboration wasn’t allowed.
Teachers had performed Google searches whenever unoriginality was suspected but knew some plagiarized work was slipping through the cracks, says Audrey Wick, an English professor at Blinn.
“That feeling instructors get that tells us if a paper isn’t in a student’s voice was our only barometer for addressing the problem,” Wick says.
Blinn’s humanities division began researching digital platforms that could effectively identity unoriginal work and, a little over a decade ago, adopted Turnitin, an online service that checks and prevents plagiarism. The program was chosen because it encourages best practices for using and citing written material.
When presented with Turnitin as a prospective solution, the school’s dean of academic technology selected various instructors, including Wick, to test the online system for a trial run.
The group discovered multiple instances of plagiarism during the testing period, including examples that they might not have suspected were unoriginal. “We saw that it was really an issue,” says Wick.
Adopting Turnitin wasn’t difficult for students or instructors, she says, because it didn’t require either group to add extra steps to their routine.
Today, Turnitin has evolved into Turnitin Feedback Studio offering more than plagiarism checks, of which instructors at Blinn fully utilize.
Administrators and directors love the program because they can easily interpret Turnitin Feedback Studio's reports if they have questions about a student’s work, says Wick.
Turnitin also inadvertently addressed one of the school’s previous challenges: retaining student writing. With an online dropbox, Turnitin allows instructors to compare papers throughout the semester, Wick says.
Students benefit from Turnitin Feedback Studio as well, she says, because the assignments are digitized, requiring no printing.
Turnitin Feedback Studio encourages peer review exercises between students as well, another surprising factor Wick didn’t anticipate. “My students see it as fun,” she says. “They get to play the role of instructor for a little bit.”
Peer review also makes her students better writers, Wick believes. “My students see the value of looking at other people’s work and commenting on it,” she says.
Providing professors with opportunities to address plagiarism directly with students is yet another advantage.
“It allows me to have real conversations with students about the process of academic research using concrete evidence,” says Wick.
Now Blinn College has a full site license for Turnitin Feedback Studio, providing every instructor with full access to the online system. Further training on how to use Turnitin Feedback Studio is provided at the community college. Wick also leads workshops. She and other teachers also disseminate information about any Turnitin updates in their department.
“Turnitin absolutely solved the problem of discerning what wasn’t original student work and so much more,” Wick says.
For more information, visit www.turnitin.com
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