Monday, June 22, 2009

A balanced critique of Turnitin: Focus on learning & ethics

My colleague, Vickel Naryan and I have now facilitated several sessions with a variety of faculty at Unitec NZ, which have focussed on the discussion of what plagiarism actually comprises, the complex reasons people plagiarise, and how to assist the avoidance of plagiarism. One of the reasons that we designed such a session (with a suite of associated resources in Moodle, including use of blogs) is to stimulate discussion around these key concerns, and then, and only then, lead into discussion and use of the plagiarism detection software, Turnitin. To introduce some of the underlying gnarly ethical questions of using plagiarism detection software as a punitive tool, we show a short video from Fox News and then encourage a discussion that is inevitably lively, rich, and often passionate.

The latter part of the workshop is centered around setting up a Turnitin account and assignment. Faculty are encouraged to submit a piece of their own writing, and some of the participants describe in their blog postings feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger when they receive the report. We wind up with a final discussion where opinions range between Turnitin, if used in a pedagogically sound way that assists students through multiple revisions of work, might be a useful tool, to real concerns around the ethics of its use.

The article linked to here "(Mis)Trusting Technology that Polices Integrity: A Critical Assessment of" critiques the tool, and discusses some of the issues and concerns that have been raised by Unitec faculty, including, for example, what message the use of the tool by an institution actually sends. Makes for really good reading! (Many thanks to Vickel, who found the article.)

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