Another dot in the blogosphere?

Turning on Turnitin

Posted on: April 2, 2019

I like reading articles that create cognitive dissonance. This one on plagiarism-detecting software was one example.

Software like Turnitin is a given in modern LMS. Universities make this the first line of defence against plagiarism and the default assignment submission platform.

But doing this ignores two big issues:

  1. It does not recognise the shortcomings of such software
  2. Institutes of higher education do not implement better assessments than essays

Some shortcomings of software like Turnitin described in the tweeted Nature article included:

  • Failure to detect non-digitised text
  • Reporting false positives of common phrases and references
  • Black box algorithms that do not rate the same submission consistently

Looking back at previous reflections, I reminded myself why I not rely on Turnitin as the only plagiarism detector. It might be the initial strategy, but it is not the only one. Other strategies include relying on my knowledge of my students’ writing abilities, looking for quality of writing and not quantity of matching, and staying up-to-date with my content areas.

I also prefer to go beyond assessments of knowledge and venture into evaluations of performance — it is not what you know that matters; it is what you do with it that does.

No software or AI can yet make subtle or nuanced judgments on, say, what matters as good pedagogy or instructional design or decision-making. This is harder to do because I cannot push such thinking to computer systems. This is also better to do because it shows the value human judgement.

Relying blindly on software like Turnitin helps Turnitin. It does not necessarily nurture more responsible academic writing. Even worse, such reliance allows universities to rely on easy or conventional assessments instead of tougher and more meaningful evaluations of learning.

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