Archive for Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anti-plagiarism tool pulled from professors’ arsenal

September 20, 2006


Most agree plagiarism is a growing problem on college campuses since the Internet has made it easier to lift material.

But Kansas University officials have sent word to professors that KU will no longer subscribe to, a computerized plagiarism detection service that some instructors said was their best tool for catching cheaters.

"This is like leaving a door to a bank unlocked," KU political science professor Phil Schrodt said. "Turnitin is a rational response to a problem. The problem is that a student can now download tens of thousands of term papers at the click of the mouse."

For several years, KU has subscribed to, an online program that scans student papers and compares the content to information found on the Internet and in databases of student work, journals and periodicals.

But a recent e-mail informed KU users of the service that the Provost's Office wouldn't extend the subscription past its Oct. 3 expiration because of copyright concerns and the $22,000 cost.

"I really hope (that decision is) reversed," said Tim Miller, professor and interim chairman of religious studies. "I think academic dishonesty is a very, very serious problem on the KU campus, and I would love to see us take it seriously."

A tool

Many at KU said that plagiarism is a continual worry and that it's a bad move to drop the best instrument instructors have to vet papers and deter students from stealing others' work.

Robert Rowland, professor and chairman of communication studies, said many in the department found the service valuable.

"We've caught some people with it," he said. "We think it also deters people."

Kiley Larson, a graduate teaching assistant in communication studies, said helps students while ensuring that a KU degree is worth something.

"It sounds like we're using it to crack down and be mean," she said. "It's really to help them become better students."

KU Provost Richard Lariviere, the university's point man on the issue, was out Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. It was unclear whether the university would consider another option to help deter plagiarism.

Worth the cost

It was unclear Tuesday how many KU faculty and instructors use the service.

"I've talked to a lot of people, and I've not found one who thought this was a good decision," Miller said of dropping Turnitin. "This is one of the best tools we've had around here for enforcing academic honesty - and, ironically, it's at a time when KU is talking more and more about academic honesty, and yet we're getting rid of the most effective tool we have for trying to enforce it."

Lindy Eakin, KU vice provost for administration and finance, said the service cost $6,000 when KU first subscribed, but the costs have increased.

But the $22,000 price tag is worth it, professors said.

"What fraction is that of the salary of our athletic director?" Schrodt said. "Turnitin has changed the way I grade papers. It gives me a reassurance. It gives my students a reassurance."

Copyright issues

Copyright concerns with the service are nothing new and may predate KU's original move to subscribe to it. The concern centers on the database of student work that Turnitin keeps and whether that infringes upon copyright or intellectual property rights.

The issue was the subject of a 2001 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and has responded with a statement on its Web site: "Multiple law firms have confirmed that Turnitin operates in full accordance with the intellectual property and privacy laws of the United States."

Several instructors said they notified students about the use of the service on course syllabi.

"They tell you upfront when they're going to use it," said KU senior Claire Scharenberg, who has taken classes from instructors who use the plagiarism detection service.

Ongoing concern

Faculty and instructors said plagiarism wasn't rampant at KU, but it is a constant concern.

"It's not a major problem, but it is a problem," said Astrid Villamil, a graduate teaching assistant in communication studies.

Don McCabe, a Rutgers University professor whose expertise includes cheating and plagiarism, conducts an ongoing survey of plagiarism.

His survey of more than 60,000 undergraduates found that 38 percent admit to stealing information from printed sources, while 37 percent admit to lifting information from the Web.

McCabe said he thinks the actual figures are higher because many students don't 'fess up to plagiarizing.

He said has it usefulness and there's no question it's a deterrent. He supports honor code systems that call on students to be a part of the solution.

"It makes academic integrity a more campuswide issue," he said.


Sacerdotal 11 years, 9 months ago

Just assigning a research paper without teaching students the necessary skills to succeed is doing them a disservice.

Good point. It's called, "teaching" I believe. This is not always a point of emphasis at the university level.

timetospeakup 11 years, 9 months ago

(yes, I'm sorry, I mis-typed as several times in my post)

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

Turnitin's posted information about copyright, for anyone who's interested:

Redzilla 11 years, 9 months ago

Oh, and Sacerdotal: nice use of whom. This English teacher gives you an A.

3e8 11 years, 9 months ago

maybe if instructors didn't ask the same questions year after year or didn't copy stock exam questions from "instructor edition" textbooks, then students wouldn't find copying other term papers to be an effective means to an 'A'

or is tenure a substitute for originality?

gccs14r 11 years, 9 months ago

My GF isn't worried. She says that there are other ways to catch them.

jayneway 11 years, 9 months ago


From what information do you base, "your understanding" of student copyright law?

belle 11 years, 9 months ago

I wouldn't be surprised if they find another program to subscribe to. With all the competition out there, I'm sure there's a cheaper program that will do that same thing as Turnitin.

davisnin 11 years, 9 months ago

Sourpuss, whether or not the company has infrastructure has no bearing on their right to use your work if the university has a non-transferable license. Say some local go-nowhere band wrote a song and never made money. Sony, with all the in-place infrastructure that has nothing to do with the song, still would have no right to use it for one of their artists without compensation to the author.

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

Sorry for the triple-post. I should clarify: I suppose teachers can upload portions of papers on their own accord, if they have them. But this seems little different than, say, photocopying it and showing it to a colleague, who might know if it was plagiarized.

At any rate, the argument that this substantively violates the student's intellectual property rights seems slim to me.

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

timetospeakup, I think it really varies by department. Seems to me like the humanities and social sciences use the service more than the natural sciences, etc.

Hard for me to see why copyright would be a concern. Surely this is addressed in's user agreement when each user registers on the site. I don't buy it as a reason for cancelling the service.

jayneway 11 years, 9 months ago

Marion, Thank you for citing your sources. I appreciate that. Sorry about your eye.

I do not have a problem with using the service in theory and with the consent of the student. I just think it is unethical to retain the students work and for a commercial company to make a profit from its use.

I surfed a little on this topic and discovered that one school offered a conscientious objector option for students, which is an interesting thought.

Kelly Powell 11 years, 9 months ago

somebody beat me to a mangina remark.....Seriously, they shuck out cash everywhere else, but not to something concerning acadamia?

gccs14r 11 years, 9 months ago


She's in a small department with few sections or students, so perhaps you're right that she has an easier time of it than others do. Still, as Sacerdotal pointed out, most of the time it's obvious when someone has turned in work not his own.

jayneway 11 years, 9 months ago

yourworstnightmare and basil;

I'm not sure about copyright and student work. However, faculty are employees of the university and students are not. Perhaps that is a factor?


yourworstnightmare 11 years, 9 months ago


Indeed, many university teachers have disclosed to me that plagarism and other cheating are widespread. If you look for it you will find it, and to levels that are disturbing.

Your 10% number is frightening.

Now I am beginning to think that KU is not actually canceling "turnitin", just saying they are, so they can run an experiment to gauge its effectiveness as a deterrent to cheating

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 9 months ago

jayneway raises some interesting points. Does a student "own" the copyright to their work handed in for assignments? This is not as clear as jayneway thinks it to be.

In fact, faculty who produce research results do not outright "own" the patents or copyrights to their discoveries, but rather must include the university in the action.

Can anyone clarify?

jayneway 11 years, 9 months ago

Let's get something straight. Yes, turnitin is a deterrent and a tool.

HOWEVER, student work is entered into a database, owned by the company, which the company then makes money from.

Get it? They make a profit off of my work without compensating me. That is crap.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 9 months ago

Come on. Students already pay so much in tuition. How can KU expect them to work hard to achieve, too? Dropping "turnitin" is a good idea. After all, the students have paid tuition, and that should be enough.

timetospeakup 11 years, 9 months ago

crono - the problem with copyright is that the University does not have sufficient rights to student work to give that work to somebody else for them to profit off of it. The University has no more rights to give your work to turnitin for them to profit than I do. It's a similar situation to if I were a grader and copied everyone's work up to a website and offered it for resale. Just because would be using it for something "good" and I might not be does not make it legal.

Sacerdotal 11 years, 9 months ago

After all, the students have paid tuition, and that should be enough.

That's true, and since many of them are interested in "getting a good job" instead of learning for life, why should they be expected to do their own work? If they steal a car, it's wrong; stealing other people's ideas is equally wrong. Send them home if they get caught!

cutny 11 years, 9 months ago

Disgusting that KU would not pay for the service, especially with all of the millions spent on "repairs and renovations." Pay the money you cheapskates.

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

tanzer, I think that's how most professors and instructors feel. Unfortunately, the Provost's office did not give us a voice in the matter.

And we actually like this software. It is a good service: flexible, user-friendly, accurate. You can't say that about a lot of software.

Sacerdotal 11 years, 9 months ago

Expulsion from the university and filing criminal charges against the thieves seems appropriate. Most professors do not need a tool to tell when someone suddenly begins to write like George Will, when a week before they could barely construct a paragraph. On the other hand, the software is amazing and useful. Whom would Jesus plagiarize?

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

At $22,000, that's about a dollar per student, right? Well, what are students paying right now for clubs? Student activity fees? Last semester, students voted to pay an additional $20 per student to fund "women's and non-revenue sports". As important as that might be... how much more important is preventing plagiarism? Especially at a fraction of the cost that students are already paying to non-revenue sports?

gr 11 years, 9 months ago


Is there some upper limit to what should be spent on it? $100,000? $500,000? $10,000?

But, this could be set up in a way to pay for itself. What is currently being done to those students who have been proved beyond a doubt to blatantly copy another's paper? Suppose when that happens, they are expelled and forfeit their tuition. If the service is useful, the cost would cease to be the issue.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago

Excellent suggestions chic! How about adding this: For every game the football team loses, charge Mangino $22,000!

This is another example of the petty nickel-and-diming that KU does constantly while squandering millions on "gateways." Yeah yeah, these donors supposedly give money specifically for this project, but honestly, if I were chancellor, I'd ask the donors to consider a more academically worthy project than a pile of stones on a street.

It is petty stuff like this that keeps KU in the second tier.

morganalefay 11 years, 9 months ago

We also have to re-think our testing methods. Writing a term paper is not always an effective means of testing students' knowledge of a subject matter. Sometimes smaller assignments, such as reviews of journal articles, etc. may actually make more sense in the context of the course.

Hmmmm...I like this idea: the instructor can put together a list of possible journal articles, for example, for the students to review. It's not much work on the part of the instructor to compile such a list, the articles to be reviewed will change from semester to semester and students can be asked to review an article critically in a 2-3 page paper. Depending on the class they may have to write two or three of these reviews. With this type of assignment they are asked to do several things that are relevant to the field and their preparation for the 'real world': they have to write in an organized fashion, with good language and they have to write critically. In a perfect world, they could even present their review to their classmates and answer questions that their classmates ask. This type of exercise can be adjusted to suit students at all levels. Writing 10-page research papers, however, makes more sense to me in an advanced class for majors than it does for an intro lecture class.

If it is important in a particular class to teach students how to cite sources correctly, then make this the assignment. For example, all the students in class have to write a 2-3 page paper on a given topic and one focus of the grading is that they have to cite a given number of pre-determined sources according to the style of the field of study. This actually teaches them the skills that they will need when they write a longer research paper.

I've had so many upper-level students tell me that they had never really learned how to write an actual research paper for a class before and that they hadn't ever learned to cite sources correctly. Maybe that's true, maybe it's just them using excuses. Who knows?! Either way, ideally they will learn good writing skills in each course they take that has writing as a strong component for the course.

Just assigning a research paper without teaching students the necessary skills to succeed is doing them a disservice.

OK...I'll stop. That was a really long post. Sorry...

morganalefay 11 years, 9 months ago

Hi there. I'm gccs14r's girlfriend, and yes, crono, I teach in a smaller department that does not have many multi-section courses. So, I have been able to use alternate means to catch plagiarizers and I understand the problems that people who teach large multi-section courses face.

What we have to do is along the lines of what 3e8 mentions in the above post. I've attended workshops that address the issue of how an instructor can develop strategies in the classroom to prevent plagiarism. These strategies include being creative in topic assignments and how the assignments are completed. For example, I have my students submit a bibliography page of sources on the topic before they start writing it. For extra credit the bibliography is annotated. Then they write an abstract or an introduction, then a first draft and then a final draft. Granted this is a lot of grading for the instructor and/or the TAs, but the best way to fight plagiarism is to teach students how to write a solid paper, whether it is a research paper, an essay or an argument paper.

More on my next post:

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

timetospeakup---The University isn't giving anyone's papers to Students submit them to directly, of their own accord. The teacher doesn't give it to, the student does; and I'm sure issues of copyright are fully addressed in the license agreement that the student agrees to when they sign up for the service.

And if that is really a concern for a student, surely there's some other way around it (such as a conscientious objector policy, mentioned by jayneway), rather than dumping the whole service. Most students could care less about a copy of their paper being located on

Jeanne Cunningham 11 years, 9 months ago

Since the university has repeatedly required "technology fees", why not some sort of a fee for each student who takes a writing class - to be used to pay the cost? How many writing students/year are there? What is $22,000 divided by that number? The additional cost/student would likely be a fraction of the cost of textbooks.

Or, how about some generous alumni who would donate the cost of the service?

Or, how many professors use it? What would the cost be to them to split the cost? Seems as if it would be tax deductible as a tool of their profession.

Other ideas?

compmd 11 years, 9 months ago

davisnin, good analogy with the music industry.

crono, in reference to your last post, photocopying a paper for a colleague to read is very different from submitting to turnitin. the colleague recieves no financial gain for receiving the paper and reading it, nor is there an expectation that the colleague will retain the paper indefinitely expressly for financial gain.

If anyone thinks that one paper is insignificant, understand this: a computer database is a finite set. The number of papers submitted is easily quantified, thus the value of each paper is quantifiable with a value greater than zero. I have not yet read the license agreement students must accept prior to using turnitin, but I find it difficult to believe that a university could force a student to submit his personal works to a commercial third party in order to be processed, declared free of plagiarism, and then retained by that commercial entity for profit.

timetospeakup 11 years, 9 months ago

Marion, from your link "The ownership of student works submitted in fulfillment of academic requirements shall be with the creator(s) "

It does go on to specify that the University has a license to use the work for instructional uses. It DOES NOT give, or anyone else, license to reuse your work, which is the difference between what the english department did with your work and what does.

Regardless, I have a feeling this is getting dropped because it was really only used in a very small minority of classes. I just graduated in 2005, and while afaik was available the whole time I was in school, it was only ever used for a single, one-page paper in one of my classes. Ever.

It's a good idea, but a waste of money if nobody uses it, and has no legal grounds for reusing student work, anyway.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago

I know people are peeved about someone making a dime off of their work, but I think this is one of the best lessons a university can offer - people do and will make money off of your work and it is up to their generosity if you see a cent of that profit.

And let's be honest folks... 99.9% of what undergrads write isn't "profitable" to the author. What you are getting for it is a college degree and the opportunity to make more money in the world (and to start nice services like turnitin so you, too, can make money off of someone else's work!) As well, yes, people make a "profit" by compiling all of your papers into a database, but they also maintain that data, maintain the hardware equipment, write the search algorithms, advertise to universities, maintain university accounts and access, provide customer support, and invest in better technology. So it is not as if your one little five-page paper on Winston Churchill is making someone vast profits. It is one small component of a much larger system that takes a great deal of money and manpower to maintain. And as you are still free to go publish your paper on your own, nothing of any real value has been stolen from you at all. Sure, someone may be using it, but they aren't "stealing." There is a difference as you are not being deprived. I would rather turnitin benefit monetarily from my papers than another student steal my paper and get an intellectual reward (ie: degree) that was not deserved.

To be honest, undergraduates are not expected to produce a great deal of original research. You are asked to examine a question or event, etc, and to give a short review of it. The work I put into even my most agonizing undergraduate papers is absolutely inconsequential when I consider the work my dissertation is taking. Anyone who cares about the integrity of their education should be willing to "sacrifice" their little paper to make sure some goober doesn't turn it in two years later as their own work. The only people who should be against turnitin are plagiarists.

Redzilla 11 years, 9 months ago

A mere $22,000. When I was teaching at little ole University of South Florida, I always imagined that turnitin cost more than that. It is a truly magical program that allows teachers to compare their students' essays against a massive database of extant written work.

What it reveals can be terrifying, and perhaps for that reason not terribly popular in the upper echelon of college administrators. For example, my first semester using turnitin, I had 88 students and I caught 9 of them willfully, knowingly plagiarizing. 2 of them I would have caught without turnitin, but the other 7 would have walked away free. (2 had plagiarized from readily located internet sources, but the other 7 had gotten papers through indirect networks of friends who had written the papers. While all the internet searching in the world wouldn't have found plagiarism, those other 7 papers had been submitted to turnitin at some other time.)

Think about it, though: 10% of my students were plagiarists. University administrators probably don't want to confront the scale of plagiarism that is currently going on, and they won't have to if they don't pony up a measly $22,000. I guess the academic integrity of KU is worth less than that.

kes18 11 years, 9 months ago

As a KU student, I wouldn't mind paying the extra few dollars in student fees to keep Turnitin around.

There are definately other ways to catch plagiarism. However, this isn't really as effiecient when you have a large intro 100 level class or the required coms class when you have one GTA teaching multiple sections. From the classes I've had it used in, they were both the larger 100 level introduction classes. One of the classes was actually Miller's Religion in America class.

I think it works to deter plagiarism. For me, it also encouraged me to be much more careful about making sure I was citing everything appropriately.

basil 11 years, 9 months ago

Although getting rid of Turnitin seems like a dumbing-down move, it isn't necessarily. First off, there are other anti-plagiarism tools that are worth considering. Second, Turnitin doesn't catch them all--and any teacher who thinks it does is a fool. Unless you catch them separately and then compare those papers to Turnitin's effectiveness (and I have), you can't know how well it works. And I'm not convinced.

Jayneway has a point as well. And jayneway isn't alone: a student at McGill won a lawsuit on, I believe, just that point.

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

gccs14r---Not sure who your girlfriend is... but (assuming she is an instructor at KU), what kind of class does she teach? If it's a course that has only one section, and she's the only teacher, she probably could catch them fairly well without turnitin.

On the other hand, we have courses such as the introductory course in my department, which has about 20-30 sections or so a semester, taught by multiple teachers. It's literally impossible to compare papers in such a way that prevents students from using previous students' assignments.

Yet, while teachers soon won't have the Internet as a tool to guard against plagiarism, the plagiarists do. Go Google "college papers". See how many term paper 'help' sites come up.

jhawk4evr 11 years, 9 months ago

I think doing away with anti-plagiarism software is akin to eliminating KU's old English Proficiency Exam (maybe even the Western Civ exam. BTW, does anyone know or remember why those two requirements were dropped?).

That is, let's keep dumbing down the University's expectations of what is higher education because if someone can't create cogent arguments with their own thoughts, let them use someone else's thoughts (or as in the case of the English Pro: if they can't express themself in writing, don't let that get in their way of getting a diploma).

Maybe "Go,'Hawks" should be replaced with "Dumb 'em down, dumb 'em down." Seems to be fitting the trend.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

Lariviere is not off to very good start, is he?

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

As an instructor at KU, I am highly concerned by the Provost's decision to end our subscription to Without such a tool, there is just no way to guard against plagiarism across multiple sections of a course taught by multiple instructors, across multiple semesters. Especially in the age of the Internet, where you can buy a paper with the click of a mouse.

Yet, we also received an e-mail yesterday about KU's new spam filter, saying: "The Provost has funded a new email filtering service to protect KU email." So, which is more important to fund... anti-spam software, or plagiarism software?

I'm especially disturbed that the university seems unable to furnish any sensible reason for why the service was not renewed.

badger 11 years, 9 months ago

Two things about this make me sad. The first is that the professors are losing a valuable tool that would help them catch cheaters and plagiarizers. The second is that they even need one.

I don't think plagiarism is anything new; when I was in college, the dorm floors and the Greek houses kept test and paper files. The test files were great study tools, because you could look at how your bio professor had been writing questions about mitochondria for the last ten semesters and have an idea of what you'd be facing. I was less enthused about the paper files, because (at least in my dorm, and from what I understand in the Greek houses too), the papers were tagged with the names and classes of all the professors they'd ever been turned in to, so you could 'avoid embarrassing mistakes.'

The Internet offers the chance to do that on a grand scale, and that bothers me. I don't think students should be able to get out of writing their assignments. The assignments may seem stupid and unreasonable sometimes, but being able to take what you've learned and put it back into a coherent framework of thought is (as a couple days' observation of the Reader Comments pages will confirm) a rare and useful skill.

crono 11 years, 9 months ago

Morganalefay, I think a lot of what you wrote are good suggestions.

However, while other plagiarism methods can be effective, I don't think that is a rationale for getting rid of turnitin. Turnitin is especially effective for those courses that, for reasons of consistency across sections or learning fundamental introductory concepts, cannot necessarily be altered.

morganalefay 11 years, 9 months ago

crono: I didn't mean to make it sound like I was trying to make a case for getting rid of I was just as upset that the university dropped it as everyone else (pretty ironic, btw that the next thing we hear concerning KU is Hemenway's raise).

Anyway, I'm just saying that we, as instructors and professors, can't change the fact that the university made the decision (unless we have a sit-in or some other kind of rally to bring it back). We can, however, use our skills as teachers to put our heads together - even across multiple sections - and come up with strategies to avoid plagiarism in our classrooms. It takes a lot of work, but I think it can be done. Maybe CTE (KU's Center for Teaching Excellence) can take up the challenge of starting a dialogue about what to do now that has been taken away from us.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 8 months ago

Well, the administration heard the concerns and changed its mind.

DantheMan3 11 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely eye-opening ANTI-Turnitin article with tons of evidence. I had no idea how much Turnitin violates students' rights.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.