Turnitin can reduce plagiarism and help students to improve their writing. Without support from staff, however, students are less likely to experience all the potential benefits and more likely to feel anxious and harbour misconceptions.
Student support needs
Most students feel anxious about assessment. Turnitin introduces an additional concern – that a system, rather than a person, is going to judge their work. Students at QMUL and elsewhere have expressed anxiety about:
- Being unjustly accused or being caught for unintentional plagiarism.
- Lecturers relying too heavily on the similarity index: that it will bias their reading of the assignment.
- Loss of the personal aspect of assessment: being treated as a number, not a person.
- Turnitin’s reliability: that the text matching may not be accurate.
- Staff training: that lecturers may not have received sufficient training or may not understand the limitations of the tool.
- Violation of their intellectual property rights.
Student misconceptions about Turnitin are also more likely to persist without support. For example, they may believe:
- That there is an acceptable level of plagiarism, represented by a percentage index.
- That a low index indicates that you have not plagiarised and a high index means that you have.
- That the aim of using Turnitin is to catch them out.
- That they can use Turnitin to help them avoid detection.
Suggested good practice
Students are likely to be less anxious and better able to benefit from using Turnitin if they understand its aims, what it can and cannot do and how their lecturers will use it. Students also need support to make sure they know what they can learn from using Turnitin and what strategies to use in order to do so.
- Discuss Turnitin with students in the context of understanding academic integrity and becoming a good academic writer.
- Explain that Turnitin is just one of many tools that you and the department use to detect plagiarism.
- Explain that staff, not the system, make judgements about whether or not a student has plagiarised.
- Make sure students know how you and the department use the results, giving examples if possible.
- Avoid giving students a threshold percentage index. This can encourage a strategic approach with a focus on reducing the index to below the threshold.
- If your students see their originality reports, encourage them to look into all matches that are identified, whatever the overall index.
- Encourage students to view the Turnitin report as feedback on their writing. Draw their attention to what the originality report can show them, such as poor paraphrasing or lack of quotation marks or citation.
- If your class is too large for individual feedback on Turnitin reports, give generic feedback to the whole class, in conjunction with peer review and self assessment activities.
- Encourage your students to work through the resource Interpreting your Originality Report, available at: https://elearning.qmul.ac.uk/guide/interpreting-your-originality-report/
These activities have been used successfully to support students using Turnitin
An introductory workshop organised by the department or by individual course lecturers. The use of Turnitin can be discussed in relation to academic integrity, plagiarism avoidance and improving academic writing. Short extracts from originality reports can be used to illustrate key points, for example:
- Some types of assignment generate a higher similarity index than others. A personal, reflective account is less likely to find matches than a descriptive essay on a specialist topic, for example. The kinds of reference material that the students use can also affect the index.
- Some exact matches are inevitable and should not cause anxiety. All disciplines have their own terminology. If the students are developing as practitioners in their disciplines they will be using disciplinary jargon and terms that will appear in published materials.
- It is not always the case that “low index = good” and “high index = bad”.
The following activities might be used in a workshop or incorporated into the course teaching, as needed:
- Get students to work in groups to brainstorm a list of words and phrases that are likely to be found in all similar assignments on a particular topic
- Give students a sample originality report and ask them to compile a list of suggestions to help the assignment author in their next piece of writing
- Use a sample originality report to discuss all the possible implications of high and low similarity indexes. This can demonstrate the point at which human judgement is needed in order to determine whether plagiarism has occurred.
- Use Turnitin in an early assignment that is only formatively assessed. Ask students to develop action plans based on their originality reports. Alternatively, students could work in pairs, exchanging originality reports and giving one another suggestions for improvement
- Discuss with students – ideally working through a sample assignment – all the ways in which the department may detect plagiarism.
- Share with students the Turnitin guidelines for lecturers.
What our staff say
“We integrate the use of Turnitin into a more general lecturerial session exploring the importance of citing your sources and doing so accurately.”
Dr Alastair Owens
Director of Teaching and Learning, School of Geography
Queen Mary, University of London
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