Let’s be clear. I do NOT steal my blog content from Wikipedia.
But high school and college students? They are another matter. When they get assigned a three page term paper on the Ancient Greeks or the Modern Arts, the Internet is, like, the first place they turn. Dude, it’s just so simple to Google the topic, highlight a few paragraphs, cut and paste, and then move a couple phrases around and change a few words. I mean, seriously, the teacher’s got, like, 100 papers to grade. How’s anybody gonna catch it? C’mon!
But then, seriously, along comes a thing called Turnitin. It’s an online resource that uses algorithms to automatically compare the text in a kid’s paper against a database of 45 billion web pages, 110 million content items from publishers, scientific journals, and 400 million previously submitted student papers. When all the comparing is done, the teacher gets a report that gives the percentage of the paper that matched other sources. The report never says: This is plagiarism. Just: This is similar. Teachers can then investigate any papers that seem suspicious.
Not surprisingly, the technology has raised a bit of a ruckus. Supporters claim that it saves time, and argue that many incidents of plagiarism are in fact just cases of improper citation, which can be corrected with proper guidance. Tom Dee, professor in the graduate school of education at Stanford, says, “It’s not necessarily bad intent, it’s just bad practices.” But opponents fear that the students are having to prove themselves innocent before their work can be read and graded. Rebecca Moore Howard, professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse, worries, “The use of a plagiarism-detecting service implicitly positions teachers and students in an adversarial position.”
Some teachers are compromising by asking students to submit only their rough drafts to Turnitin, so they can learn from their mistakes. No penalty. No trip to the dean’s office. But Emma Zaballos, a senior at American University, says she had a professor who used Turnitin like a hammer against suspected plagiarists. He made a point of telling her class stories of past offenders he had reported to the academic board and worked to have expelled.
So, dude, the word is out. Teachers are catching up with you. The technology that gave you easy cut-and-paste term papers is now being used against you. Copy your paper from Wikipedia, and you’re gonna get busted. So get to work, and have a nice semester.
As for me, like I said, I did NOT steal this story from Wikipedia. But if you run this blog text through Turnitin, you might find it’s a pretty close match to a certain page over at NPR.org.
Hey, I’m an ad man, nobody said I have to be original…
– Mike Keeler