Plagiarism detection program questioned

As students devise increasingly creative ways to cheat, educational institutions have been forced to come up with more complex ways to prevent plagiarism.

Harvard is currently testing a plagiarism-detection software called Turnitin in one of its sociology courses. According to the Web site for Turnitin, the program performs an “exhaustive search of billions of pages from both current and archived instances of the Internet.” It issues a report examining the overlap between the subject paper’s contents and other sources, as well as highlighting sentences that were copy and pasted. Though Yale recently wrapped up its first-ever Academic Integrity Week, a number of professors and administrators said they do not believe such a program is necessary at the University.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he does not support implementing a program like Turnitin at Yale because it fosters an environment of mistrust.

“If one creates a culture expecting the worst of students and underscores this attitude with a climate of vigilance, then students will act in ways to confirm these expectations by inventing clever ways of acting dishonorably and avoiding detection,” he said. “This is not a race to the bottom that I want to encourage.”

Slavic languages and literatures professor Sara Stefani said she believes there are limitations with programs such as Turnitin, considering that students can now order custom papers online, a violation Turnitin would likely not be able to detect.

Some faculty members said that while such a program might be helpful, it should be used carefully. English professor Lawrence Manley said he would not favor the idea of using this tool in “any random way” or as a scanning device. But such a program would be useful when the instructor has a reason to suspect plagiarism, he said.

“I wouldn’t scan every paper to come to me because to put students under suspicion automatically is not justified,” he said. “I’d rather check only papers I have doubts about.”

Manley the program might also convey an even stronger message to students that they need to be responsible about citing sources.

Students offered a variety of opinions on anti-plagiarism software. Some students said they believe that using a program like Turnitin is an unjustifiably radical measure.

“I believe students should be trusted,” Margaret Gorlin ’09 said. “I think there’s a certain point where you go too far, and using software is reaching that point.”

Others, however, said they believe faculty should have access to this additional resource if professors feel they can benefit from it.

“I don’t know how much of a problem plagiarism is for Yale, but a program like Turnitin would help if professors decide they need it,” Stephanie Brockman ’08 said.

Academic Integrity Awareness Week, which consisted of events and speeches about research ethics, concluded last week.

Comments