Students will soon be able to receive plagiarism reports on their own written work as part of a restricted-access pilot evaluation of Turnitin, a plagiarism detection system.
Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Divinity School and the Law School have elected to pilot the software this academic year, after months of meetings to discuss its usage, according to a Tuesday email announcement from Deputy Provost for Teaching and Learning Scott Strobel. Turnitin, which will be used to “estimate the originality of written work,” returns a “similarity report” after comparing an original uploaded paper with a database of web pages, books, articles and other uploaded files. The reports show all of the online sources that match with excerpts of a student’s paper, even those that have been cited properly.
After Oct. 21, both students and faculty will be able to access Turnitin — but only through a visit to the Center for Teaching and Learning. Students can only receive a report through an appointment with a writing consultant at the CTL. Faculty may meet a staff member at the CTL for a guided simulation on how they would theoretically use the tool if the software is implemented based on its pilot evaluations.
“We are not going to make the software available to everyone without testing it out first,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News. “We are not going to make any decisions without evaluating how the system works.”
The announcement of the piloted software comes only a month after a Sept. 17 email from Chun about resources for maintaining academic honesty, including general guidelines to avoid plagiarism. In the email, he wrote that instructors “value academic integrity for reasons that should seem obvious: they expect scholars to receive credit for their work, and they expect students not to gain an unfair advantage over their peers by receiving credit for work they did not do.”
After the pilot concludes in Spring 2019, a faculty committee at the CTL and another at the College will decide whether to continue with the software and expand its usage throughout the University. These committees — the Center for Teaching and Learning Advisory Committee and the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee in Yale College — will review students’ and faculty members’ opinions based on survey responses before making their final decision.
“If the software is adopted for use beyond spring 2019, use in a particular class or for a particular assignment will always be at the choice of the instructor,” said Patrick O’Brien, communications officer for the CTL. “Use of Turnitin will not be mandatory.”
According to O’Brien, faculty in the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Law School and Divinity School can use the software to assess the originality of five students’ papers during a meeting with a writing consultant and will not be able to use the software beyond that consultation. Faculty in other professional schools will have access to Turnitin software on Canvas without a CTL consultation and can enable the software on individual assignments.
English department lecturer Jami Carlacio said she has used Turnitin at other universities and supports implementing the software at Yale. Carlacio added that she believes plagiarism is an issue at Yale and other elite schools because the high-pressure environment leads some students to either deliberately or unintentionally plagiarize online and print sources.
“It’s important for students in all disciplines [and] all levels to understand the concept of academic integrity and the practice of proper citation. I’ve heard that people plagiarize even in graduate school,” Carlacio said. “Turnitin might sound like a policing strategy, but ultimately it allows us to find out where students are getting their information and how they are using it in their work.”
Carlacio emphasized that professors should be trained to use the software and interpret Turnitin reports in order to identify whether a student has actually plagiarized or simply used similar language as another source. While Carlacio said she supports implementing the software permanently after the pilot ends, she doubted that students would sign up for a consultation at the CTL with little information about how the software works.
Students interviewed by the News said they were open to using the plagiarism software. George Tang ’21 said he would choose to use the software, even if it was not mandatory, since it is a “convenient method” for students to analyze the originality of their work.
Ali Ekdal ’22 said he would use the system “just out of curiosity.”
“I think that if a student is not intentionally committing plagiarism, then it is unlikely that the software will claim that he is,” Ekdal said. “One concern is that students might push themselves to be original, instead of reflecting their sincere ideas, for the sake of reducing the similarity. Originality of the work does not necessarily imply its success.”
According to Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations, the standard penalty for cheating and plagiarism is two semesters of suspension.
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