Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tips For How to Cheat Turnitin...

Limitations to Turnitin 

Turnitin has some very serious limitations to its ability to fully detect plagiarism. For one thing, Turnitin can only detect the most blatantly copied text. It cannot detect cleverly paraphrased passages, or copied text that has been vastly altered by the student’s use of a thesaurus. It is also ineffective for detecting works that have been written by another student, person or a “ghost writer,” unless more than one student submits the paper. Turnitin cannot distinguish between text that has been properly quoted and cited and text that has not. Subsequently, it returns an inaccurate originality report. Turnitin often returns a report of unoriginality for paper headers, and bibliographies. Therefore, the initial plagiarism percentage rating cannot be used as a trustworthy indication of the degree of plagiarism. Using an example from my course: one student posted a paper that received an initial score of 64% plagiarized, but upon inspecting the paper I saw the majority of the matches came from properly quoted material and the references cited section. After checking the accuracy of the citations and references, I excluded them from the match and the paper returned a score of two percent. Additionally, many students participate in online forums that store the comments in a database and display them in a thread. Often, Turnitin will incorrectly match disparate and disjointed sections of that thread to the students’ papers, or will return a plagiarism report for students who are actually quoting themselves. Further, there are several web sites that offer effective methods of circumventing the plagiarism detection of Turnitin. One site described how to use the macros function in Microsoft Word to “fool” the service. For example, the student could submit a plagiarized paper in which every letter ‘a’ is accompanied by a tilde, i.e., ‘a~.’ The Turnitin service would fail to detect the plagiarism since the original documents do not contain the tildes. Then the student could submit the same paper to the professor with the macros enabled that would instantly switch the ‘a~’ to an ‘a’ upon opening the document. In such an instance, the instructor would never see the tildes and relying upon the originality report returned by Turnitin, would accept the paper as an original. Further, knowing that there are many anti-plagiarism robots crawling the web, so-called “cheat sites” or “essay mills” that sell term papers outright do not keep the essays in a searchable database. Therefore, papers purchased from such sites could return false reports of originality. Along these same lines, a webmaster could post a “robots.txt” file in the root folder of their websites, which would prevent the “TurnitinBot” from crawling and caching the contents of their web site(s). Another less-pressing concern is that since it is entirely web-based, if your network experiences connectivity problems, the service would not be available until such issues are resolved. More importantly, the use of Turnitin could compromise the instructor’s own grading criteria. Upon reading a paper, an instructor might judge it to be original and give it a high mark. However, after submitting the paper to Turnitin and viewing the originality report, the instructor would most likely lower the grade and even confront the student. Additionally, using the service places an emphasis on policing student behavior and has the ability to shift the instructor’s attention away from teaching good writing skills and ways to avoid plagiarism. Although I am certain that there are numerous other pitfalls to using Turnitin, one of the most serious problems may be found in the way instructors use it. It is a very dangerous practice to judge a paper by the originality report alone, although that is how many instructors have utilized the service. By reading a hard copy of the paper (on which they make their corrections and edits) and relying on the originality report alone to assure the absence of plagiarism the instructor treads on very thin ice. Finally, I found Turnitin to be a very contentious service which walks a balancing beam between fair and legal use of student papers and infringements on the students’ right. I will explore the implications of this in part two of this report.