September 22, 2006

Students Object To Plagiarism Detection

What next -- a prohibition on checking references from the bibliography?

When McLean High School students write this year about Othello or immigration policy, their teachers won't be the only ones examining the papers. So will a California company that specializes in catching cheaters.

The for-profit service known as Turnitin checks student work against a database of more than 22 million papers written by students around the world, as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. School administrators said the service, which they will start using next week, is meant to deter plagiarism at a time when the Internet makes it easy to copy someone else's words.

But some McLean High students are rebelling. Members of the new Committee for Students' Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights. And they contend that the school's action will tar students at one of Fairfax County's academic powerhouses.

"It irked a lot of people because there's an implication of assumed guilt," said Ben Donovan, 18, a senior who helped collect 1,190 student signatures on a petition against mandatory use of the service. "It's like if you searched every car in the parking lot or drug-tested every student."

But the school can search every car in the parking lot without a warrant -- that is part of the agreement you make with the school when you get your parking sticker. And they can search your locker without a warrant as well.

And speaking as a teacher, I've seen how rampant plagiarism really is. Several years ago, one of my students submitted a research paper in which he told of sittin on a hillside overlooking Nagasaki, mentally tracing the path of the falling atomic bomb. The paper was lfed in its entirety from a website ("but I didn't copy anything -- my uncle wrote the paper for me"). In my college-level night class, I recently received a paper which was cut and pasted from multiple sources without even anything to connect the parts -- and included the claim that the NAACP had given the author their photo archive for cataloging and preservation (a direct copy from the Library of Congress website) without a single citation.

Either our students need more to develop greater personal honesty, or they need to accept that being checked for plagiarism is part of the implied contract between teacher and students.

|| Greg, 04:12 AM || Permalink || Comments (22) || Comments || TrackBacks (0) ||

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I'm all for schools using services like the one you described in your post. Plagiarism is indeed more rampant than ever before these days, and I just don't think it's fair that the burden should fall entirely on teachers to police students' written work. Kudos to McLean HS, and here's hoping that other institutions follow suit soon.

|| Posted by TheBizofKnowledge, September 22, 2006 05:04 AM ||

Hi, i'm one of the kids who started this movement at McLean. Basically we know plagerism is a problem, and are fine with other methods being used such as someting similar to turn it in where they dont force us to keep our paper. Similar methods have been used by Professors at colleges across the nation--where they are able to add their students papers to their own program that cross references things.
By all means we are not pro-plagerism or pro-cheating--but very far from it. We just feel as though we shouldnt be forced to do something that we feel is a violation of our rights--the rights that under the Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook of fairfax county specifically says it will protect. yes we give up some--and i believe Ben was misquoted about the cars being able to be searched cause they could be if we park them on school grounds--but the drugtesting thing should be ridiculous. Giving student's a zero because they don't turn it in to turnitin is just like saying that the kid is cheating--hence the presumed guilt until proven innocent. Its horrible and its a bad system.
Furthermore, the school's new claim (originally it was a crackdown on plagerism) about why turnitin is used is to teach kids about plagerism and how not to plagerize. I dont want to be taught by a robot, robots dont teach well, they dont use real life expiriences, they dont speak. Teachers do, all we are asking is that the teachers actually TEACH us, insted of cutting corners and coercing us to upload a paper onto a for-profit entity. How am I supposed to learn that way?

|| Posted by Daniel Freudberg, September 22, 2006 03:17 PM ||

I'll cut through all the crap there -- you don't want to follow the directions your teacher gave you on how to turn the assignment in. What next -- a claim that it is oppressive to require white paper and black ink -- what if you want to use yellow ink on black paper? Or if you don't like the deadline -- that Thursday due-date is certainly oppressive.

And your teachers DO, in fact teach -- they are simply using a tool to check one aspect of your work. They grade the papers, but the program simply serves as a tool to enhance the ability to check for plagiarism. You do support using modern tools, don't you? Or do you and your friends insist that you use only physical resources for your research (no internet -- books only) and turn them in on unbleached parchment written in quill pen? And i am certain that you don't eschew spell-checkers if you do use a computer. Why deprive your teachers of the ability to use the same sorts of computer technology you access?

Your response makes it clear to me that you really are objecting to the use of tools that make it easier to catch you and your peers cheating.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 22, 2006 06:36 PM ||

Daniel -- maybe I am being a bit harsh. I have a proposal for you -- one you can take to your teachers.

Students who object to using trnitin will be permitted to turn in a physical hard-copy of the paper. However, because they choose to deny their teachers the use of the latest technology, the students who choose this option will be forbidden to use internet sites or word processing programs. papers must be typed on a standard typewriter, and all resources must be hard-copy resources available from publicly accessible libraries within a 20 mile radius of the school. Students must provide the location of the sources used so that teachers may check to see if the references actually exist at the site listed.

Students using turnitin may continue to use the electronic resources that their neo-Luddite classmates reject.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 22, 2006 06:53 PM ||

Rhymes... How about we start including in school lectures how the entire field of copyright law is no null and void. I mean after all Turnitin is essentially saying that they are going to break copyright law by keeping a copy of student documents, without their permission, in order to prevent other students from breaking copyright law by plagarizing the documents. Yup, they can break laws but students can't. I love how students are treated as second class citizens. And no. I am not a student.

|| Posted by fuer, September 22, 2006 08:19 PM ||

Hey Greg! What school do you teach at that does this kind of crap?

|| Posted by john cobarruvias, September 22, 2006 09:57 PM ||

That's why I suggest offering students the option to use traditional methods of completing the paper -- and denying them the use of the same computer technologies that they would deny to the teachers. Let the little Luddites who complain that teachers using computerized methods to check for plagiarism isn't really teaching discover what it is like to do "real research" without the use of the internet.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 23, 2006 08:13 AM ||

John -- we don't use such a program.

Why not?

Because teaching at a school where over half the kids are receiving free lunch, we can't even assume computer access, much less internet access to make use of turnitin.

After all, some folks live and work in a wealthy area where they never have to see poor folks while spouting leftist platitudes -- some of us actually work with those in poverty to help them improve their lot.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 23, 2006 08:17 AM ||

As I said in response to your comment on my blog post on this topic:

I say require the students to submit the paper to Turnitin, but don't allow Turnitin to keep a copy of the student's work in its database. There is definitely an intellectual property issue here. Should a teacher be allowed to publish a book of student essays without the permission of the student authors of those essays?

|| Posted by Darren, September 23, 2006 11:40 AM ||

Oh, and John -- both of the search aspects that I mention have been repeatedly upheld by the US Supreme Court, and are common practice in any public school in the Houston area. The policies are even in the student handbooks -- lockers are school property and are subject to search without notice, and studetns agree to the search of a vehicle as a condition of receiving the privilege of parking on campus.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 23, 2006 12:00 PM ||

I'm not sure that such an option exists with turnitin -- and wonder if permitting the copies to reside on turnitin's server is really the equivalent of "publishing" those papers.

I'd argue it is more like my old custom -- keeping a copy of all student research papers (and other "major grade" papers) in my file cabinet for reference purposes.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 23, 2006 12:00 PM ||

I don't use Turnitin, although I approve of it in pcinciple. Instead, I devise very specific writing assignments for which it is highly unlikely students will be able to find entire papers on the internet.

This makes it harder for students to plagarize, and it is easier for me to catch them when they do without the benefit of a computer program.

|| Posted by Rebecca, September 25, 2006 08:53 AM ||


Here is what you do not seem to understand:

You are not supposed to keep copies of students' papers without their explicit permission. Papers are in your possession for the sole purpose of temporary evaluation/grading. Once you grade a paper, your right to maintain a copy no longer exists! Do you have written permission from each of those past students to keep a copy of their intellectual property?

|| Posted by Ralph, October 5, 2006 11:32 PM ||

Actually, Ralph, that is not the case at all.

The only thing I would need permission for is republication or redistribution. Retaining a copy for files would constitute a legitimate case of 'fair use" for educational purposes under copyright law.

Now, if you would care to post some case law to the contrary, I would find that interesting -- otherwise I understand that you are just talking out your @$$.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, October 6, 2006 04:28 AM ||

Sorry, buddy. "Fair Use" applies ONLY to your use for evaluation/grading, since the papers were never placed by the students into public domain! If not for you having been each students TEACHER, you would not have had access to those PRIVATE, UNPUBLISHED documents. After grading each paper, you ceased to have any right to maintain, store, reference, or otherwise access the papers whatsoever. The only two ways around this fact are as follows:

1. each student explicitly granted you rights;

2. each student had aready published the papers in the public domain, without coercion.

So, which one is it, "Rhymes"?

|| Posted by Ralph, October 6, 2006 10:37 AM ||

Yawn -- your failure to cite a bit of case law on the matter leads me to the conclusion that you are, in fact, talking out your ass.

As such, I'm done with the discussion.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, October 6, 2006 07:42 PM ||

Yeah, I didn't think so, ya snivelling coward.

|| Posted by Ralph, October 7, 2006 12:46 AM ||

Ralph -- Cowardice has nothing to do with it.

I've asked, as part and parcel of a rational discussion, for you to provide some support for your assertions.

You either will not or cannot.

I'm therefore forced to conclude that you are making it up as you go along.

In that case, there is no basis for further discussion -- you are asking me to "take it on faith".

Provide some support for your argument and we can continue talking. Absent that evidence, there is nothing to talk about except the weather.

By the way, "Ralph" -- who is Amy?

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, October 7, 2006 06:55 AM ||

the principal at mclean seems to think he can chastize students by flunking them for not using turnitin. i believe this is grossly unfair to the students who do have the right to speak for themselves and follow their principles.

|| Posted by Jeanne, October 7, 2006 01:41 PM ||

What next? Will the principal think he can set and enforce other policies? Good grief -- he might get so drunk on power that he believes he can set a dress code, punish tardies, or ban cheating on tests!

The kids are free to follow their principles. They are also free to choose to receive a passing grade. After all, choices have consequences.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, October 7, 2006 03:19 PM ||

What next? Will the principal think he can set and enforce other policies? Good grief -- he might get so drunk on power that he believes he can set a dress code, punish tardies, or ban cheating on tests! After all, doesn't he know that the inmates students run the asylum school?

The kids are free to follow their principles. They are also free to choose to receive a passing grade. After all, choices have consequences.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, October 7, 2006 03:25 PM ||

Ralph may not have had proof, but I do:

Please read that article, "Rhymes With Right."

Remove the hyphen from the domain name, and the URL will work. I don't know why this forum is blocking the second half of that domain name.

|| Posted by Teaching247, October 29, 2006 02:44 PM ||
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