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Plagiarism website: trading post for English papers

Original post made on Feb 23, 2013

An Internet-based plagiarism detector has become not only a tool for teachers but also a plagiarism instructor for students and a trading post for English papers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, February 23, 2013, 2:46 PM

Comments (12)

Posted by Publius, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 23, 2013 at 11:12 pm

The use of Turnitin.com is far more controversial than this ill-researched article would suggest.

To start, teachers at Gunn are far less trained than (apparently) teachers at Paly and seem to not have the slightest idea of how to properly use the site.

The second concern is that a submission to Turnitin.com is licensed over to them, and since students are required to use the service (getting a zero otherwise), they have no choice in the matter. This is a serious and grave legal concern for which no solution has ever been proposed, by either Turnitin or the district.

The first sentence says that it has become a "plagiarism instructor for students". This is truer than the author realizes; frequently the allowed pre-evaluation simply tells the student what plagiarized sentences need to be re-worded in order to pass unnoticed. (Plagiarism is the use of others' *ideas* without attribution, not others' words. Turnitin conflates the two, another crucial flaw.)

As demonstrated in this article, it also has far more false positives than is acceptable for a service that the district pays so much for. It is essentially useless in this regard; I remind the district that Google is free, and that competent English teachers ought to be discerning enough to be able to detect plagiarism without any aid.

Lastly, the mention of being able to grade papers digitally has no bearing on the usefulness of Turnitin at all; it is hardly a unique feature of the site.

Whether "everybody's upset" when plagiarism occurs also has no bearing whatsoever on the issue.


Posted by PALY alum, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2013 at 6:45 am

The severe cheaters just dig themselves into a ditch they cannot climb out of. If they can use an pre-submission report, I am sure some will plagiarize and see what pieces work and what pieces don't. Then they do the same on the college essays, get into a college that they can't handle, so they cheat again. Since they're pretty hardened at this point, they will find ways to get through the system and then they realize the working world is not the same as school--you are making, not copying, the information. So they resort to cheating in other ways such as taxes and get really messed up.

The vast majority of cheating happens just before the deadline. For some reason, students like to do the assignment the night before (in college the hour before) it is due. You are really stressed at this point and just want to find something to keep that "A". Copying or looking at someone's code to fix your bugs is "the solution". Morale: control your workload instead of letting it control you.

Also, hope the people at Turnitin are smart enough to realize that you can't plagiarize your own work. That was a problem when the science teachers used Blackboard's SafeAssign five years ago.


Posted by Looking-For-The-Point, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2013 at 10:00 am

Publius has answered a few of the questions that came to mind from reading this article—which leaves one wondering: "what's the point of this article?"

There are some interesting tid-bits offered to readers, but nothing solid, so all one can do is wonder what is really going on at the PAUSD, relative to using "technology". Publius suggests that the use/understanding by teachers at the two high schools is not equivalent. This is more than a little disturbing—given that the two schools are only about 2-3 miles apart, and connected by the Internet. So—why wouldn't the people in charge of "Institutional/Educational Technology" have prepared a meaningful package of materials for teachers—so that they could effectively use this technology? Or, is it just wishful thinking that there is a department of "Institutional/Educational Technology" at the PAUSD?

The tid-bit about the students preparing a video was hopeful—but what about the Staff? Shouldn't they have a video developed to help them understand this tool kit/set? What role does the Superintendent play in overseeing the development of these tools, and insuring that all teachers are adequately prepared before being expected to use these tools?

Although not directly discussed, there is the possibility that software that actually can grade papers might exist, or might come into existence, one of these days. Is anyone at the PAUSD looking forward—at possibilities like these?

This article doesn't really make much of a point, since it doesn't provide much in the way of details. Maybe the author can think about some of the comments from readers, and rework this article to include some meaningful information—

Like:

Cost of the Turnitin package.
Review of the analysis capabilities of this package.
Problems with "false positives"
Alternative Offerings to Turnitin.
Comments By Students (Pro and Con)
Total number of cases of plagiarism detected across the whole schools system.
Typical punishment for plagiarism.
Number of grade levels using Turnitin.


Hopefully, this Weekly author can do a better job on the topic in the near future?


Posted by Newton-Ferrers, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Obviously, this is turning students into better plagiarists and cheaters. Cheating of the magnitude here in Palo Alto, as well as some East Coast Schools, always happens when the expectations are set unrealistically high, and the competition is very tough. It is easier to appear to be successful than to actually be successful, as the students of every generation find out. But now, high tech makes it easier and more creative.


Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2013 at 7:35 pm

My personal opinion is that turnitin.com is annoying. What annoys me the most currently is that one of my teachers posts assignments there instead of on schoology, and since turnitin isn't programmed well to handle a calendar finding assignments is a pain. My current english teacher also makes assignments due at midnight, instead of the beginning of class (virtual deadline) which also annoys me because I tend to do my best work from 10PM-1AM. Beyond that, I think turnitin is kind of pointless -- sure, you might catch that kid who copy and pasted an entire essay from the internet word for word, but no one really does that. As for needing a video to use it, not only does Google exist and I'm sure someone else has already uploaded one, it's pretty simple and if you can't figure out how to use turnitin you have bigger problems. As for grade levels using it, I think it's every grade -- I used it sophomore and junior year for sure, and everyone else used it freshman year.


Posted by What????, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2013 at 7:54 am

Teachers should not be using something that is such a pain. What idiot assigns a midnight deadline? Your parents should take this up with your counselor, the principal, and the school board.


Posted by Torvald, a resident of University South
on Feb 25, 2013 at 8:57 am

So much negativity out there in comment-land. We should be applauding Paly for being proactive about the problem of plagiarism and using Turnitin to help teachers help students learn about citing sources and plagiarism.

So kudos to the Paly for keeping their teachers more prepared for using this technology so they can be more effective at teaching our students.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 25, 2013 at 9:07 am

Looking-for-the-point, Most decisions are made at the school site, not the District which is why Paly has used Turnitin.com more than Gunn.

I am wondering if Paly still uses "readers" for the English papers. I'm also wondering if the teachers have become more timely in returning papers. My son's teacher a couple years ago used a reader to comment on the papers, but even so, took 4-6 weeks to return them.


Posted by Looking-For-The-Point, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:52 am

> Most decisions are made at the school site

Ah .. thanks for that bit of information.

It's really hard to see that the so-called "Site Councils" are the best way to run an organization the size of the PAUSD, or any organization that involves this many people.

It's time to end this archaic approach to system management, and begin to run the PAUSD only modern organizational lines.


Posted by not true, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

Gunn has been using that website for more than six years. Why even compare the schools? This article was about Paly. Who is out there Gunn-bashing again?


Posted by Annie, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm


And all they need to do instead is as Mayor Bloomberg did in New York. BAN SMART PHONES IN HIGH SCHOOL.

Its so obvious.

Yet the consumer techno-boosterism beats all logic.


Posted by not true, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:01 am

Interesting that some are ok with Paly being run as an independent site but not Gunn. What if we were to use "modern organizational lines" resulting in a conversion from TA to GC model (more effient and cost effective), block schedule to rotating schedule (more child friendly) and so forth at Paly? Is that really what you want?


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