A Thread of Torturing and Tutoring in Using Turnitin
Plagiarism is a cybercrime.
Under the Philippine Republic Act 10175, plagiarism in the context of copyright infringement is a breach. Anyone guilty of committing this act can be penalized and imprisoned for three to six years and fined P50,000-P150,000.
Thus, the education stakeholders, especially the school administrators, stipulated in the students' handbook that plagiarism is a major offense. Simultaneously, teachers included in their lessons the importance of properly citing sources in submitting student's works. They emphasized that the inability to do so can automatically lead to failure or expulsion. Plagiarism is indeed a grave matter; hence, some universities availed expensive originality checker software like Turnitin.
Last 2013, my colleague friends and I published our research study on Turnitin and plagiarism. During the conception of our research paper, I instantly recognized Turnitin's benefits to me as a writing professor and to my students’ writing process IF employed correctly. From then on, I continuously utilize it to guide my students in their writing journey. In fact, most of my students realized how they became careful and adept writers because of the Turnitin inclusion in the writing process. However, I still would meet and hear that numerous teachers misapply this software in their teaching strategy because of the three major reasons:
1. Using it as a Scarecrow
There are still a lot of teachers who use this useful software to scare their students. I teach college students who came from different high schools and I experienced seeing them so horrified when I told them that we would use Turnitin in my class. Despite my explanation to them, I still witnessed students crying and freaking out after seeing their Turnitin percentage results. Their trauma hindered them from understanding my explanation and the percentage they got. Upon investigation, I found out that their previous teachers used this software to terrify them (not to plagiarize). Maybe their teachers' intention was good but the result was not.
If we use Turnitin as a scarecrow, we will make our students more petrified with or scorn writing! If so, it will defeat all our hard work and wonderful hopes for them.
Hence, it is our obligation to remind ourselves that expertise and compassion should always go together. We have to be skilled at using this software by properly guiding our students and not immediately assuming that they all intend to copy-and-paste some works and submit them to us. Plagiarism can be avoided if Turnitin is part of the writing process and not the result. However, we have to be reminded that writing is a skill. It takes time and several practices for our students to be immersed with the concept of properly paraphrasing, summarizing, and citing sources. If we want them to be honest with their ideas as they write, we can greatly help them by being a little more patient.
Truly, Turnitin can be intimidating, but it is harmless. Based on my experience, it is greatly beneficial IF used properly. In this case, Turnitin is not a scarecrow. Our students are not birds that we need to shoo away because our crops will be bugged. Our students are our crops that, if tended correctly, can blossom and become proficient writers.
2. Using it as a Slave
Turnitin is not a slave or substitute teacher or teacher assistant who will check your student’s paper; then, you can use the similarity index as the basis for the student’s grade.
In our paper (Bensal et al., 2013), we emphasized the importance of the teacher’s role in using Turnitin. We reiterated that Turnitin only highlighted the similar parts, and the teachers still have to determine if the parts are plagiarized or just analogous to other published sources. Therefore, Turnitin could streamline the process of checking essays or thesis. Because of that, Turnitin becomes a tool that could enrich the feedback teachers give to their students.
Turnitin is a similarity index software that could prevent plagiarism. That means, it can be a guide but not a decision-maker. To reiterate, teachers still need to read the student's paper and counter-check it with the Turnitin result or vice versa. I experienced checking papers with 50% and above similarity index, but the student's work was free of plagiarism. However, I checked an article with 1% result but it was plagiarized. Therefore, we should not give students allowable specific percentage results as it will defeat the purpose of both - Turnitin and the teacher in the classroom.
In a nutshell, we should not be slave drivers to put all the responsibilities on Turnitin. Our job as a teacher is more than employing a software in our class. Together, let's make our students responsible and conscientious writers by directing them correctly and checking their papers religiously.
3. Using it as a Death Sentence
Using Turnitin as a death penalty will only repel unmotivated, insecure, or inexperienced students. This software was not created to penalize our students; therefore, let's not use this to punish or humiliate them.
Turnitin must be used as a mechanism to guide our students to improve their writing skills and be honest writers. Thusly, we can teach our students the importance of being careful in writing down ideas in their papers.
As a writing professor, I included Turnitin as a part of my students’ writing process. I always instruct them to submit first their final draft to Turnitin before considering it as their final paper. This way, they can see which part they accidentally, mistakenly, or blatantly copied from their sources. Upon seeing it, they can be aware of their mistakes and revise their work accordingly.
An important value that every writer should have is humility. This can be in the form of - revision after seeing the result of Turnitin. This is the stage where I give my students the liberty to alter their sentences to exhibit honest papers – free of plagiarism. I firmly believe that learning is effective when they see and experience it themselves.
Overall, Turnitin is only a tool – a useful software – to teach our students the value of process and honesty. Turnitin, as its tagline says, IT “PROMOTES academic integrity” and not DEMOTES students' integrity. Let’s use Turnitin to achieve quality education.
The True Turnitin
Quality education is honing students' skills that will make this world a better place. Let’s empower our students by guiding them to be diligent and confident writers. Let's all start by being well informed that in Turnitin:
1. The percentage result is not automatically the equivalent percentage of the plagiarized parts. If you click the total percentage result, you will see the distribution. You will then find out that some of those highlighted parts are words, phrases, titles, names of organization, sentences. Some are quoted but properly cited, and some are not.
2. Those highlighted parts are not automatically plagiarized, but they could only be similar to other sources. For example, if the teacher will not exclude the reference list in the setting, this part will be highlighted and will be part of the total percentage. Obviously, the reference list will be stressed because there are tons of those sources on the internet and the Turnitin repository itself.
So the questions are: What is plagiarized? And what is just similar?
As shown above, out of the 48% result, only 2% has a high similarity indicator, but it will be counted as plagiarism for two reasons:
First, the source and the student's work both talked about family communication; therefore, the writer was completely aware of this source. If not, the writer must have revised or paraphrased this item accordingly after seeing the Turnitin result (especially if the teacher included Turnitin submission as part of the writing process). Nevertheless, the writer did not revise it and s/he submitted this copy as the final paper.
Second, the writer basically just altered some parts with their synonymous words (i.e., improved for enhanced, thereby for thus, involvement for engagement, recognized for familiar). Again, the writer needs to revise his/her work before considering it as a final paper or else this is plagiarism.
On the other hand, the next two photos showed the writer's careful consideration. As seen, 21% is the similarity index, but it cannot be considered as plagiarism for the following reasons:
Firstly, the highlighted parts were quotation, in-text citation, and reference citation that strictly followed the APA 7th edition (as required by the teacher).
Secondly, the quotation (although garnering 2%) was properly done through a block format. In addition, the author's last name, year of publication, and paragraph number were all correctly indicated.
Thirdly, the remaining 19% distributions were in-text citations (Please see the picture above - the one in the small blue box is a sample) and reference citation (Please see photo below) that followed the APA 7th edition format.
In conclusion, whether we are teachers or students, speed and advancement of technology should never compromise our humility and receptiveness. These are two of the important values we should bring with us to foster quality education. Ergo, I still attend trainings even though I am well accustomed to the Turnitin features.
Together, let's continue learning and writing!
We know we can count on you!
Tell us your experience with Turnitin.
GOVPH. (2012). Republic Act No. 10175. Official Gazette.
Bensal, E.R., Miraflores, E., & Tan, N.C. (2013). Plagiarism: Shall we turn to Turnitin? CALL-EJ, 14(2), 2-22.