Introduction to Turnitin & Overall idea of it
The Turnitin anti-plagiarism software used at Lancaster University is an on-line service to which student work is submitted. The software goes through each piece of work, looks to see whether parts of it can be found anywhere on the internet, and produces a report for each piece of work, highlighting any parts that match anything found on the internet, and giving the web address where the original text can be found.
The work to be checked can be collected on-line by being submitted by students to Lancaster University's Virtual Learning Environment (LUVLE), and to make things easy, downloaded to local disc in one file, known as a 'Zip' file. Alteratively the work can be collected from another VLE or via e-mail, and 'zipped' up using a program on the lecturer's computer. It is hoped that soon we'll be able to transfer student work from the new version of LUVLE straight through to Turnitin.
From the local hard disc, the zip file can be uploaded to an account on the Turnitin software and all the submissions checked, and a report made for each. The lecturer submitting should then just scan down the list of results, which show a percentage of each work that matches with material on the internet as a number in a column. If the lecturer sees one that is significantly higher than expected, then that report should be examined to see whether it's possible that parts of the student's contribution are not his or her own work.
It's important to stress that this software is a tool to help lecturers locate possible copying, and that when the software finds something, it may not be plagiarism. Many students are not very good at providing references in their work correctly - some are hopeless - and this will show a false positive. There is also the issue of cultural difference with some overseas students that means that they find the concepts around what constitutes an original essay confusing. The software does what it does moderately well, and if student work has been copied off the internet, it's likely to find it, but the department must make the judgement about whether what it may have found is plagiarism.
Please note: It is extremely important for legal reasons to make sure that students who are going to submit work for electonic testing hand in a signed disclaimer cover sheet with a printed version of the work consenting to have the work electronically checked. An example cover sheet is given in section 10 of this documentation. There is an electronic facility in LUVLE that enables staff to make students agree to a staff written declaration of originality before handing in their work. This saves loads of work in collating and storing signed bits of paper. More details are given in section 10, about batch submission.
Whilst the assessment of what Turnitin may find inevitably require a perceptive assessment of the work in question, the software is extremely easy to use, and can be integrated with the normal teaching operations of the department. Student work can all be assessed quickly as described above, or an account can be set up for one person in a department, and individual items of work can be checked as and when there might be a suspicion of non-originality.
If you are new to Turnitin, a good way to learn about it, whether you intend to use it occasionally to check one or two suspicious bits of work, or whether you want to upload all student essays and dissertations for checking is to do the following.
Go through the instruction pages in order from 1 to 6, in order to see the principles of submitting work, and how to submit a single piece of work from your hard drive.This will enable you to see how to get a single test file into the system. After that, read through the remaining sections, and choose how you will use the tool. If you are going to use it with LUVLE, read parts 7 and 9, and hopefully you should then know enough to be able to bulk process student essays, which is what many departments want to do.
Finding out about student submission:
Section 11 is a recent addition, showing staff how to set up an anti-plagiarism system in which the students submit their own work and can review it in the light of what Turnitin reports. This is done by some departments as part of a drive to make sure early on in their courses that all their students understand what constitutes an original and properly constructed piece of work. In tandem with this section is the guide for students in this website at:
Apart from part (1) on this page giving advice about plagiarism, which of course applies to all students, this page gives the students information about how to submit their own work, and so you can use this and section 11 of the staff guide to work out how to set up a self checking anti-plagiarism scheme.
Issues arising from assuring that confidential details do not end up inside the Turnitin system.
There has been a question raised over the confidential nature of assignments submitted to the Turnitin software that the University uses. This is probably not of interest to the lecturers organising most student work that is uploaded, but it would be relevant for programmes whose students are employed with companies, and for which they submit assignments which can be based on confidential company information etc. To ensure that such information is kept confidential it is important that if you submit such assignments to the plagiarism software you need to ensure that the assignment is excluded from the repository which Turnitin maintains. In this way, you can be sure that none of the confidential material could be accidentally viewed, but doing this has the disadvantage that collaboration by students and/or copying of previous year’s essays would not be detected by the system set up in this way.
To explain more about the fears over confidentiality: If work submitted to Turnitin does end up in one of their repositories, then potentially there might be a way in which another organisation could submit similar data to Turnitin and work out that it exists in a repository within Turnitin, and that someone at Lancaster University put it there. If it was a requirement that data given to the University was never given to any other body, then submitting it to an essay checking repository would not only clearly breach that assurance, but it might be possible, as mentioned, for the organisation who first allowed the data to be used to prove that it was somewhere else too.
In order to make sure this doesn't happen, staff should follow the guidance in this guide about setting up the anti-plagiarism software for repeated student submission or for use in demonstrations. This is covered in section 3 of this guide: Login and Setup - look at Appendix 1 for how to stop data going into any of their data repositories.