Universities are getting better at detecting plagiarism. Turnitin, a plagiarism detection software used in most universities roots out internet plagiarism. Turnitin’s “originality reports” calculations the exact percentage of unoriginal writing. Universities to making these reports available to students to help them avoid plagiarism and write better.
In a recent freedom of information request, The Times found that nearly 50,000 university students had cheated in the last three years, including plagiarism and using essay-writing services. Although universities educate students on plagiarism and inform them of the penalties and such, the strategy seems not to be working.
Even before the internet, plagiarism was happening. Just in different forms. Showing these reports to students have various benefits it seems. Turnitin can help students to reduce the percentage of verbatim copying. Stuart Wrigley a teaching fellow at the Royal Holloway states “when I pointed out that this whole approach still constituted academic dishonesty and hence plagiarism and that I thought it seriously undermined the spirit of academic endeavour, the students were baffled.”
These sort of conversations spark new approaches to avoid plagiarism and actually cause students to write better. For instance according to Stuart, in his class, students who hand-wrote their responses to the various paraphrasing tasks produced better writing than those who had typed them. The hand-written responses were clearer, more concise, and, crucially, unplagiarised.
Some research has suggested that “handwriting may trigger more sophisticated cognitive processing: the relative slowness of handwriting seems to promote “mental lifting”, a process of comprehending, mulling and digesting ideas, which seems to reduce verbatim copying.”
Instead of tackling plagiarism with reactive measures such as compulsory classes and writing clinics, teaching staffs need to implement a good writing spirit in the university classroom, writing that doesn’t need to plagiarize in the first place. Maybe the nature of writing and the creative side of it should be talked about more.
Currently, writing is viewed as a task done by students after a class in a dark lonely room. Many academics have flown the flag for writing: from Peter Elbow’s brilliant Writing without Teachers to Rowena Murray’s work on bringing academic writing into the mainstream.
The good news is writing centers are being established on campuses. Some universities are including writing in the curriculum. Yet despite notable exceptions such as the Thinking Writing project at Queen Mary University of London, aiming to foster more creative and thoughtful work from students, writing is not given enough attention.
Turnitin report is a jump start. Hope to see more development in this field followed by a better thinking.
Stuart Wrigley, Teaching Fellow, Royal Holloway