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Faculty, students laud turnitin.com

Joe Trombello | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

More than one-and-a-half years after purchasing a contract from turnitin.com – a service that allows faculty members to check student papers for Internet plagiarism – faculty and students say the policy has been relatively effective at both deterring plagiarism and catching its occurrence.The University purchased the service in May 2002 at a cost of about $6,000 per year, according to student honor code officer Kelly Bennett. Thomas Flint, faculty honor code officer, said the service merely acts as one tool faculty can use to detect plagiarism and is not meant to be a definite measure of cheating.”Our goal in providing this service to faculty was to offer them a quick and relatively simple way of determining whether a paper that in some way appeared suspicious included material from Internet sources,” he said.Flint said that approximately 300 papers have been submitted to the service in each of the three semesters, for over 1,000 cases total. As of Jan. 23, 17 Honor Code cases had been reported this academic year. Flint said 21 students had been found in violation of the Honor Code, with 12 “major” violations and nine “minor” ones. Flint said that many of the Honor Code violations were because of essays plagiarized from Internet sources.Flint also said that only two of the 10 Internet-based plagiarism cases this year were actually detected using turnitin.com. He said the others were discovered easily through the use of Internet search engines like Google. Flint says that this fact does not point to the failure of the service, but rather its effectiveness as a deterrent.”I don’t think this points to turnitin’s being a failure … my guess would be that its availability to faculty has to some extent served as a deterrent to students tempting to cheat. That was surely our hope,” he said.Faculty members such as Dan Lindley, assistant professor of political science, say that they strongly believe in deterrence with respect to cheating. Lindley said he frequently gives detailed lectures in his courses that both deter people from and teach people about cheating and how to avoid it. In addition, each class syllabus makes reference to Lindley’s ability to use turnitin.com per the Honor Code’s guidelines and further states that he would be “furious and feel personally betrayed if anyone cheats in my class.””I teach about deterrence, I believe in deterrence and my policies reflect that,” he said.Lindley said he has not yet caught anyone cheating in his classes, but also said he would not hesitate to vigorously prosecute any student who did so.”If I caught somebody cheating, there’s no way I wouldn’t prosecute to the fullest extent,” he said.Bennett said she feels most students don’t have a problem with faculty members’ ability to use turnitin.com.”Those who don’t cheat shouldn’t be worried, and that is by far the majority of students at Notre Dame,” she said.Sophomore Mark Basola agrees that cheating occurs rather infrequently on campus.”I believe that cheating is very uncommon here,” he said. “Students who have come to Notre Dame have arrived here through their own hard work and talent, for the most part.”Despite the low occurrence of Honor Code cases, Flint said he believes that much cheating goes unreported, as faculty members either may not wish to engage in the lengthy process or choose to handle matters internally. He also said students often refuse to turn in their friends as the Honor Code expects. Flint is advancing the idea of a “Let’s Make a Deal” policy, a subject he explained in several letters-to-the-editor written earlier this academic year, that could modify the reluctance to report cases.The policy proposes faculty members be allowed to directly confront a student about cheating and mutually negotiate a punishment for the offense. A signed agreement by both parties would then be forwarded to the associate provost’s office, which would keep a file of the agreement and impose additional penalties should the student engage in future cheating. In his column, Flint noted that the number of cases at Penn State rose from six to 400 the year after this policy was implemented.Flint said that although he sees several disadvantages with the “Let’s Make a Deal” policy, he believes its implementation may prove more beneficial than the current system.”On the whole, I’m inclined toward making the change, but I think further discussion is still needed, and it’s vital that students be engaged in this discussion.”Flint said that the University Code of Honor Committee is currently considering recommending the policy to University officials, but said he is unsure if the Committee will ultimately make the recommendation and when the new policy would be implemented, should the decision occur.