AU is currently piloting a program that will observe how the implementation of a Web-based product called Turnitin could affect the academic culture on campus.
The multipurpose resource, one of several on the market, offers tools including plagiarism prevention, peer review and an online paperless grading system. Students submit their writing to the site and receive feedback as to the connections between their own writing and those of other students and well-known writers and thinkers, according to the Turnitin.com Web site.
There are approximately 20 faculty members and 1,000 students from varying academic levels and disciplines who are involved in the program that was launched at the start of the fall semester, said Nathan Price, special assistant to the provost and organizer of the pilot. The purpose of the pilot is both to raise awareness about academic integrity at AU and also to discuss questions as to the role that a product such as Turnitin may play in that integrity, Price said.
According to Price, those closely involved wish to “shake the bushes and see if we want to bite the fruit.”
There are between 60 and 80 violations to the Academic Integrity Code that are reported each year at AU. Approximately 30 to 40 of those are plagiarism related, and half of those are linked to the Internet, according to Price.
Skye Frontier, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, is in one of the classes using Turnitin. He has yet to hand in his first paper for the semester, but understands the value of using it to prevent plagiarism, he said.
“I don’t have any experience with friends who’ve plagiarized,” he said, “But it’s a great way to keep people from lifting papers.”
Margaret Weekes, associate dean of SPA, said the purpose of implementing the tool into the AU culture is not because of a lack of trust, and that Turnitin is not meant to be used solely as a plagiarism deterrent.
Price said the application of Turnitin or another comparable product at AU would be for the purposes of “education, deterrent and detection ... in rank order.”
Weekes said she believes in the bright future of students at AU and that a resource such as this will only serve to add value to student’s degrees.
“We want you [students] to come out and do the things you are able to do ... change the world,” she said.
Accountability and integrity are principles that apply when consulting sources in the writing of a research paper, Price said.
“We want to educate students about the research and writing process ... so that they can understand what it means to be a scholar in the fullest sense of the word,” Price said.
Some students say Turnitin may become a substitute for teacher-student interaction with its paperless grading feature.
Ashley Mushnick, Student Government president, said there are both pros and cons to the program. The SG’s main concern is whether the program will be used as a policing tool or an educational tool.
“If students aren’t empowered in the same way professors are to use this software, it becomes solely a policing mechanism and not an educational program to increase the standards of academic integrity at American,” Mushnick said.
In order to better understand these issues as they apply to AU, Price will be working with members of the SG to “raise questions up the flagpole ... through community discussion.”
In the future, venues will be developed in which students can be informed as to Turnitin’s purpose and pose questions that will help analyze whether it will be an asset to the campus’s academic integrity, Price said.
As the pilot progresses, feedback will be received from those involved. This may be done through surveys and focus groups in which questions will be asked about the effectiveness of Turnitin as a tool in the research and writing process, its ability to deter integrity violations and other relevant issues, according to Price.