Today’s Washington Post ran an article about a group of students in McLean who are protesting teachers’ use of Turnitin.com, a company that provides “plagiarism prevention tools”.
John Barrie, the developer of Turnitin.com, thinks today’s students are faced with more pressure to achieve and more temptation to cheat. The internet, he says, “provides a 1.5 billion-page searchable, cut-and-pasteable encyclopedia”. And he’s not alone. In June, the 2nd International Plagiarism conference was held in the U.K. You can download all sorts of papers about academic integrity and “stopping the cheats”.
For the record, I think companies like Turnitin can be useful. I used a similar service while teaching college students and it helped me to distinguish between the students who didn’t understand what they were doing (copied straight lines without quotes or cites) and the students who straight up downloaded papers from the web. Although it certainly didn’t feel like plagiarism “prevention” since I was catching them in the act and had to discipline them accordingly. And it hurts to fail a term paper.
So I wonder if it’s different in high schools. Do they know what it means to plagiarize? I’ve asked my sources in PG and Montgomery schools to conduct a straw poll of their high school students to see if they a) know what plagiarism is and b) if they think it’s any different to copy lines rather than whole papers and c) if they think it’s fair for teachers to submit their papers to the site to check for plagiarism.
I’ll let you know what they say.