This post is part of a mini-series on preventing cheating in online classes. You can find more posts in this mini-series by searching for “academic integrity” or “cheating” in the Tag Cloud on the main page.
Designing an online course to curb cheating assumes that we think that cheating–taking someone else’s effort for our own undeserved gain–is wrong. We think it’s wrong of students to cheat even if we understand their incentive, even if the stakes are low or the harm to others is insignificant.
Yet, unfortunately, many of us, in our work as teachers, participate in the largest plagiarism hustle in education: plagiarism detection software.
Plagiarism Detection Software (PDS) analyzes student writing against a huge bank of stored writing to see how closely it matches what others have already written. While it doesn’t determine if a student has plagiarized, it does report how closely what the student has written matches with what has already been written. The most popular of these products is Turnitin. You may have it enabled on your own LMS now, so that student work is always evaluated by Turnitin. You may even give students an opportunity to run their own work through Turnitin before they submit it so that they can check for close matches to the work of other people.
Which other people?
Other students whose work has already been submitted to Turnitin.
See the problem yet?
We require students, without payment for their effort, to submit their writing to Turnitin, which then uses their writing to develop its own product, which it sells back to universities. Students are never compensated for the inclusion of their writing in the database.
We don’t have to get into the legal technicalities of copyright or fair use of Turnitin to feel unease about it. The fact that PDS products use student writing in their commercial business without crediting or compensating students should be enough for us to say no to it. Turnitin only works because students do free labor for it–and then it sells that labor back to the university, which, of course, passes the cost along to students. We cannot be advocates for students’ right to their own labor, academic integrity, or fair tuition costs if we support Turnitin or any ed tech product that works similarly.
Georges de La Tour’s The Fortune Teller (c. 1630) shows four women, one old and three young, surrounding a young man. He seems to have given the older woman a coin. As he focuses his attention on her, one younger woman clips his watch from its chain and another picks his pocket.
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