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Teaching with Plagiarism Detection Software

Plagiarism detection software can have substantial unintended effects on student learning and the classroom environment. If you are considering using plagiarism detection software in your class, you should consider the following questions

1) What do your students already know about plagiarism?

  • How do you know they know this? Where do you think they learned it?
  • What different disciplinary and cultural expectations about intellectual property do they bring with them to your class?
  • Are you and your students familiar with UT’s definition of plagiarism?

2) What do you want your students to learn about the use of outside sources?

  • How and why are outside sources used in your field?

One unintended side effect of using plagiarism detection services is that students may reduce or eliminate their use of outside sources to avoid inadvertent plagiarism. Simply requiring a minimum number of sources in a paper does not solve this problem. To avoid turning the service into a game of “Gotcha!” you’ll have to explain to your students how they will use sources to enter into disciplinary dialogue.

3) What can your students learn about their own writing from using the service?

  • Will you have them submit early drafts of papers, so they can correct any problems with citation before final submission?
  • Will your students have opportunities to discuss issues of intellectual property, fair use, and copyright, as these relate to their own writing?

When integrated with a process approach to writing (drafting and revising), plagiarism detection methods can help instructors create a safe learning environment, where inadvertent errors can be detected early and corrected without penalty. By calling attention to issues of intellectual property, plagiarism detection efforts also present an opportunity for productive discussion of ethics in academia and in your discipline.

4) How will you know if the service is doing what you want it to do?

  • Are you using it in the hope that it will deter potential plagiarists, or just catch more actual plagiarism?
  • Either way, how can you accurately measure or assess the service?

Beware of the placebo effect: UT’s Pilot Study of TurnItIn found that the primary benefit of using the service was the assumption of instructors and students that it prevented plagiarism. However, no evidence exists that this was actually the case.