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turnitinEconomist David Harrington has an article looking at anti-plagiarism service Turnitin, discussing how effective it is, how easy it is to fool, and how it can actually help students conceal evidence of their plagiarism.

One of the points Harrington makes is that Turnitin can’t scan the whole web. Using the example of a book that read like it was in large part cribbed from New York Times articles, he found that Turnitin wasn’t able to index the Times articles because the site’s archives are behind a paywall.

And another point is that the service offers a tool to let students check their papers against Turnitin’s database. Experimenting with that book, Harrington determined that it is quite possible to change the wording around enough to avoid detection with just a little bit of synonym finding and word reordering.

Turnitin is playing both sides of the fence, helping instructors identify plagiarists while helping plagiarists avoid detection.  It is akin to selling security systems to stores while allowing shoplifters to test whether putting tagged goods into bags lined with aluminum thwart the detectors.

He suggests some strategies that professors can use to reduce the impact of plagiarism, such as making one-of-a-kind assignments based on current events.

I find it interesting how much computers and the Internet have changed the philosophy of paper writing at college. Both students and professors have more to think about, and tools they didn’t have before. It remains to be seen just how useful those tools really are.

(Found via Slashdot.)

 
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