Stephen Tyler

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

Moral hazards of plagiarism detection

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In my earlier post, Unintended consequences of plagiarism detection, I discussed the relative merits of allocating scare resources to pursuing bad students, versus enriching the learning environment for the good students.

David Harrington has written an interesting article, (Moral) Hazards of Scanning for Plagiarists: Evidence from Shoplifting:

Turnitin offers another product called WriteCheck that allows students to “check [their] work against the same database as Turnitin.” I signed up and submitted the early pages of Shoplifting. WriteCheck matched many of Shoplifting’s phrases to those of the New York Times articles in its library of student papers. Remember, I submitted them as a student paper to help Turnitin find them; now WriteCheck has them too! WriteCheck warned me that “a significant amount of this paper is unoriginal” and advised me to revise it. After a few hours of right-clicking and scrambling, I resubmitted it and WriteCheck said it was okay, being cleansed of easily recognizable plagiarism.

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.

So whose side is Turnitin on? Perhaps it is a case of “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

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