The plagiarism problem: Keeping student content real

More than two-thirds of the matches picked up by content-tracking service Turnitin are matches to other students’ work. Turnitin checks work for originality by helping identify primary-source and outside content use within that work. While not all the matches are instances of plagiarism, the statistic certainly reflects the degree to which students are sharing information with each other.

“We need to do more in working with students to help them understand what it means to share information and how to think critically about the information they find, whether it’s online or shared by a classmate,” says Jason Chu, education director of Turnitin, which also provides online grading and peer review services.

Most colleges and universities use some form of software to check for plagiarism, Chu notes, adding that he believes these solutions shouldn’t be used in a punitive way. Instead, they should be used to teach students how to use information properly, what constitutes original-source material, and “the value of taking ownership
of one’s work.” These are vital lessons not just academically but for later
on in the student’s professional life, Chu says.

“We cannot assume that all students know what plagiarism looks like, especially in the context of a specific course or institution,” Chu adds. “We know, for example, that with developing writers, paraphrasing is one way they learn how to write in a new academic discourse. Is this plagiarism or is this a teachable moment?”


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