Concordia Waits to Turn it In

Anti-Plagiarism Software Hits Security Snag

After testing the American anti-plagiarism software Turnitin on roughly 500 students over the summer semester, Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Services has postponed a school-wide implementation of the project until further notice, citing privacy concerns.

“The big issue that emerged—which was what we expected and what we’re still trying to figure out—is privacy, preserving anonymity and student and faculty concerns about terms of ownership and intellectual property,” said John Bentley, the program coordinator and instructional developer for CTLS.

The classes involved in the Turnitin trial were told in their syllabi that “students who use the text-matching software agree to providing and sharing certain personal information with the software provider. Students are advised that the university cannot guarantee the protection of personal information provided to a U.S. software provider and subject to U.S. laws.”

“The big issue that emerged […] is privacy, preserving anonymity and student and faculty concerns about terms of ownership and intellectual property,”
—John Bentley,
Turnitin Program Coordinator

“The main thing at the moment is to explore how other universities are coping with these issues,” said Bentley. “We need to find out what our colleagues [in other universities using the software] are doing in terms of adding another layer of protection. Once that’s done, we’ll probably revisit the project.”

Eleven Concordia classes experimented with the system over the summer, where students were invited to upload their written assignments into the online service to check their work against millions of other papers, web pages and academic journals and ensure proper citation.

Though using Turnitin was voluntary for students and staff, the challenge for CLTS is to “have [a program] that’s so protected that students will want to, in majority, opt in,” said Bentley.

Students who decided not to submit their work to the software were given supplemental coursework. This included, but was not limited to, reflection papers, reports on research methodology, copies of multiple drafts, an annotated bibliography and photocopies of sources.

“The tricky thing is that we don’t want faculty to have to double up on work for the students who are opting out and need alternative [coursework],” said Bentley.

Despite the university’s reluctance to implement the Turnitin program to Concordia, the CLTS is hopeful that, with more security, it is something that may work at Concordia in the future.

“When it comes to things like this, you need to stick your foot in the water and see what the temperature is like,” said Bentley. “That’s the approach we’re taking. We’re trying to do this methodically, to ensure that there are no issues at the end of the day and keep students and staff happy.”

Were you one of the 500 students who used the Turnitin software over the summer? Send us your comments at thelinknewspaper.ca

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.

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