MSU purchased a license for Turnitin, a cloud-based learning application for development and assessment of writing skills. (Read the Turnitin at MSU: July 2012-March 2014 report that followed MSU’s Turnitin pilot sponsored by IT Services, the Undergraduate University Division, the Graduate School, and the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.)

The Turnitin toolset features:

  • OriginalityCheck: A plagiarism detection aid that can help with appropriate attribution
  • GradeMark: A web-based review and markup for documents and rubrics
  • PeerMark: A peer-review tool using a web-based reader
  • ETS E-Rater: A computer-assisted assessment of written work
  • iThenticate: An originality checking tool for scholarly publications and theses

The primary use of any plagiarism prevention software ought to be educational. Anti-plagiarism technology can not prove plagiarism or acquit an author suspected of plagiarizing. Only the individual assessment of the instructor can make such a judgment.

Use of the tools provided by Turnitin, in addition to the originality reports, may enable rich and rapid feedback to student authors. To preserve legal precautions MSU has taken to protect students’ educational privacy and fair use of students’ work product, instructors should abide by the best practice guidelines outlined here.

How Turnitin Works

Turnitin is a helpful tool for instructors to see what kind of resources students are using in their writing and assess proper citation. Faculty and instructors MUST indicate in their syllabi if they are using Turnitin and provide information regarding the terms of use.

Turnitin is also a platform designed to facilitate peer and instructor writing feedback. Criteria and outcomes can be compared with the writing so the students can elaborate, revise, and enhance writing as needed, or receive reinforcement on aspects of the writing they are unsure of.

Turnitin allows instructors to look at trends among their students and address citation needs. It also can be a deterrent for those few students who might copy and paste content without proper citation.

Turnitin allows instructors and students to more efficiently evaluate the extent of source material being used in a draft or final report by highlighting the related content as a visual guide.

Read more in the the Turnitin Getting Started documentation and training.

Where to Use Caution

Although sometimes dubbed a plagiarism detector, Turnitin does not discern between properly cited material and uncited material. Just because there is a high report number of unoriginal content does not necessarily mean that plagiarism has occurred if that content is properly cited.

The colors act as a guide in an originality report. For example, a research paper that requires outside sources should expect a report ranging from green to orange to yellow. A report that shows blue could mean that not enough sources were used. Red could indicate that too many source materials were used. The interpretation of these color codes should shift depending on the expected originality of the work in question.

There will be variations across different forms of written expression. An expository or creative writing piece will have more unique passages. A persuasive or scientific essay may build extensively on the ideas and words of prior authors and publications.

Nonetheless, these colors provide a visual to aid both students and instructors in keeping track of source material used and cited.

Retention of Student Papers

Based on MSU’s configuration of Turnitin, instructors have a choice about retention of student papers in the Turnitin database. Papers retained in Turnitin’s database will be used in future comparisons of submitted work, and may appear as references in future originality reports.

Instructors can choose from several possible settings for each assignment:

  • Standard Repository (Global): Accessible for all future comparisons by users of Turnitin at any institution.
  • Institutional Repository (Local): Only accessible to future MSU comparisons and originality reports.
  • No Retention: A comparison between the student’s paper and both the global and MSU databases generate the originality report. Then the paper is disposed of and not retained for future comparisons. Using this option, future submissions of identical papers will go undetected.
  • Student Chooses: The above three choices are presented to each student when they submit the assignment.

With all submissions a comparison is made between the student’s paper and both the global and MSU databases to generate the originality report. This means that if a student submits material from a paper that was already submitted earlier by the same or a different student, the material will be identified as already submitted.

Instructors may want to choose the option to not submit for retention when multiple drafts of the paper are being submitted for assessment or review during the term. This will allow for review and changes to be made to the final product before that is added to the larger repositories.