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Are we helping TurnItIn succeed in Business? At whose expense?

March 16, 2009
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Over the weekend, I responded to an InsideHigherEd posting that wrote about some TII-themed seminars at this year’s CCCC (composition conference).  The following comment was posted, which deserved its own post as it raises some interesting questions about, admittedly some of my own, blase attitudes toward using TII:

It’s interesting that you note that TII is now supposedly “cool.” Not here in Quebec, where its use is illegal. What students should also be told about TII — and this is one of the key arguments against its adoption here — is that by submitting their work to TII it is then added to this *commercial* service’s database, for free, without any compensation to them. As labour cannot be coerced, nor can labour be done without remuneration, it is an illegal practice. I am sure it would be too in your parts, if it were brought to trial.

These concerns over plagiarism would have us become policemen, and all students suspects. I prefer to debate the concept of plagiarism, which to me seems tied to another very questionable property norm: copyright. I do not agree with simply transcribing someone’s work without giving them recognition, but in practice policies against plagiarism go well beyond that simple acknowledgment alone. Have a look at my university’s policy, and see how complicated, confusing and subjective it gets toward the bottom of the page — not[e] the part on paraphrasing as plagiarism, even with full attribution:


I have, as a class policy, required a TII submission before grading.  In this sense, according to the comment above, I have coerced labor from my students for the monetary gain of a private company (I have, when confronted with this, allowed students to opt out–I then google-hunted their papers).  But, am I using a tool that makes my grading go quicker at the expense of my student’s labor?  I am not even addressing copyright at the moment, although that is another complicating and important aspect…

What do you think?

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One Comment
  1. Tom permalink
    March 19, 2009 3:18 am

    In addition to the copyright/labor issues, I am against requiring a it for all students on a matter of principle. Namely, unless they give me a reason to suspect that they have plagiarized their paper, I do not treat them as if they did. Such treatment only encourages plagiarism. Once I find a reason, I will search until I find proof one way or another.

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