Volume 95, Issue 29
Wednesday, October 24, 2001
Western uses web to battle plagiarism
UWO hunting for cheetahsBy Emmett Macfarlane
Western, along with several other Canadian universities, has subscribed to an electronic database that can automatically detect signs of plagiarism.
The university's administration signed onto the website, called turnitin.com, earlier this year and endorses faculty use of the site, said Roma Harris, Western's vice-provost and registrar.
"We talked about it with [the Senate Committee on Academic Policy and Awards]" before signing on, she said.
The Royal Military College of Canada, the University of New Brunswick and the University of British Columbia are among the other Canadian universities that have also signed onto the system.
Turnitin.com is a California based company that checks documents for originality. The website contains a database of more than one billion pages from the Internet, which are cross-checked word-for-word with essays submitted by students.
"The number one reason to use this service is to make sure the student handing in the work is also the one doing it," said John Barrie, founder of turnitin.com.
The Canadian Federation of Students expressed concern over the new program.
"The student should have an opportunity to offer a defense. The major concern is that there is due process in terms of accusation," said Michael Conlon, a researcher with CFS.
Debra Dawson, director of Western's educational development office, said she does not share Conlon's concern. "I don't know if it makes it harder [for students to defend themselves], but it presents the evidence to students," she said.
"[Turnitin.com] creates a database, so it also prevents a student from handing in the same paper twice," she added.
"It's a benefit to learning. It allows the faculty member to let students see other students' papers to help them learn," Dawson said. "It makes it more obvious what we mean when we're talking about plagiarism. We're talking about word-for-word copying."
However, Conlon warned that common sense needs to prevail.
"There's a certain amount of overlap, especially at the post graduate level [in terms of phrasing in essays on specific topics]," he explained.
The CFS' main concern is the technology does not curtail due process and that there is an equal playing field for students and professors, Conlon said.
"Essentially, this technology is not foolproof," he said.
Dawson said professors always have the final word.
"[Turnitin.com will] never be mandatory, that is up to individual faculty members," she said.
Copyright © The Gazette 2001