Monday, March 19, 2007

Turnitin in BusinessWeek

Pitt subscribes to the service Turnitin, whose goal is to help professors address plaigarism. Some of us have used this service in the past. You might find this article especially interesting in that context. Here's a teaser ...
In an effort to help students and teachers achieve that understanding, Oakland (Calif.)-based iParadigms founded a service called Turnitin in 1997. Now being used by more than 9,000 schools, Turnitin uses software to help educators know whether a term paper includes previously published material that has been improperly cited. IParadigms says its membership has doubled each year for the past seven years. "[We're in] a beautiful market position," says Chief Executive John Barrie. He expects the company to sign up an additional 100,000 clients in the next 10 years.

But lately, iParadigms has hit some speed bumps that underscore the difficulty of thwarting plagiarism and other forms of cheating in the digital age. Critics say Turnitin's methods compromise copyright protections and foster a climate of suspicion between students and educators. Some also question its effectiveness in rooting out plagiarism.

Here's how Turnitin works: Students at participating schools and colleges submit most or all of their written take-home assignments to their teacher through the service's Web-connected application. It then compares the work for sentence or phrase matches against three databases: a comprehensive Internet snapshot, a library of published articles, and a pool of millions of previously submitted student papers (about 120,000 papers are submitted daily). The teacher receives a "Similarity Index" for each submission—a measure of what percentage of the work contains plagiarized material—as well as instant access to the sources in question. From there, it's up to the educational institution, which pays about 80¢ a student per year, to mete out any punishment that may be warranted.

Anyone want to take a crack at discussing some of the ethical questions that might arise out of such a service?

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