Web site to snare fraudulent papers

Tim Horneman

About 30 professors met Friday to see a demonstration of the Web site Turnitin.com and discuss the issues of using the site. The university hopes the anti-plagiarism Web site will soon be used more often at Marquette, but some legal and logistical questions follow the site’s entrance into classes.

“We do have good students and they do what they’re supposed to do — but frequently, they do things you wouldn’t expect,” said Vaughn Ausman, lab coordinator for the chamistry department.

Ausman said Turnitin was more useful to the chemistry department than a search engine like Google, which could also be used to detect plagiarism, since many papers, like lab reports, were not available on the Internet but were available on the Turnitin site.

Weisman said there was a legitimate question as to whether Turnitin’s service was legal. The service was accused of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibited schools and educational companies from releasing private information about a student’s educational record to the public.

However, Ausman said by having students upload papers to Turnitin, there was a “tacit approval” of the students to have their information put out.

Susan Hopwood, the coordinator of Research Services, said there had been discussions with Marquette’s legal counsel over Turnitin and the counsel said as long as students were notified of the use of Turnitin, they don’t believe there is a legal problem.

Turnitin also has been accused of violating copyrights of students who had submitted their papers to the Web site. Weisman said Turnitin was a for-profit company which had permanent possession of people’s papers, leaving a question of whether that was fair to the students.

Weisman said she was unaware of any students who had refused to submit their papers to Turnitin, based on legal grounds. She said the library was looking into what to do in such a case.

Ausman said that in the chemistry classes, students must inform their instructors of their opposition to the site, and from there options such as leaving the course would be considered.

Other problems noted by Weisman included the chance of false positives for plagiarism. The site does not check for correct citations within a paper.

Hopwood said over 17,000 papers had been submitted to Turnitin by Marquette students during this school year alone, covering over 30 classes.

“That’s a good signal to our administration that this is something in demand,” Hopwood said.

Weisman agreed.

“It’s a service to all students, especially those who do all original work,” she said.