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Using Turnitin/MyDropBox As a Teaching Tool

Many students do not realize cutting and pasting without citing the source, or changing just a few words, constitute plagiarism. These concepts may not have been covered during the student’s high school education. Sitting down with a student to review the “originality report” on his or her paper from one of the subscription plagiarism detection services (Turnitin or My Drop Box) currently available at UMass Amherst (http://www.library.umass.edu/tools/plagiarism/) can help a well-intentioned student understand how to write papers that respect the intellectual property of other authors. An “originality report” highlights the textual matches between your student’s paper and another document from the Internet, an article from a subscription database, a paper from a paper mill, or a paper submitted by a UMass Amherst student during a previous semester. Students may not fully assimilate faculty concerns about plagiarism until they see it first-hand and as it relates to their own work. Spending a few minutes with a student when you discover problems in a paper may set the student on the right course for the remainder of his or her college career. A positive approach by the faculty member quickly separates unintentional from malicious behavior.

Plagiarism Detection Services such as Turnitin and My Drop Box are powerful instructional tools when used wisely during the paper-writing process for some courses and assignments. Some faculty encourage students to submit drafts of research and analytical writing projects to one of the services. Students who submit drafts and view the resulting originality report, see clearly where they have left out citations and not paraphrased appropriately. They can correct errors and learn how to write and cite more ethically. The quality of the paper improves while students master the academic integrity concepts faculty are trying to reinforce.

While submitting drafts enhances learning and quality for certain types of assignments, the reverse is true for others. In some cases, students might continue to submit slightly-revised assignments until they get into an acceptable overall similarity level in the resulting originality report. In this case, the student is not really learning, but merely manipulating the system to avoid being caught by the instructor. The faculty member must decide whether to set each assignment to allow students to submit the paper more than once and whether to allow the students to see the originality reports.