I find this whole article appalling. I used Turnitin for several years. And yes, it detected cheating in some instances. And yes, I dealt with it. I found Turnitin to be an incredibly useful and helpful tool, and I began using it as a result of an article which garnered national attention - which was written by two tenured professors from my own, nationally-known public research university - in which they published research showing that explaining cheating and plagiarism to students does NOT dissuade them. By the students' own admission in this research study, the only thing that deterred them from cheating was the use of a computer program to detect cheating.
Why? I have my theories, and I suspect that students have more confidence in their own cheating abilities than the ability of another human (professor) to catch them. (That's foolish and untrue, in my experience.) But, being they DO believe that a computer could catch them. So that deters them. Not awareness. Not education. Not ethics. Not honor. Technology.
Fine. Armed with that information, I implemented Turnitin in my advanced composition course. And explained it to the students - how it worked, what they were expected to do, what the penalties were for cheating.
And you know what? EVERY semester I would have at least one who cheated anyway. And not some questionable 11 - 12% of the paper, or two or three words in a handful of sentences, but 85% of the paper, and up. Whole passages copied verbatim. And from other students, who had turned in papers earlier in the semester, or from another term. After they KNEW how the Turnitin system worked!
What is interesting is that in EACH case, it was I who suspected the cheating as I was READING the papers. In one instance, the writing style completely changed midstream. In another case, I thought, "Wait a sec - didn't I just read this somewhere?" and went back to a paper I'd graded earlier to find the exact same language.
Only THEN did I go back and read the Turnitin reports. And lo and behold, there they were, in all their glory, exposed as they cheaters they were. It wasn't even debatable.
In every case, there were disciplinary consequences. Typically, the students failed the assignments, and a letter went into their academic files. If the assignment was significant enough, they also failed the course (and because it was required, they would have to retake it). I always gave the students the option to take the academic consequences OR defend themselves in an academic integrity hearing, which NONE ever opted to do, for what should be fairly obvious reasons.
Was it fun? No. Was I saddened and disappointed that it happened? Yep. Every single time. I am an optimist, and always hope that "this year will be different." But human nature is what it is, and there will always be those who try to skirt by on someone else's work.
I didn't find that it changed the tone in the classroom at all. But then, my position in the classroom is somewhat old-fashioned, in that I am the boss there. And we play by my rules. I am not the students' friend (though many come to me each year for advice and counsel). I am teaching because I have knowledge that the students don't, and it is my job to effectively convey that knowledge to the students. Do their opinions matter? Yes. Do they express them? Yes. Do I listen? Always. Do we have fun, invigorating discussions? Absolutely. But who makes the rules? I do. And they know what those rules are, and that I live by them, and that I apply them fairly and consistently.
And with those expectations clear, my evaluations never suffered. In fact, I was consistently among the highest ranked professors in terms of both rigor and ability.
I offer these observations not to suggest anything particularly distinctive about me, but because there are ways of having control in your own classroom that make you neither a tyrant nor an officious intermeddling busybody, but enable you to be a professional who sets standards for your students that all of them will understand, the vast majority of them will respect and most of them will live by.
We have a responsibility here. On the matter of ethics, students seem to think that ethical dilemmas are things they will encounter when they "grow up"; "out there" in the "real world" somewhere, sometime. They miss the ethical dilemmas happening right before their eyes. I try to point those out to them when I can. And instances of cheating are good examples to use.
One year, two students were violating my attendance policy, signing each other in falsely. I caught them. One explained that his roommate had been sick, missed a lot of class, and he was afraid he was going to be affected academically by not being there. (I had a written policy of accommodating illness, so this concern was unsubstantiated.) He said, "I felt sorry for him, so I signed him in."
I asked him, "What are you going to do some day when you are a surgeon, and one of your colleagues is, let's say, going through a painful divorce. And perhaps he's drinking too much, and you know it. Or he's taking medications improperly from the physicians' supply closet. And you know it. And he's operating on patients while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And you know it. But if you tell anyone, he could lose his job. His license. Do you think you won't feel sorry for him then?"
I continued, "Do you think it gets EASIER to do the right thing as you get older? It doesn't. It gets harder, because the stakes are higher. So learn your lesson now, at 21, when the only consequence is having to take the class again. And remember it later when these issues come up again. Because they will."
I ask my classes, "How do you think Bernie Madoff got to be Bernie Madoff? He wasn't born 50 and a fraud. He became that, slowly but surely, by convincing himself that the rules didn't apply to him. And most likely, there were instances in his life where he could have been stopped, but someone decided not to pursue it, because they felt sorry for him, or it was "no big deal," or "everybody does it" or it was too "exhausting."
There are even amusing ways to point out the fact that students have choices every day with long term consequences. In one discussion about the environment, when the students were castigating older generations for they viewed as irresponsible treatment of the planet, I laughed, waved my arm around the classroom and said, "You're kidding right? Have you seen what this classroom looks like when you leave it? Who goes behind you and picks up the newspapers, the candy wrappers, and the Starbucks cups you leave behind? What do your apartments look like right now? Your cars?"
It was amusing to see their faces as I said, "Environmental responsibility starts at home. Just like everything else does."
Here's the point: Why should it be "exhausting" to deal with any of this? I view my job as not
only teaching the students writing and other academic content, but also adding to their life
skills and the lessons we hope to impart to them AS THE ADULTS IN THE ROOM,
including ethical professional practices. If are not willing to do
that, if we find that draining or exhausting, if we don't want to
bother, then we should not be professors. We can go be writers or
painters or plumbers.
In fact, it's beyond that, really. We all impart lessons about life to each other, and contribute to our society's culture whether we want to, or not. When we deal with unethical and unprofessional behavior, when we stand up for something, when we live by the principles we say we believe in - we teach one lesson. When we ignore it, we teach another lesson altogether. But we are teaching, either way. So the question becomes, what do you want your legacy to be?
One of those instances where the comment is better than the article that inspired it. XD