For some time now, I’ve felt that the originality score in Turnitin is at best unhelpful, and at worst quite a dangerous statistic in the hands of people who don’t understand how to interpret it.
It’s a very blunt instrument, and there are plenty of tales of teachers setting an arbitrary cut off point beyond which they will reject work as being plagiarised, and below which they will consider it acceptable. This fails to take into account the difference between one large chunk of unoriginal work that has been copied and pasted verbatim and a collection of short attributed quotations which between them take the work over the arbitrary cut off point. Of course the latter may not be considered good academic practice, but that is an academic skills issue that can be addressed in the grade given and the feedback and feed forward rather than treating it as plagiarism, which it isn’t.
I have a search stream for turnitin on Twitter set up (in Hootsuite) and some of the comments from staff and students alike are eye opening, not to say eye watering.
- “It makes grading so easy. 56 percent on Turnitin. Big F. Moving on to next paper.”
- “On our course, we’re only allowed to submit coursework that has a Turnitin score less than 15% so try rewording some stuff.”
- “No #turnitin.com .. I’m pretty sure I didn’t plagiarize my own name”
- “Turnitin.com <<<<< I had 27% plagiarism"
- “Turnitin saying that 3% of my essay was plagiarized”
- “turnitin.com said that paper was 39% plagarized and i still got a high B? Looks like i’m changing my last name to Shakespeare”
These comments (which I have deliberately not attributed in fairness to the originators) demonstrate both teaching staff who are apparently using arbitrary cut off points rather than considering each originality report in depth and students who have been given access to the originality report apparently without them understanding the difference between originality and plagiarism and the limitations of Turnitin.
In an ideal world, the solution would be that staff and students receive appropriate training and instruction in how to interpret the originality report, but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t have a natural home in the curriculum – particularly where Turnitin is introduced for continuing students who may not have the formal Study Skills modules that are common in the first year.
In my view, the percentage (and associated colour coding) serves no useful purpose – particularly with the advent of GradeMark and the ability to see text flagged as unoriginal highlighted in the background whilst marking – and tempts people to infer more from the headline percentage than is appropriate. Turnitin would be greatly improved by removing the percentage and colour coding.
I should say for clarity that I have no objection to showing the percentage match for specific sources within the main report view.