Guidelines for the Use of Text Matching Software Services

Turnitin is an Internet-based service created at the University of California, Berkeley. Essentially, Turnitin scans submitted works for similarity to material in public websites, academic journals, papers purchased from an essay mill, etc., and to essays and assignments concurrently or previously submitted to Turnitin, which are stored in a database. Through Turnitin, matches of as few as 8 consecutive words can be detected. After scanning, sections of a submission are outlined in colour in an originality report to the course instructor.

Turnitin does not determine if plagiarism has occurred. The determination of a potential breach of academic honesty and the decision to proceed with a charge is made entirely by the professor.

Turnitin is available to all full-and part-time York instructors for their use on a voluntary basis. Students may be required by a course instructor to submit their work to Turnitin.com. Note that the instructor must have informed the class of this requirement at the beginning of the term and advised of the opt-out provisions available to them. For more information on Turnitin visit York Computing Site: Information on submitting assignments and links to the Turnitin Student User Guide.

Guidelines for the Use of Text Matching Software Services at York University

The following guidelines for the use of text matching software services in courses offered at York University have been developed by the Academic Integrity Advisory Group, working in consultation with the Senate Committee on Curriculum and Academic Standards, the Senate Appeals Committee and the Office of the Vice-President Academic. Turnitin.com, the text matching service the University has made available to faculty for the past several years, is recognized as a valuable tool that can be used to promote academic honesty and avoid plagiarism. These guidelines have been designed to ensure that when Course Directors elect to use text matching software in their courses, students are aware of this requirement and informed of alternatives open to them should they not wish to use such software. Of equal importance, the guidelines will also include instructions for how students can use this software to independently check their work, using this as a learning opportunity for avoiding inadvertent plagiarism.

  1. Text matching service software (at present, Turnitin.com) is made available to York University instructors who elect to use this tool as a means of promoting academic honesty and avoiding plagiarism in a course.
  2. Instructors may require the use of text-matching software in their courses to verify the originality of student’s written course work and/or as a learning tool that students may use to avoid inadvertent plagiarism.
  3. Students have the right to opt out of using text-matching software and to choose an alternative method for assessment of their work.
  4. Instructors requiring the use of text-matching software in a course are obligated to provide alternative methods for assessing the authenticity of a student’s work for students who elect not to use the text matching service software. Recommended alternative methods include:
    • Submitting multiple drafts
    • Submitting a detailed annotated bibliography
    • Submitting photocopies of source documents
    • Taking an oral examination directed at issues of originality
    • Responding in writing to questions directed at issues of originality
    • Providing a written report concerning the process of completing the work
    • More than one of the above
    • An alternative system for verifying authenticity, approved by the Departmental Chair or Dean of a Faculty
  5. At the outset of a course, students shall be informed that text-matching software shall be used, advised of the opt-out provisions available to them and provided with the following information:
    • The importance of academic integrity, York’s policies and procedures regarding academic integrity and that suspected plagiarism will be investigated and, if found, disciplinary action taken.
    • What comprises appropriate referencing, citation, bibliographic footnotes, etc., for this course.
  6. Instructors shall provide students with written instructions for the submission of their work to the text-matching service. If the option is provided by the service, students may submit their student number as opposed to their name, so long as they inform their instructor that they have done so.
  7. Normally, written work is to be graded by an instructor prior to reviewing the results produced by the text-matching software. However, if an instructor has reasonable cause to suspect that a student has misrepresented work as their own, the instructor may immediately elect to use output from text-matching software and/or utilize any other traditional process (e.g., library search) to verify the integrity of a work.

Should an instructor uncover what they deem to be plagiarism or other breach of academic integrity, they are to follow the procedures approved by their Faculty for the handling of a breach of the Senate Policy on Academic Honesty

Frequently Asked Questions About Turnitin by Faculty

  1. When should students in a course be informed that Turnitin will be used in the course? Students should be informed at the earliest opportunity in a class that assignments may be checked using Turnitin. Ideally, this would be provided in writing in the course outline.
  2. Who submits assignments to Turnitin? Students directly submit their work in digital form to Turnitin.
  3. Does the professor/instructor get a hard copy of the assignment, and how do they know it is identical to the one submitted by the student to Turnitin? The student provides the professor/instructor with an identical hard copy (or digital copy if the instructor so wishes) of the assignment submitted to Turnitin. The professor/instructor may compare a random sample of the hard copies of assignments with those submitted directly to Turnitin.
  4. Are students required to submit their assignments to Turnitin? Students may be required by a course instructor to submit their work to Turnitin.com. However, according to the Senate Guidelines for the Use of Text Matching Software Services, the instructor must have informed the class of this requirement at the beginning of the term and advised of the opt-out provisions available to them.
  5. Why will students comply if they don’t have to submit materials to Turnitin? If students are well informed of the nature of Turnitin, and the process, they are most likely to be willing to comply. In other institutions which have experimented with Turnitin, it has been found that students wish to ensure a level playing field in determining grades for their work, and want to ensure the perceived quality of their degree is maintained.
  6. If a student chooses not to submit their assignment to Turnitin, won’t the Professor/instructor know and as a result mark the student’s assignment harder? To ensure that student work will be graded fairly, professor/instructors should grade the work before viewing the Turnitin originality reports for the assignment. Students should be informed of this fact.
  7. Don’t students usually know all about plagiarism, or if they don’t might some students commit plagiarism inadvertently?  The students should be informed of the Senate Policy on Academic Honesty and provided with a full explanation of what constitutes plagiarism, together with examples of plagiarism—preferably during the first class.
  8. Do students know the types of process that professor/instructors use for checking originality in assignments? Students should be informed that Turnitin is only one of many checking systems available and that professors/instructors use a variety of means to ensure submitted work is original.
  9. Does the Turnitin database access other databases? Turnitin checks submissions only against the materials in the database – there are many journals, books, etc., not in the database.

Do professors/instructors face any liability in using Turnitin?

    In our careful examination of possible legal implication for faculty using Turnitin, professors/instructors would not face any liability in using Turnitin because they would be acting in the scope of their employment.

Concerns Expressed About the Use of Turnitin

Three principle concerns have been expressed about the use of Turnitin:

  1. that it promotes the view that students cannot be trusted
  2. that it breaches the Intellectual Property (IP) rights of students
  3. that confidentiality of the students may be violated

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a system like Turnitin. Some have objected that Turnitin promotes an atmosphere of district that suspects all students of plagiarizing. However, professors have always used their experience and knowledge to detect sections that may not have been referenced correctly or that may have been plagiarized and often check for courses either in books and journals or using web-based search engines. Therefore, Turnitin may be seen as assisting in the normal processes of reviewing and grading assignments.

Like other institutions, we are concerned about the IP rights of students, and confidentiality in the use of this service. This has been a significant concern for several institutions, which has led them to decline to use Turnitin. However, York has looked very carefully at the ethical and legal implications in the use of the service, including seeking out a legal opinion, and has concluded on the basis of the evidence that the advantages of the service for our professors and the reputation of the University system outweigh residual concerns. Moreover, following our thorough examination of concerns in the use of the service, the Council of Ontario Universities has decided to support the service. As we grow more familiar with Turnitin and how it works, we can also develop specific processes that ensure the IP rights of students are preserved.

The privacy pledge of Turnitin. We are confident that confidentiality for students is retained. The processes used by Turnitin are in keeping with the traditional process whereby a professor/instructor examines and grades assignments.