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Plagiarism site begins transition

Turnitin will replace SafeAssign in one year.

Officials have made the decision to begin making the year-long transition from the online plagiarism checker SafeAssign to using Turnitin as the university’s safeguard.

Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Peter Jones said SafeAssign software was originally introduced as part of the university’s contract with Blackboard. Initially, the program had to be purchased separately and the university stopped using the program.  It was later included as a free add-on, which caused the university to continue using SafeAssign to check for plagiarism.

About six months ago, many faculty members and schools, namely the Fox School of Business, issued complaints about the software claiming it was not “student-friendly” and that the university should seek alternative programs that could yield more accurate results in detecting plagiarism.

“Computer Services did that and found an alternative method called Turnitin,” Jones said.

According to the SafeAssign website, SafeAssign is “a tool used to prevent plagiarism and to create opportunities to help students identify how to properly attribute sources rather than paraphrase.”

Turnitin is a software that can be purchased in conjunction with another program, iThenticate. According to the Turnitin website, it is the “global leader in evaluating and improving student writing. The company’s cloud-based service for originality checking, online grading and peer review saves instructors time and provides rich feedback to students.”

Department of Computer Services’ Lead Software Developer Sherry Borden ran comparison of SafeAssign and Turnitin before determining Turnitin was better for Temple’s needs.

“One of the difficulties we are going to face in the transition is the way both these programs work,” Jones said.

When student work is submitted through SafeAssign, it is  searched against a database as well as all published student material from Temple and other schools using SafeAssign.

It costs the university $60,000 a year to use both programs.

“As we migrate to Turnitin, it is essentially looking at the same external databases in terms of published materials, but it’s not looking at the same student database,” Jones said.  “It’s looking at the same student database for people that are using Turnitin.  At Temple, that database is fairly small because we’ve only just moved to Turnitin.”

Temple Student Government was also involved and discussed how the university would identify plagiarized work, and suggested that informational videos be made to develop a standard for student and faculty as to what is defined as plagiarism.  The videos are expected to be ready for the start of next academic year.

Additionally, TSG suggested having a student honor code to make academic standards more explicit for students.

“Right now, we essentially have a void,” Jones said.  “We have faculty with individual views on what is plagiarism, and you may not get consistency within a department let alone a college or university.  Equally we have students coming from diverse backgrounds who have been taught in different ways.”

According to Edudemic.com, between 2010-2011, 35 million papers were submitted through Turnitin, resulting in 128 million content matches.

“I think people get away with more than they get caught for,” freshman Jacqueline Hempstead said. “I think the fact that it is a machine in itself has flaws, it can miss stuff.”

“I’ve taken a few classes that use Turnitin, and I’ve never had any problems,” junior Vaughn La Voice said. “They always give you a fair forewarning about being careful with combinations of words if you’re taking it from someone else.”

Logan Beck can be reached at logan.beck@temple.edu.

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