Ethics of Policing Plagiarism

As the Fall semester approaches I’ve been toying with the idea of using the plagiarism detection software,, in my classes.  However, I can’t help but have a bad feeling about using it.  On the one hand, there’s the issue of surveillence and policing which only has the effect of further coddling and infantilizing our students. What’s worse, in my mind, is that I feel like I’m accusing the students of (potentially) acting unethically based on a small number of previous cases.  This assumption of guilt is all the more troublesome since the students are subject to a college-wide honor code; so why should I violate my end of the code?  By using Turnitin am I not trivializing the code?  I should act as if students aren’t plagiarizing work. Otherwise, aren’t I somehow violating my own fidelity to the honor code? And I suppose, by extension I’m troubling the whole college’s relation to the code as well.  Maybe this is just too optimistic and high-minded. Or maybe I should just stop worrying about plagiarism period, but it’s just so aggravating taking the time trolling the interweb to find the original text.  One of my colleagues had told me–further making the case against turnitin– that once a student submits their paper turnitin maintains the “rights to it.” This isn’t quite the case.  As a representative from turnitin told me on Twitter: “Turnitin exercises Fair Use.” Here’s a link to their policy:

I’m still rather wary, however.  Any thoughts?  Have people used turnitin before?  Perhaps I’m turning this into more of a struggle than it needs to be,  but outsourcing plagiarism detection to a private, for-profit police force somehow seems wrong.

More Cheating News.

As I noted earlier, I came across a strange resource – but there’s more, apparently: 

The orders keep piling up. A philosophy student needs a paper on Martin Heidegger. A nursing student needs a paper on dying with dignity. An engineering student needs a paper on electric cars.

Screen after screen, assignment after assignment — hundreds at a time, thousands each semester. The students come from all disciplines and all parts of the country. They go to community colleges and Ivy League universities. Some want a 10-page paper; others request an entire dissertation.

This is what an essay mill looks like from the inside. Over the past six months, with the help of current and former essay-mill writers, The Chronicle looked closely at one company, tracking its orders, examining its records, contacting its customers. The company, known as Essay Writers, sells so-called custom essays, meaning that its employees will write a paper to a student’s specifications for a per-page fee. These papers, unlike those plucked from online databases, are invisible to plagiarism-detection software.

Everyone knows essay mills exist. What’s surprising is how sophisticated and international they’ve become, not to mention profitable.

Read the rest here.

H/t to Nicole Hawthorne’s attentive listening to NPR stories.

How To Lie Well: God-Related Plagiarism

How many of us have had this experience before, I wonder? You tell a story about someone else, then you tell it again and you add some colorful detail here and there, then you tell it again and introduce some secondary characters, then you claim you were there to observe the hilarity/tragedy of the event, and then you tell the story as if it has happened to you – before you know it, it actually did happen to you:

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the best-selling series “Conversations With God,” recently posted a personal Christmas essay on the spiritual Web site about his son’s kindergarten winter pageant.

During a dress rehearsal, he wrote, a group of children spelled out the title of a song, “Christmas Love,” with each child holding up a letter. One girl held the “m” upside down, so that it appeared as a “w,” and it looked as if the group was spelling “Christ Was Love.” It was a heartwarming Christmas story from a writer known for his spiritual teachings.

Except it never happened — to him.

Mr. Walsch’s story was nearly identical to an essay by a writer named Candy Chand, which was originally published 10 years ago in Clarity, a spiritual magazine, and has been circulating on the Web ever since. Mr. Walsch now says he made a mistake in believing the story was something that had actually come from his personal experience. Continue reading