The impact that Turnitin® has had on text-based assessment practice*

Malcolm Rees, Lisa Emerson


This article explores the extent to which the use of the copy detection software Turnitin has impacted on, or transformed assessment practice at Massey University. Staff at Massey University have had access to Turnitin since 2004 and during that time they have, to varying degrees, developed a greater understanding of the issues of; authenticity, academic writing skills and subsequently assessment design. It was hoped that the use of Turnitin would have challenged academic staff to think more creatively about approaches to text-based assignments. Structured interviews were conducted with nine staff who have been using Turnitin for some time and who have a good understanding of its capabilities. They were thought to be the most likely to have made changes to their assessment practice. The findings from the interviews show that a strong reliance on detection and the "deterrent effect" has remained. Few staff have considered that alternative or other creative approaches to assessment are a better way of minimising plagiarism.

Two cases studies where alternative approaches have been explored and where improvements have been demonstrated are discussed in detail:

Case study 1 involves enhancing the value of formative assessment by using some of the advanced assignment options in Turnitin namely; resubmission of assignments and students viewing their own reports online.

Case study 2 describes subtle changes to the wording of the summative assessment in a Communications in sciences course that requires students to apply the theory to practice rather than simply reproducing the literature. The second component is the use of the information map or i-map (Walden & Peacock, 2008) which documents the research process that students have used to construct all their assignments.

The paper concludes that to effect a substantial shift in attitude amongst faculty in relation to plagiarism would require more than a single workshop on Turnitin, and that both professional development units and tertiary institutions as a whole need to consider a more holistic approach to issues around plagiarism, assessment and student writing.

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