In the case of plagiarism detection and automated essay grading software, it’s not a future that values students’ thinking and students’ voices. It’s not one that, even as Google tries to rebrand its new product, encourages “original thinking.” Rather it’s a future where students will be compelled to conform to the rules of the machine — rules we know are deeply biased, based on extraction and profiteering and information imbalances that have put democracy at risk.
Like our time machine, with Turnitin, it doesn’t matter what happens as long as you’re willing to believe the result. Never mind that it doesn’t work. Never mind that it distorts pedagogical practices, demoralizes students, and uses their actual original work to advance Turnitin’s intellectual property (not that this matters with their new business model). As long as we get that certified originality check, we must be doing the job.
The purpose is no longer to detect possible plagiarism, but merely for the software to spit out the same answer when presented with the same text, therefore certifying its originality.
Warner continues this conversation on Twitter in the form of a thread. One thing that stood out to me was this:
When I've taught literature courses I made the writing explicitly about the intersection between the student and the text. They could not produce something without mining something unique to themselves. This still required the kind of analysis we expect in literature papers.
— John Warner (@biblioracle) September 19, 2019
This is something that he discusses in his book Why They Can’t Write.
Students don’t cheat because they’re lazy; they cheat because they’re incredibly anxious, terrified of failure, and haven’t been taught to come up with original arguments (or trust themselves when they do). They’re the students who got into a desired college through sheer determination. They’re not dumb or stupid or anything close to it. But they’ve become convinced that any sort of failure (on an assignment, in a class) is tantamount to total life failure, and accumulate anxiety about each assignment accordingly.
Turnitin is the clear market-leader to solve the essay mills problem that the department has now called on universities to tackle. Its technical solution, however, does not address the wider reasons—social, institutional, psychological, financial or pedagogic—for student cheating, or encourage universities to work proactively with students to resolve them. Instead, it acts as a kind of automated ‘plagiarism police force’ to enforce academic integrity, which at the same time is also set to further disadvantage young people in countries such as Kenya where preparing academic texts for UK and US students is seen as a legitimate and lucrative service by students and graduates.
Turnitin is making massive money from manufacturing mistrust between students & staff, while using its global database of student writing to train its 'ghostwriter' detection algorithm & profit from political demands for HE to tackle essay mills https://t.co/0fgukGne0y pic.twitter.com/vkaFxhsQy5
— Ben Williamson (@BenPatrickWill) June 28, 2019
So to be clear: the Instructure DIG initiative would be impossible if students and teachers didn’t show up to class and use the LMS. Likewise, Turnitin’s very expensive database, would eventually become worthless if teachers and institutions stopped asking students to turn-it-in. We—teachers, administrators, instructional designers–make these platforms not only worth their purchase price, but we make these platforms run.
I have better things to do than read the whole text (~ 5.100 words) but I did read enough to know that I couldn’t agree with this User Agreement. Instead I decided to write this blog post explaining what I find so disagreeable.
My work can only be used by Turnitin to check for plagiarism.
As I see no reason for it being my responsibility to help Turnitin get better at doing their job (by giving them the ability to recognise when somebody plagiarizes my work), I want Turnitin to delete my work as soon as the check has been done.
If Turnitin relies on third parties to do the plagiarism check, then I would need a limitative list of these parties and the assurance that the above two conditions will also count for them.
For more on Turn It In, read this post by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel.