Use of Turnitin.com questions student-teacher trust

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by Nick Lednicky

Eagle Editorial Board

One of the principles that we are proud to uphold at our school is mutual trust. Students trust teachers to be fair, honest and hard working, and teachers trust students to be the same.

This trust is what allows us to distinguish ourselves from other institutions.

At public schools, where cheating is rampant and teachers do not necessarily have good enough of a relationship with their students, trust is not present.

However, we have a small enough school that with motivated students and involved teachers, this trust is able to be fostered.

But the trust at our school is completely and undeniably violated when teachers ask students to submit their work through Turnitin.com.

Turnitin.com is a website where students submit their essays and they are evaluated for plagiarism. Every essay is cross-checked against essentially every website on the Internet, and an “Originality Check” percentage is given. This represents how much of the student’s essay compares to content from the web.

For example, if you copy a sentence word for word from a website without quotation marks, you will have a score of 0% originality. The similarity of your words to words from the internet is what determines this number.

At some schools, this might be necessary. However, at a school as tight-knit as St. Thomas, where the teachers and students trust each other and there is not a cheating problem, Turnitin is nothing but a blatant violation of trust.

In the beginning of each school year, every student signs his name agreeing to abide by the rules of the Student Handbook.

Several of the rules that we agree to abide by involve being academically honest, and to not falsely present other’s work as our own.

By using Turnitin, teachers are telling their students that they do not take them at their word.

Being a pretty big fan of Ronald Reagan, I have obviously heard one of his most famous quotes: “Trust but verify.”

This is applicable to essays. However, Turnitin is not the way to do it.

Teachers should trust students not to cheat, and only use Turnitin to verify the authenticity of students’ work when they have a reason to believe that the work is plagiarized.

Used in such a way, Turnitin is acceptable and not a violation of trust. But this is often not how teachers utilize Turnitin.

When teachers use it as a security blanket against all students, it undermines the fabric of the St. Thomas community.

Turnitin is fine to “verify trust” when there is a reason to suspect that the trust needs to be verified.

When any suspicion is not warranted, they are doing nothing but violating the trust that is supposed to exist between the teachers and students.

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