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Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 1

What is academic integrity?

Academic integrity is a core value for higher education. For ANU students, this “embodies the principle that a student’s work is original and authentic.” Working within an online environment generates many new issues around academic integrity and raises the need to educate students about academic integrity and the expectations of working within an academic environment.

Academic integrity in the media

Cartoon by Larry Wright.
Cartoon by Larry Wright.

As such a foundational part of higher education, breaches of academic integrity including misconduct and plagiarism cases frequently appear in the media. Recently there has been significant attention on Australian universities embroiled in cheating scandals.  Here are a few headlines to take a look at:

Investigative reporting series Four Corners  on the ABC recently aired an expose on cheating in Australian universities entitled “Degrees of Deception“, which discussed the software Turnitin as “anti-plagiarism software”, and any institutions not using are framed as being irresponsible (look around 31 minutes into the episode for this section). This is commonly how students and academics perceive Turnitin – as a punitive tool. Turnitin, though, is not necessarily designed to catch cheaters and is not a foolproof method for detecting plagiarism.

How does Turnitin really work?

Turnitin is a text-matching software that matches students written submissions against many electronic sources, including the internet, journal articles, published ebooks and assignments submitted to Turnitin by students from other institutions world wide that are stored in Turnitin’s extensive database.  The originality checking functionality uses “pattern matching technology to identify similarity between a submitted paper and what is housed in the database.” (UNSW Turnitin Page)

According to Turnitin’s website (PDF):

“Turnitin’s proprietary software then compares the paper’s text to a vast database of 12+ billion pages of digital content (including archived internet content that is no longer available on the live web) as well as over 110 million papers in the student paper archive, and 80,000+ professional, academic and commercial journals and publications. We’re adding new content through new partnerships all the time. For example, our partner CrossRef boasts 500-plus members that include publishers such as Elsevier and the IEEE, and has already added hundreds of millions of pages of new content to our database.”

What don’t Turnitin reports tell you?

The reports generated from Turnitin do not necessarily indicate if a student has plagiarised. As lecturers or teachers, you are still required to analyse the information received back from Turnitin to make a judgement and determine if a student has plagiarised or if they have not cited or paraphrased material correctly. Just because a student receives a high similarity score this does not mean they have plagiarised. As a teacher you still need to review the paper to see why the high score is being generated. We will investigate in detail how to interpret the originality reports in the next two days of the course.

Turnitin also does not necessarily detect whether an assignment is the student’s original work. For example, if an assignment was purchased from an essay mill or a ghost writing site, it may in fact be original work, but not by the student who submits it. There are also some ways to alter documents so that the text cannot be matched by the Turnitin databases, even if it is plagiarised.

The majority of cases are not intentional

Recent investigations by the University of Sydney have shown that the majority of academic misconduct cases (53%) are due to negligent plagiarism, rather than intentional plagiarism. In these cases, students were confused, careless, or uninformed about referencing expectations, styles, or unsure how to incorporate the work of others into their own writing.

For the next two days of the course, we will look in detail at Turnitin originality reports and discuss how to interpret the types of matches that are commonly seen at universities. Then, we will learn about different types of academic misconduct, and discuss the possible outcomes for some example cases of misconduct.

Read more

Share your thoughts

Now we’d like to hear from you. Feel free to respond to one of the prompts below, and we encourage you to respond to the posts of others as well. Please note: If you are participating in the course for professional development at the ANU, you will need to write a short response to each post to receive credit for this course on HORUS.

A few questions you can respond to

  • Why did you take this course? What aspects of academic integrity and/or Turnitin are you particularly interested in learning about?
  • What are your biggest concerns regarding academic misconduct and/or plagiarism (in your course, school, discipline, in higher education more broadly)?
  • Tell us about your experiences with academic misconduct and/or plagiarism in your teaching. What types of academic misconduct have you seen or heard about? What have been some of the challenges of dealing with it?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.



26 thoughts on “Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 1

  1. Great start
    I have been always unsure on how to interpret originality reports and the next steps. I hope to learn more about this.
    in medicine, students often write case reports on patients. The academic integrity issue here is not so much the originality but the authenticity. In other words cases can be made up without seeing the patient or embellished. A difficult area.

  2. Michael, the next two days will give you some great tips on Turnitin interpreting originality reports.

    Previously I worked in the Faculty of Dentistry, at another university and can understand what you are saying about the difficult issues of case authenticity. I am not sure if you already do this, could you make it part of the assessment that students may be asked verbally about their cases, and speak to the students, asking some probing questions that based on the students responses, might give you a better idea if the case is authentic?

  3. My main reason for taking this course was to find out more about identifying and countering ghost writing, especially papers purchased from essay mills and similar external sources. I have heard terrible rumours but seen very little tangible material, evidence or suggestions of viable suggested solutions.

    I am aware of the capabilities of Turnitin and how the current version may fail to identify instances of ghost writing. For me, the main issue concerning ghost written legal essays is not so much of identification but finding sufficient evidence. Some students submit poor quality work and then suddenly something of very high quality, perhaps slightly off topic which is a highly likely indication of ghost writing. In fact, after teaching them for a semester you can be 99% certain but incapable of proving it.

    I was really pleased to see Sydney Uni’s Academic Misconduct Taskfore Report, especially the tangible and concrete information contained in its Attachment 3 and related parts.

    It would be a welcome development to have at our disposal similar material produced by the ANU for ANU educators.

    1. Hi Gabor, thanks for joining us. I hear a lot of similar concerns around ghostwriting as well, and as you say most often the only way to detect it is lecturers who are familiar with a student’s work noticing a significant change. I agree that the USyd report is very helpful! Those of us running this short course are working more broadly on academic integrity at the ANU as well, in particular trying to address how plagiarism might be countered through different types of assessment design, like those in Attachment 3.

      For anyone who hasn’t seen it, USyd recommends compulsory invigilated exams and auditing the essay-writing auction sites to find those who may have purchased ghost-writting work. Hopefully we can provide information like this to ANU lecturers in the near future – it is on our radar!

      1. Hi Katie,
        I wonder what exactly is involved in auditing an essay-writing auction sites.
        Can ANU Online recommend a source that describes the process?
        And are there any opportunities to participate in such an audit?

        1. Hi Gabor — Great question! From what I have read (mostly in the U Sydney report we linked in the post) about auditing / trawling ghostwriting sites to find plagiarised work is mostly done manually by a lecturer when they suspect plagiarism, rather than by a particular tool that does it automatically. I think it involves searching the various commonly used ghost writing sites and searching for the course code/name of course or the assignment question/topic. I suspect we will be further investigating these sorts of things as we continue to work on investigating academic integrity issues for the ANU specifically. A cursory review shows that most universities are struggling to identify ghost writing. I am relatively familiar with the various plagiarism / text-matching tools and I have to say I have never heard of one that can detect ghost writing (though it may be out there!). There is some helpful information out there from former ghost writers. I found these ones useful:

          Sorry I can’t be more help than that – we don’t have any ghost writing detection software on our immediate radar.

  4. Hello
    A fine line is drawn around collaboration/collusion when writing team reports/ documents that are developed while they are in study/meeting groups, when group work involves the sharing or imparting of knowledge, thoughts and ideas. The ownership of the work is the team’s work, how do the student’s properly reference that?
    The student assessment (coursework) ANU policy- Point 16- “no part involves copying, cheating, collusion, fabrication, plagiarism or recycling”. Are there available examples? How do we test for this?
    What is a breach? “Collusion is the involvement of more than one individual in an instance of academic dishonesty”
    I have looked at the ANU Procedure for Fraud control, that mentions collusion but I would like more information on how to detect it in a student’s document.

    1. Hi Jane, this is a great point. I find the line between collusion and collaboration very murky! In the Day 5 post we are going to look at different types of academic misconduct and discuss some examples cases to see how they might be dealt with – hopefully that helps clear things up for you a bit as well. On Wed Nov 2 we are going to meet for a face-to-face coffee in the CBE Bldg 26C cafe, and I believe Debbie Wilson from ASQO will be joining us. She might be the right person to talk to about this!

  5. Hello everyone
    I am not currently in a teaching role but more behind the scenes in educational development and design. I need to understand more about Turnitin in order to be able to support academics to use it effectively. I think I would have found it very difficult to create match free texts in my undergrad years in social sciences! So many of the terms are technical, or sociology lingua franca, it would be very hard not to write something substantial without it looking like it was inadequate paraphrasing. After all, how do we learn a language but by repeating the main memes we hear? So the discussion is of interest to me in a philosophical sense as well. Of course we do need to prevent cheating and stealing of IP, but as it has been pointed out, this is not TII’s main function.

  6. Hello everyone,
    The main reason why I have joined this course is because I would like to know more on interpreting the similarity report and know how to deal with the numbers and situations.
    I am also surprised to see, according to the investigation by the University of Sydney, that 53% are unintended plagiarism. This leads me to think what can be done to raise the students’ awareness of the importance of referencing correctly. I think this is particularly important when the assignment does require a large number of original data, such as linguistics data, etc.

    1. Hi Katherine – that 53% factoid gives me a lot of hope as well! It means that if we can address plagiarism through education we could potentially prevent half of all cases!

  7. Hi Katie
    Thanks for posting and giving me a good an opportunity to enhance my knowledge with Turnitin.
    One of the main reasons I joined this course was to find out more about identifying and countering ghost writing,insight as to how assignments are interpreted by Turnitin.Very clever application and software.

  8. Sorry for coming in late everyone. I hope it is not too late to post now. Your comments are very interesting, I can see some of the issues raised may be resolved by Turnitin but not all. To me, the rules surrounding academic integrity are clear but policing and enforcement of the rules are not easy. I have always thought that academic integrity is a given quality in any learning/teaching/research environment. But now I feel like fighting against a whole world of plagiarism, assisted assignment writing, cheating in exam and so on, where money can buy any type of academic work. It relates to a comment made in the 4 Corner’s program that, as long as education is made an making industry, profit will take precedent of quality, integrity and learning.

    1. Hi Er-kai, not too late at all! Thanks for your comments. It’s difficult to ever prevent plagiarism – as you say, as long as there is a profit involved it will be around. One of the most interesting things to me from the Sydney Uni report (linked above in the resources) was that many studies show that actual incidences of plagiarism have not increased in recent years, even though there seem to be many new technologies to allow it. I have to remind myself of this all the time, because I also have significant concerns about how ghost writing and other strategies occur when detection is so difficult.

  9. I’ve worked at a number of institutions and spoken to a lot of students (as a friend rather than in an academic role) and I’ve seen/heard everything. From Ghost writing services, plagiarism, people paying for fraudulent degree certificates to people paying for others to sit exams for them. In one case, we caught somebody sitting in an exam for another student and the only reason why we picked it up was that we happened to be at the exam in the first ten minutes and we saw somebody we didn’t recognize. Upon asking them for their ID, not only did they produce a perfect/fraudulent ID card, they then produced a drivers license, credit card, and even passport in the name of another student (We only knew this because we actually knew the student who they were impersonating).

    I personally think we need to be very careful about how much benefit of the doubt we give students. While 53% of the cases are negligent or poor academic practice, this still means 47% are intentional or even systematic. We also need to remember that what people self report about their own negative behaviour (plagiarims/cheating) is usually biased. towards a more favourable outcome. Having spoken to many students candidly and in their own language, I would suggest that the number is lower than 53%

  10. I take this course with concern in ghostwriting. Since I came to Australia, I received both advertisements and invitations on “Assignment Assistance” in either English or my mother tongue almost every day. I’m not sure whether this service is more targeted at international students. On one hand, our students will be more diverse (in study ability, or reasons to study abroad) so the demand for ghostwriting will almost surely go up. On the other hand, it’s hard to give a verbal/face-to-face exam for some math-intense courses. I am really worried the popularity of ghostwriting service may harm the reputation of Australian higher education.

  11. My biggest concern about academic misconduct is how prevalent it is. Much like David, I have come across all manner of student behaviour at multiple institutions (yes, including getting someone else to sit your exam). My all-time favourite was when a student provided their credit card details on an invigilated exam paper (presumably hoping to bribe the markers). I was also a student advocate on a University’s Academic Appeals Board. This was a personally difficult role. Most of the students who were appealing plagiarism claims admitted to me that they knew they had breached academic integrity. Despite this knowledge, my role in these proceedings was to help the student get off, or receive a reduced penalty. These experiences have left me with little patience for students who plagiarise, even if it is unintentional.

    Regarding the negligent plagiarism, my experiences make me question the accuracy of that statistic. A common excuse I hear from students is that they are only familiar with the referencing requirements of a certain style, and thus, their misconduct is due to being new to a different style. That might explain providing inaccurate citation details. However, it will never explain unattributed direct quotes. Furthermore, with the emphasis placed on academic integrity from day 1 of every single degree, I simply do not understand how students can be ‘confused, careless or uninformed … or unsure how to incorporate [others’ work] into their own writing’ (from Blog above). By the end of semester 1 of your undergrad degree, all students should be across academic integrity. Perhaps ANU should introduce a compulsory research and writing course (or component) for all new students, similar to some other Universities. As a bare minimum, academics should be forced (not simply encouraged) to call out misconduct when they see it, rather than letting students continually have the benefit of the doubt. The same students continue to engage in plagiarism and misconduct because they think they are getting away with it. They are not learning their lesson, as academics so fervently hope.

    1. Hi Bhavani, thank you so much for sharing your experiences on the appeals board – I found it really interesting. Any survey or results relating to perceptions/experiences of plagiarism are very likely to be difficult to gather accurately due to the risk of admitting you have participated in it. A compulsory writing/referencing course is common across many other institutions, and I think this is being investigated for the ANU as well. I wonder the impact such a course might have on student responses to plagiarism? It would be interesting to do a before/after look at ANU student responses to plagiarism if such a course were introduced!

      1. Hi Katie,

        That would be an interesting study! In my own undergrad experience at an Australian law school, the very first thing we were taught was that if you do not comply with academic integrity, you will be kicked out of the program and your name will be blacklisted from the Bar (ie, your legal career will be over before it even begins). The second lesson was that if you miss a deadline for a client (in the real world), you may also face disbarment, so submit assignments late at your own peril. I do not doubt that this “upbringing” has very much influenced my own approach to plagiarism and late penalties.

        1. Hi Bhavani – I think making explicit the real-world consequences of what can happen if you plagiarise or breach the ethics in different professional contexts would be a great way to “make real” the consequences of these things! I think there is a lot of “it’s only uni” potentially contributing to the mindset of some students so highlighting why it is important to work with integrity would be a great way to scaffold the topic. I recall an Engineering lecturer in another university who used examples of the tragedies that can occur when engineering goes wrong (such as buildings or bridges collapsing) as way to reinforce to students that their work at uni has real-life consequences once they enter the work force!

  12. I’m doing the course because I don’t really understand how to interpret Turnitin similarity reports. I’ve had students contact me in alarm about the similarity reports, so I would like to discuss Turnitin in class so that students understand too, and how Turnitin can help them. I’m also concerned about how I would identify ghost writing. A colleague who used to work in my department said that she encountered at least one case of serious plagiarism every semester, which alarms me, because I don’t think I would spot it. Some of the stories from other course participants here are quite shocking too. I didn’t realise that students would get so desparate that they would pay someone to impersonate them and forge documents too, and I imagine that they must pay a lot of money for such a service.

  13. When I have convened courses in the past, I have struggled with how to deal with breaches in academic integrity. One of the worst experiences in my life was applying ANUs Academic Misconduct Rule to examine every potential breach in academic integrity in student major essays for a large class I taught early while at ANU—it was psychology draining, took up roughly a week-and-a-half of my time during the term [I find it takes about 3-4 hours to identify and complete the process for examining breaches in academic integritywas traumatic for students, and the use of the process felt punitive [punishment is generally, not effective as a mechanism to alter behaviour]. Turnitin also will miss writing not accessible to the software (say a student copies an MA thesis they find available only in print), or is ghost-written [which I may suspect, but is very hard to prove]. I hope to learn better ways of identifying breaches in academic intregity, and treating them in a way that is consistent with helping students *learn*.

  14. I’m taking this course to further my professional development and broaden my teaching skills while doing my PhD. I’m interested in learning ways to better recognise plagiarism in deciphering Turnitin outputs.
    My biggest concerns are about Turnitin being relied upon too intently to pick up all forms of plagiarism, and taken too literally when calculating large percentages of plagiarism when it might not be the case.
    I haven’t taken a course myself as yet, but in my experience as a student, it can be difficult to understand Turnitin output reports and percentage calculations, and this can lead to a lot of stress over whether I had accidentally plagiarised if a report showed higher than 5% – I never had, but that didn’t stop my overly-anxious mind from worrying. I have friends who have done marking for some academics and found that plagiarism can be quite blatant – I heard once of a student copying and pasting several paragraphs of text from another published source for an essay they had submitted. Blows my mind what some people are capable of.

  15. Hi,
    I am happy to find this course here, specially when I have just got a feedback from my supervisor on a report that I have drafted for achieving my PhD milestone. I have written the report conceptualizing myself and using different references. BUT the report has fallen into unintentional plagiarism due to incomplete paraphrasing. Since then, I was looking for a platform to develop myself with that skills having original authority of my writings.
    As I am going through first phase of my PhD, I hope this course will be helpful to acquire those skills what I need to be an academician.

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