Case Study - Monitoring for plagiarism


Monitoring for plagiarism


I am a business and management lecturer in a University. I teach undergraduate second year, third year and postgraduate courses to campus-based and distance students. For all of my courses I use the Turnitin tools for electronic marking and plagiarism checking. 

I was drawn towards using the Turnitin ( anti-plagiarism system because I was aware that I could not know all the published literature about my topic and that left me feeling uncomfortable when assessing students work. Not just because I may miss something that had been copied and left unreferenced but also because I couldn’t always be sure that what I suspected to be copied had been. I was also concerned that some students might not be able to read my writing and so that made electronic mark-up of assignments appealing.

The need to change

My students are located world-wide and although it’s not an institutional policy, I wanted to be able to give the same assignment to all those studying the paper whilst allowing them to draw on their own professional and geographical context. To do this I needed to be able to assess work that used student experiences that were well outside my own as well as providing a way of managing the assignment process from all around the world. Using Turnitin gave me the tools to do that although I did need to change the way that I worked and challenge the things I took for granted.

Setting up Turnitin

My department bought a Turnitin and GradeMark licence. To use it, I set up a class in Turnitin and the system then gives me an id and password students can use to access the site. I set up the assignment descriptions, which are generally essays and reports, and set the due dates in Turnitin. Students have the instructions on how to access Turnitin in their course outline and they enroll themselves, using their email address, course id and password, so I don’t have to worry about doing that.

Assignments are submitted directly to Turnitin which then does an originality check on the work. There are loads of different settings in the system which gives flexibility on things like re-submissions and ignoring referenced material. The system then provides an originality report that shows what may have been plagiarized and the evidence it has based the opinion on. I find this really re-assuring! It’s quick and I have a much greater level of confidence when I start marking the work. It also provides me with the evidence I need should I have to challenge the student.

Although I have never used it you can setup a peer review process which could be good for formative assessment.

Marking on the computer

Once the work has been submitted and I’ve been through the originality report, I use the GradeMark digital mark-up system. I read through the essay online and can highlight parts of the text and add comments. That way students get to see the comments exactly where they apply. Of course, this also means that the original work is unchanged and the students can’t alter either the work they submitted or the comments I have added. There are features that save me time too. I can save standard comments to a clipboard and simply select them from the menu. Although I haven’t used it there is a tool that lets you set up a marking rubric or marking schedule I guess you could call it. That could be a plus when external markers or team marking approaches are used.

Challenges with using Turnitin

A couple of things I have found a bit of a limitation. Turnitin can mess up the formatting of tables and doesn’t handle pictures that well, in the versions I have used anyway.

One concern that’s been expressed by students and staff is about the way everything submitted to Turnitin ends up in a US based database. Some people, particularly those with aspirations of working in the US, are worried that what they put into their assignments may end up being used by the US immigration service. It is possible to get Turnitin to delete all submissions but it isn’t something that’s easy to do. You have to ask them to do it and it does appear deletion is at their discretion and not a right.

As with most technology there are some challenges. Whilst things like servers being taken down for maintenance are a fact of life you do need to keep an eye on the system messages and make sure that students are not disadvantaged or put under extra pressure. Another issue that I have witnessed is people trying to do things in the way they always have without taking into account the change in constraints and the new opportunities provided. If you can be flexible in the way you work there are very few real challenges and, in my opinion, lots to be gained.


To date I have done no formal evaluation of my use of Turnitin but anecdotally I am very happy with the way things are going. Students have made very positive comments to me and I feel more confident that I am providing a good service. I guess the lack of formal evaluation process has a lot to do with there being no institution-wide strategy to do with the use of this type of assessment tool. That is probably another reason why the tools are not being used that widely by my colleagues. I try to encourage people to see how Turnitin can help them meet the challenges of meaningful assessment but many seem to be content doing the same-old same-old.


The use of Turnitin and the GradeMark tool has helped me make more relevant and meaningful comments on student assignments which I believe has been really beneficial to both students and my teaching.  By adapting my assessment process to take advantage of the tools Turnitin provides I believe I save time and effort when marking assignments. I have found it easy to use although I think you do have to be prepared to re-think the marking processes you are currently using.

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