Plagiarism is a complex issue and a challenge at most if not all tertiary institutions. While plagiarism has always been part and parcel of tertiary institutions, the internet and access to online sources have made it easy for students to copy material into essays and assignments and claim it as their own. With so many resources available online, it has also become more difficult for lecturers to spot plagiarism.

A study at the University of Botswana had a look at the impact Turnitin had on plagiarism. While the university had measures in place to deter plagiarism, it remained a great problem and therefore they turned to Turnitin as a means to fight plagiarism.

The following lessons were learnt from this study:

  1. After introducing Turnitin at the University, plagiarism incidents dropped. There were still small incidents of plagiarism despite the new measures that Turnitin offered.
  2. While lecturers welcomed Turnitin, as it was easier to detect plagiarism, the perceptions from students were that they were being set up to fail. They wanted to acquire a degree for a better future, and Turnitin was seen as a policing tool that would prevent this.
  3. Legitimate research increased, but plagiarism still continued. Why? Students shared that they believed that they could get away with a smaller scale of cheating. Not understanding the severity of it.
  4. Students also reported that they were tempted to plagiarise because lecturers tend to give the same assignments each year.
  5. When assignments are varied and new, students are less prone to plagiarise. Another finding was that when assignments are interesting to students, they will also be less liable to cheat.
  6. Lecturers welcomed the use of Turnitin because it was helpful in quickly identifying plagiarism. But students felt that plagiarism did not have serious enough consequences.

From the above lessons, the following conclusions were drawn.

When addressing the issue of plagiarism, students should be educated on earning their degrees with honesty. They should learn that their academic efforts are important to equip themselves with the right skills for work one day. The career market is extremely competitive, and therefore when cheating to earn their degree, they may not only struggle to find a job but also to keep one.

The use of Turnitin in the fight against plagiarism should be seen as a supplementary measure to encourage students to stay on course and not used as a policing tool. While it is a useful tool to help professors detect plagiarism, it should not be equated to other rules in the institution. Rather students should see it as a tool that encourages original writing. When they do not, they are in fact stealing. In other words, plagiarism should be seen as an issue for the use of intellectual property.

In conclusion

The insight gained from the study at the University of Botswana showed that plagiarism is a complex issue, no different in Botswana. Introducing Turnitin did have a positive impact on plagiarism, with lower incidents. But plagiarism was not eliminated, which speaks to the complexity of the problem.

It also shows that a detection mechanism is not enough to solve the problem. Rather, it is a tool that helps to encourage academic integrity. Students need to understand that plagiarism does not only violate the rights of the person they are copying from, but they are also cheating themselves out of an opportunity to improve their knowledge and achieve their future career they are working for.

We asked Botho University who is also using Turnitin, to share their thoughts and experience with the software solution:

“The product is fantastic. We would recommend the Turnitin to other institutions and rate it as a worthwhile investment. Turnitin is a crucial part of Botho University’s operations. Not only is the Turnitin easy to use, but it also makes internal processes and procedures more coherent.” Professor Olumide Jaiyeoba (PhD Business Administration), Head of Department of Graduate Studies in Business and Accounting.

Source consulted: Tshepo Batane (2010) Turning to Turnitin to Fight Plagiarism among University Students. Educational Technology & Society, 13 (2), 1–12.

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