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UWRF pays price to stop plagiarism

December 7, 2006

A year ago UW-River Falls English professor Steve Luebke tediously sifted through papers trying to determine if they had been legitimately written.

“I had concerns about plagiarism,” he said. “I was concerned that I wasn’t always catching it.”

Luebke tried running passages through Google to see if any of his suspicions were correct, but the process was time consuming and typically fruitless.

Then, in the spring, administrators in the College of Arts and Sciences decided to pay $6,000 for the use of Turnitin.com.

Turnitin.com allows registered users to turn in their research papers and have them cross-referenced with an extensive database of scholarly work. The paper is then given an originality report, which is provided to both students and professors. The Web site also allows professors to attach comments and grade papers online.

Luebke was one of 13 UWRF professors who used Turnitin.com spring semester and has been very impressed with the site’s services.

“It’s not just something where you can say ‘I gotcha,’” he said. “It’s also a learning tool for writing.”

During its trial run, more than 900 UWRF students were required to use the Internet resource aimed at deterring academic dishonesty.

CAS Dean Terry Brown decided to fund the use of Turnitin.com because she believed it would raise the level of academic integrity on campus.

“I have had experience with people deliberately plagiarizing,” Brown said. “This is about raising the bar for academic performance here.”

The number of UWRF students registered on Turnitin.com almost doubled this fall.

“The whole problem of plagiarism has been around for awhile,” said Tracey Gladstone-Sovell, professor and political science chair. “This makes tracking down the suspicious papers so much easier.”

Turnitin.com levels the playing field for students who turn in legitimate work, said Jim Madsen, professor and physics department chair. He said he has seen a huge change in his students’ work since he began using the site in the spring.

“Now I’ve essentially had no examples of plagiarism,” he said. “Before [Turnitin.com], it was more than a handful.”

This fall the number of professors at UWRF using Turnitin.com increased to 23. Madsen said he is surprised more faculty members aren’t taking advantage of its services.

“I don’t think, anecdotally, that faculty are doing a very thorough job of looking for plagiarism,” he said.

Gladstone-Sovell also serves as the UWRF campus administrator for Turnitin.com. She deals with any faculty or student problems with the Web site.

“It’s surprising how few problems there have been with this,” she said. “I don’t think anyone’s had any technical problems.”

Faculty who use the site would like to see UWRF’s subscription to this resource renewed.

Senior Brian Hogenson has used Turnitin.com and was torn when considering future use of the site’s services at UWRF.

“That sounds like a lot of money for a program only used by a minority of the faculty,” he said. “However, if Turnitin.com is the wave of the future on college campuses, our university should try to keep up.”

Future funding will have to be sought outside the CAS, Brown said.

“I was willing to pay for it [initially] because I deeply believe in it,” she said.

One proposal is an increase in the student technology fee, Gladstone-Sovell said. The increase would cost about $1.10 per student.

“There are so many more pros than cons,” Gladstone-Sovell said. “If we don’t get the student technology fees, we’ll pursue funding elsewhere.”

If Turnitin.com is picked up beyond this semester, its services could be integrated into the UWRF Web site.

“By next fall it ought to be the case that Turnitin.com would be integrated into the drop-box on D2L,” Gladstone-Sovell said.

Madsen was emphatic in his support for renewing the services of Turnitin.com.

“Six thousand dollars is not insignificant, but if I look at the amount of time I would spend looking at those issues it’s well worth it,” he said. “That’s what technology should do for you.”

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