Laura Gibbs

A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against TurnItIn

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 16, 2017

So, in my last post I mentioned how much I valued the way the Community is a place to learn, and also to share what we learn in our own work and through our social networks. So, today there's a hard-hitting new article by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris making the rounds in my social network, and I think it's something important to share here, given the popularity of TurnItIn with many Canvas users: A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against TurnItIn, just now published in Hybrid Pedagogy. 


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Even if you are not a user of TurnItIn, you will find this to be a thought-provoking article, because Sean and Jesse outline an adaptation of the great Howard Rheingold's crap-detection approach to educational technology. TurnItIn pretends to be our "partner," and pretends to be helping students, but they are not our partners (we need to partner instead with each other, and with our students) and TurnItIn is policing students... while making a tidy profit student by student, word by word. Here's a quote from the article:

Turnitin supplants teaching. Whereas intellectual property is a multivalent issue in the academy (especially in a digital age when authorship and ownership are mutable and contested), Turnitin’s solution is writ in black and white. “Students uploading their work to Turnitin are turned from learners into potential plagiarizers,” Jesse writes in “Who Controls Your Dissertation?”, “and the teaching moment (about attribution, citation, and scholarly generosity) is given away to an algorithm.” To an issue of academic integrity that has been the project of teaching for decades, educational technology answers with efficiency. Plug it in. Add it up. Point a finger.

For exactly the reasons that Jesse and Sean outline in this article, I have never used TurnItIn, and I wrote up my own quick critique of TurnItIn's evil twin, WriteCheck, in this Google+ post several years ago: How TurnItIn's WriteCheck Rips Students Off.


I really hope people who use TurnItIn will take a few minutes to read Sean and Jesse's article and ponder its implications. They've included a letter for you to share to resist the use of TurnItIn at your school; I've made my case against TurnItIn many times, and will continue to keep doing so. You'll also find some useful links to explore there in the article as well.


Then, by way of a tonic, I can highly — HIGHLY — recommend two wonderful books that might help you rethink your assignments, and your writing assignments in particular, so that you won't need TurnItIn to control and police your students. Summer is a great time to regroup and rethink, and either/both of two books would be a way to get started (and they are both very affordable as ebooks, unlike some super-expensive pedagogy books). I'd be glad for an excuse to re-read either/both of those books again if anybody wants to do a "Summer Book Club" sharing our thoughts and ideas here. Let me know if you're interested in that. Has anybody done a Book Club here at the Community? It could be fun! :-)



Cheating Lessons by James LangThe Meaningful Writing Project by Michele Eodice, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner
cheatling lessons book covermeaningful writing book cover
You can get a sense of what the book is like from this inspiring interview with James Lang in Inside Higher EdAuthor of new book on academic dishonesty discusses strategies for reducing cheating while improving student learning.I was honored to be a participant in this research project; Michele Eodice is the director of my school's Writing Center, and the University of Oklahoma was one of three schools whose graduating seniors were surveyed about their most meaningful college writing experiences.