06/07/06

With cheating at an all-time high on college campuses, Saint Mary's College of California will conduct a two-year trial of a computer program designed to prevent plagiarism by students beginning in the fall of 2006.

The trial use of Turnitin.com was approved by Provost Sally Stampp, the Academic Senate, the Educational Policies Board, the Academic Honor Council, the English Department and the Collegiate Seminar board.

Students in Collegiate Seminar and English 4 (Composition) and 5 (Argument and Research) will be required to submit all of their papers to the Web site's database. Faculty members in those courses will be strongly encouraged, but not required, to use the site to check their students' submissions for plagiarism. Using Turnitin.com will be optional for all other courses.

Turnitin.com, founded by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, has a database of more than 14 million student papers, an archive of Internet Web sites, and subscription databases that contain tens of thousands of journal sources. The site detects plagiarism by checking papers against its databases. Once a student's work is submitted to the program it is secured within the database, protecting the work of the individual student and allowing the school to create a database of its own.

When Professor Barbara McGraw first proposed the use of Turnitin.com in early February, it sparked a flurry of e-mails for and against the proposal by faculty members, with the majority favoring the proposal.

Saint Mary's supporters of Turnitin.com see it as a way of strengthening academic integrity at SMC and supporting the goals of the Academic Honor Code. Some say it will provide a new and effective teaching tool.

"It's not about catching cheaters," Frank Murray, dean for academic development, told the EPB in April. "It's about teaching students to think for themselves."

Opponents of the policy say using the service is a sign of distrust to students that would undermine the relationship between students and their teachers.

"This is a very great intrusion into my classroom," Brother Charles Hilken told the Academic Senate in May.

The EPB's Admissions and Academic Regulations Committee will evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of Turnitin.com during the two-year trial period and determine how its use affects the college culture.

Turnitin.com is run by the Oakland-based company iParadigms, which began in 1996 to monitor the recycling of research papers. The program is now used in more than 80 countries by secondary schools and institutions of higher education, including UC Irvine, UCLA, several California State Universities, Rutgers, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.

Colorado State University is one of several "success" stories cited on the company's Web site. The university implemented the use of Turnitin.com after it established an honor code similar to SMC's, but found that the code did not end pervasive academic dishonesty on campus.

-- Brianna Hardy (co-chair of the Academic Honor Council) and Debra Holtz (Office of College Communications)

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