University adopts new academic integrity tool

Turnitin to be available for faculties by September

The university aims to commence Turnitin use by fall.
Supplied via Turnitin

As of June 9, Queen’s has acquired a new tool to handle concerns around academic honesty, citations and educational integrity — purchasing an institution-wide license for Turnitin.

Turnitin serves as a ‘similarity checker’, which runs submitted work through their databases to prompt feedback on potential instances of plagiarism or improperly cited references.

The tool’s acquisition, according to Jill Scott, vice-provost (teaching and learning), isn’t in response to any “major breach of academic integrity”, nor an increase in reports of plagiarism.

The University had been under pressure from its own faculty members for a while to adopt the system. “We’re talking three years here,” Scott said. Pressure had especially arisen from the Joint Committee on the Administration of the Agreement (JCAA). 

The JCAA — made up of the faculty’s collective bargaining unit, Queen’s faculty and administration — identified the purchase of Turnitin as a top concern among its members.

Several other groups joined the JCAA’s call to acquire Turnitin, leading to a number of partial licenses being purchased by individual faculties, schools and departments at Queen’s.

All the while, Scott said the trouble arose in determining how the system would be financed. “It’s not always easy Who pays for that, and how do we find the resources?” she said.

Now, Scott says “the stars have kind of aligned, and it feels like the right moment.” A final push came from the Turnitin system eliminating partial licenses.

“Either we were going to have to dump the whole thing, or pick it all up,” Scott said.

She was adamant in emphasizing the system’s purpose as not solely to highlight plagiarism, but also as a diagnostic tool for students to use prior to submitting their work.

“This, for me, is not about finding cheaters,” she clarified.

Although Queen’s had a need to protect its academic credentials, as a “selective university,” Scott believes that for those who intend to “work the system,” they would always find a way.

“This is potentially a deterrent, but in a perfect world, we’d use this in pedagogically sound ways. Turnitin can be used as a tool, to really increase education around citation and good academic practice,” she said.

The Center for Teaching and Learning is in the process of understanding how Turnitin could be used in “formative and developmental” ways.

Right now, the focus is on “what they can do to support faculty to adopt the tool in positive ways,” Scott said, but future plans involve discussion with the AMS about the student side.

“I don’t know exactly what will happen, but we want to work with the AMS ... to alert students to their ability to use this on their own. We want to make it available so that anyone can use it at any time,” she said.

Queen’s received positive reviews from other universities using Turnitin. According to Scott, the system also works well with onQ — Queen’s new learning management system.

Though the University cannot mandate that faculty members use the tool, Scott hopes that it’s available in time for fall semester, so individual faculties and departments are given the option.

“My assumption is that it will be ready and up and running for September. I can’t see any reason why it won’t,” she said.

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