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Teachers Test Turnitin

In response to a string of eight academic disciplinary infractions in the 2009-2010 academic year, Deerfield is instituting a trial period to test the online software program, Turnitin.

Turnitin.com is a program owned by iParadigms, LLC. Institutions, built to catch plagiarism by comparing assignments to various databases: all published material available on the Internet, books and periodicals, or previously submitted essays.

The software detects and highlights any parallel phrasing. Teachers then use their own judgment to decide whether this overlap constitutes plagiarism.

From now until the end of the year, ten teachers in the English and history departments are testing the program in the classroom and evaluating its effectiveness. If reports from these teachers are positive, the program will be widely used next year.

Academic Dean Peter Warsaw, one of the primary proponents of the program, emphasized that Turnitin would be used as a teaching tool to raise awareness, rather than as merely a way to catch cases of plagiarism after submission.

“By using the program as a step in the writing process, students will learn how to avoid unintentional plagiarism,” said Mr. Warsaw.

Teachers who have taken part in this pilot program, such as history teacher Julia Rivellino-Lyons, have been positive about Turnitin. “It’s been a reminder that I need to clearly define plagiarism for students,” she said. In the event that a teacher finds material suspicious, “[Turnitin] is a really fast way to find academic dishonesty.”

However, English teacher Joel Thomas-Adams feels that using the program illustrates a trend towards being too technology dependent. “I don’t want to see yet another of our important human relationships mediated by computers,” he said.

He also believes that matters of trust should be kept within the school. “Turnitin externalizes the policing of a relationship that should be one of trust and communication within,” he said.

According to Mr. Warsaw, the program was chosen over other anti-plagiarism programs because of its reputation for excellence; it is used extensively by our sister schools, and all essays within the IB (international baccalaureate) system must be submitted through Turnitin.

By bringing Turnitin to Deerfield, the Academy hopes to impress upon students that it takes the issue of plagiarism seriously. As Mr. Warsaw pointed out, “Our academic reputation is one of our most valued assets.”

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