Using Turnitin for Plagiarism Detection – a Workshop Summary

On April 3rd The FHS Teaching and Learning Team hosted a Lunch n’Learn workshop for FHS instructors on using the plagiarism detection tool, Turnitin. This workshop was offered in response to the discussion on plagiarism in Faculty Council.

Goals for the session were that participants could:

We were joined by two guests from the SFU Teaching and Learning Center (TLC).  Robin Schell, a Learning Technology Specialist  and Christina Drabik, an Instructional Support Technician.

Turnitin and FOIPOP Restrictions

Robin outlined some of the restrictions with respect to using Turnitin due to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) legislation. Essentially, any web-based tools that store data out of the country require student consent, in addition it is illegal to file a course rosters. For some tools, this can be overcome by collaborating with the SFU Privacy Office and having students complete a consent form.  In the case of Turnitin, there are complications to the consent form approach. The take home message is that Instructors cannot enter students work into Turnitin, students have to do it themselves and provide the originality report to their instructors.

Due to these restrictions, instructors have to state that that they are using Turnitin in their course outline, as well as make a statement in their syllabus. Ideally, full disclosure should be given to students at start of program. In some cases, students may object to using Turnitin due to privacy issues, thus instructors would need to consider alternate options in those rare cases.

How do Instructors and Students Access Turnitin?

Christina Drabik demonstrated how instructors and students access Turnitin,

and showed a Turnitin originality report. Much of the information summarized below can be found on the SFU Turnitin Website (

Step 1: Create an Instructor Account

In order to gain access, instructors open the Turnitin website ( and create an “Account for Instructor”. An institutional ID number is required for this step. Instructors can use either the SFU or FHS institutional ID and password. The FHS account information is included in the Semester Prep Guide.

Step 2: Add a class

Once an instructor account has been created, the instructor will “add a class”. This will provide an enrollment password that is given to students so that they can connect their account with the course. A course ID number will also be generated, this number is used by students to ensure they are accessing the correct course.

Step 3: Create an assignment

In the created course, instructors can then “add assignment” to that course. Be sure to enter due dates. It is also important to take note of optional settings since these need to be set up so that students can access their originality reports. It should be noted that students can resubmit assignments  but, it takes 24 hours to generate new originality report.

Students need to create an account

In order to submit their work, students also need to create an account. To do this, they require the class ID and an enrollment password (mentioned above) to access the course. They can then submit their work to assignments that will provide them with originality reports.

The Originality Report

The originality report highlights sections of work that are directly copied and shows the percentage of plagiarized work. It is not a perfect system, for example, it doesn’t detect gradations of plagiarism, thus sophisticated paraphrasing may overcome detection. The report gives an impression of plagiarism but is by no means foolproof. In addition, there are some unanswered questions; it is not clear how direct quotations are assessed and whether they might be interpreted as plagiarism.

Ways to use Turnitin

Although privacy regulations limit use of Turnitin, there are several ways that instructors can use this tool. For example, Mark Lechner recommends that students use Turnitin as a voluntarily self-assessment tool. He tells students about privacy concerns, and then shows them how the authenticity report changes over with multiple rewrites using direct copying, paraphrasing, and rewriting in own words. Another approach to using Turnitin would involve students submitting their work to the instructor with an originality report that is generated by Turnitin.

Concerns about Turnitin

Turnitin is not a perfect plagiarism detection system and a number of concerns arise with its use. For example, some students feel strongly about turnitin since they may be opposed to supporting a for-profit company in addition to privacy concerns. It should be noted that students can use a pseudonym if they don’t want their info “out there”.

In addition, while Turnitin assesses directly copied text, it does not assess plagiarism of ideas. Thus, issues related to  academic culture still need to come into play. For example, it is important to model professionalism and instill values around academic conduct. Using a tool like Turnitin is reactionary rather than preemptive.

These issues will need to be addressed in other ways. For example, practicing assignment design to avoid plagiarism, or enhancing student reading practices. One participant observed that students do most of their reading online with open PDFs on computer. They don’t print it out  and mark it up. This facilitates direct cutting and pasting.  Taken together, it is clear that Turnitin has some value with respect to preventing plagiarism, however it’s use does not overcome the myriad other issues that need to be addressed regarding curriculum and reading and writing skills.

Nienke van Houten