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Honor system task force considers plagiarism detection software

The possibility of implementing plagiarism detection software across campus is figuring heavily into UNC’s efforts to reform the honor system.

At a meeting of the honor system task force Tuesday, members weighed the merits of digital plagiarism detection, with some expressing hesitation about the program’s flaws.

Morgan Abbott, vice chairwoman of the Honor Court, said she encountered Turnitin, the software being discussed for UNC, in high school and said it was problematic.

“It seems like almost every instance it was used in my high school it was disastrous,” she said, adding that the software sometimes recognized cheating when none had taken place.

The meeting centered on Turnitin, which scans tests, essays and other documents, and compares them with online resources and other students’ papers.

The software is already used at Duke and N.C. State Universities and at Chapel Hill high schools, members said.

Kimberly Abels, director of the Writing Center, said such software could create a culture of suspicion.

“If Turnitin is widely used throughout campus, then the message we send to students is that we think you’re doing something wrong,” she said.

Todd Zakrajsek, executive director of the Center for Faculty Excellence, said he has concerns about the system being used too much as a judge and jury.

But Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty and head of the task force, strongly supported Turnitin. She said she has gotten positive feedback from science departments about its usage.

Zakrajsek, who said he worked with Turnitin at Central Michigan University, said the program isn’t the solution to ending plagiarism at UNC, but it could make positive change.

“It’s a small step,” he said.

Members did not reach consensus about adopting the program, but Zakrajsek said he has already been in talks with company representatives.

Members said they plan to meet with representatives soon to discuss specifics of implementation.

Turnitin’s price varies based on the number of a school’s students. The price UNC would pay is undetermined.

Despite concerns from some members, Boxill expressed urgency.

“Some things I’m hoping we can have done very quickly, maybe even by the end of the term,” she said.

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