Text matching software such as turn-it –in according to Rowell (2009) is a tool which “…identifies similar texts in students’ submitted work with material from internet sources, other UK students work and a range of commercial texts and electronic journals used in educational institutions. ” This is widely acknowledged as a tool used to prevent plagiarism by students and authors worldwide. Plagiarism according to Perrin, Larkham, and Culwin (see Okoro 2011, p. 174) is simply explained as the use of someone else’s intellectual property without proper acknowledgement of that source.
It is in its own way a form of ‘theft’. According to Okoro (2011), plagiarism is known to occur for various reasons, carelessness being in the forefront. His research shows that 90% of students know they are plagiarizing but do so anyway because they consider it to be a lesser ethical crime than other high profile instances of dishonesty. Other causes may include ignorance of students who are not completely aware of what plagiarism constitutes and have not really been educated on the proper ways of acknowledging their sources.
Research by Scanlon and Neumann (see Okoro (2011), p. 176) Shows that majority of students actually know that plagiarism in all its forms is wrong. When asked, Over 80% of them responded positively against plagiarism, saying that it is completely unacceptable. In practice however (Walker 2010) majority of these students are found to plagiarize. The majorities of such groups are found to be international students whom English is not their first language and therefore find it difficult to express themselves in English and result to the easy way out: copying.
Text matching software to some extent is quite good at pointing out instances of plagiarism but at the same time it is highly limited by the extent to which it can enter into databases such as websites that create essays for students and it is also unable to access books which have never been published online or previous works which have never been put on the internet. Even translated texts will not be detected so students are able to get essays and papers from foreigners and translate them to use as their own words. Turn-it-in may not detect all these but they are all instances of plagiarism as well.
This further buttresses the fact that this text matching software cannot be used in isolation (Carroll 2009). Text matching software such as turn-it –in over the years has come out with a lot of positive and advantageous effects on the academic world in general. It has been identified as being a useful tool to aid in the development of good writing practices among students and to also aid tutors to be able to monitor plagiarism among students. The negative side of TMS however is not completely ignored, due to the fact that it is only computer software and is limited in its functionality it is not able to track down every aspect of plagiarism.
There are also instances where tutors use this software as a tool…” for ‘catching’ and ‘policing’ cheating students” (Rowell 2009, p. 158) instead of a corrective tool. Tutors and students tend to view text matching software from various points of view. Okoro (2011) views TMS as ineffective in helping students develop good writing skills; he insists that teaching students to write is a much better option. Similarly Carroll (2009), states that TMS is not enough. People are needed to work hand in hand with this software in order to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Not only will this produce better results but it will also help to dispel the concerns of students who believe that their tutors are more interested in catching them in the wrong than in accrediting learning. Most students are of the opinion that these tools such as turn-it-in software are a means of being policed by their tutors and not a helpful means of developing their skills. Carroll (2009) advocates the text matching software as a formative tool. It helps to identify the origin of a piece of work and state if these sources have been correctly cited or not.
The ability to point out fragments of matching text whether small or large is very useful when used by students and tutors alike as a formative means of developing good writing skills. More recently these tools are viewed as a means of teaching students about plagiarism, the risks of having a high percentage result and how to avoid it. The detailed analysis of text matching software such as turn-it-in helps students to be able to identify the areas where they have made mistakes and to avoid repeating them again (Rowell 2009)It also helps to point out errors in their citation and referencing and help them pay more attention to these details.
Good academic practice can be achieved in various other ways. Encouraging students and motivating them alongside providing them with the proper education on methods of acknowledging sources and proper means of citing authors will go a long way in developing their writing skills. More importantly a formative method should be adopted where tutors accept early hand in of drafts of term papers and essays before final submission dates and give formative feedback on the progress the student has made and making the adequate corrections where necessary.
Things like how to source information from the internet appropriately and identifying sources that have information relevant to their needs and the dangers of using internet materials as well should be properly explained to them. It is also very important for tutors to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these students in their writing and help them develop and grow on an individual basis (Okoro 2011).
Tutors should also give clear instructions on their expectations from students and what the rules are on every piece of work they are given. I personally am very open to the use of text matching software. The current developments in the software itself and its uses has helped students and tutors to be able to control plagiarism and this awareness has led to the need for students to develop better writing skills. If used formatively TMS is a very useful tool and is very helpful in aiding to develop good scholarship practice.