The Plagiarism Detection Service is managed by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC ) on behalf of the UK education community. The service “enables institutions and staff to carry out electronic comparison of students' work against electronic sources including other students' work.”
The service is provided in the UK using software called Turnitin. The software takes an assignment which you upload to the Turnitin servers and compares it with other assignments in its database. This database is composed of other student assignments which have been submitted for checking, pages retrieved from the World Wide Web, and published works of various kinds. If the software finds similarities between the submitted assignment and anything else in the database, these are highlighted in a report.
You can see a demonstration of the service, which includes a sample report, on the Turnitin home page.
To use the service, you will need to register through IT Services Helpline on ext 4646 (email firstname.lastname@example.org) , who will arrange access for you. A ‘quick start’ guide and full user manuals can be downloaded from the Turnitin website. You can submit assignments yourself, or you can require students to submit directly to the service. Students need to ask their lecturer for a class ID number and a class enrollment password in order to use the service - they cannot register themselves.
Before you embrace the technological solution, make sure that it will answer the question you have asked. Many people believe that the use of this kind of software is a blow to academic values of trust and autonomy, and that it constitutes a form of spying. Some people may think that the process of learning to read, process and interpret the writings of others will be endangered by a culture of originality at all costs. Others think that it will help to restore academic values and improve standards, because students will know that they can’t get away with plagiarizing any more. This is not an either/or debate: there is bound to be a spectrum of views from one extreme to the other, and the subject context is likely to be a key determinant.
If you detect plagiarism using the service, then you have no leeway under the current University regulations: you must report it to the Head of Department. You can’t use it as a learning experience for students, for instance (or for yourself: for instance, by putting previously submitted assignments through the system to get an idea of the scale of the problem).
There has been a long discussion about whether students’ intellectual property rights are infringed by the use of this software, as the system relies partly on keeping the submitted assignments in its database for future comparisons.
You should inform students about your intention to use the service when the assignment is given, so that they know what is going on and have the chance to adapt their behaviour accordingly.
Read these papers before you decide whether to go ahead:
Carbone, N. (2001). Turnitin.com, a Pedagogic Placebo for Plagiarism, Bedfordstmartins.com. 2003.
Jenson, J. and S. d. Castell (2004). "'Turn it In': technological challenges to academic ethics." Education, Communication and Information4(2/3): 312-324.
Lynn, A. (2002). Plagiarism-detection software stems students' use of 'paper mills', Science Daily .