Friday, March 28, 2008

Expert witness report

As I said in my previous post, the judge's decision and a variety of bloggers' and journalists' opinions about that decision are now available online. To that I'll add the Chronicle's coverage and the part of my expert witness report that speaks to the use of PDSs. I don't know the date on which it was filed with the court; I submitted it to plaintiffs' attorney on 11 August 2007. Again, this is not the complete report; the remainder of it speaks to specific artifacts in the case. But here are the general observations:

g) The use of PDSs in general, and specifically, can compromise academic integrity in a number of ways. Academic integrity encompasses honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. The ways in which can compromise academic integrity include (a) a breach of trust between instructor and student. The blanket use of a PDS frames all students as potential cheaters who must prove their innocence before their work can be evaluated. (b) also compromises academic integrity inasmuch as the instructor requiring its use is denying students' right in property to texts they produced through their own effort and labor. These opinions are applicable to both high school and college students. The basis of these opinions is my own experience in teaching writing; the consensus of both the national Council of Writing Program Administrators and the CCCC-IP Caucus on Intellectual Property concerning the use of plagiarism detection services; discussions with others who teach writing at different levels and in different academic situations; published research on the negative consequences of the use of PDSs; reports in the press regarding adverse results that have occurred; and standard knowledge in the field.

h) The use of can specifically disrupt proper writing pedagogy. The program quantifies and universalizes writers' use of sources, rather than acknowledging that the acceptability of source use is governed by local conditions such as the assignment, the student's grade level, and the syllabus for the course. Moreover, the use of distracts teachers from the task of teaching. The program is marketed as a comprehensive solution to concerns about plagiarism, when in fact it addresses only a small part of what is commonly defined as "plagiarism." Turnitin does not detect the failure to cite sources that have been paraphrased or summarized or that have otherwise influenced the development of ideas in a paper. It does not detect the fabrication of sources. It does not detect ghostwritten papers, i.e., papers that have been written for hire. It does not detect the use of others' research to write one's own paper, i.e., when a student borrows someone else's list of references and reading notes from those sources. Nor is its use significantly instructive. Students whose work is subjected to learn that they should not copy significant strings of words without citing the source, but they do not learn how to read texts critically so that they have alternative ways of talking about ideas in a source text. They learn that they must cite sources, but they do not learn how to frame their citations so that readers know how the source is being used.

i) There are much better ways of teaching writing pedagogy than using PDSs in general, and in particular. These better ways include (a) sequenced assignments, so that students are mentored through the process of producing major papers; (b) the use of common sources to begin a writing project, so that the class can work together through the problems of source use, and then each student can branch out into his or her own research; (c) instruction in critical information literacy, so that students locate compelling, pertinent sources rather than basic documents produced immediately in a quick Google search; (d) instruction in critical reading, so that students learn how to summarize and paraphrase ideas from sources; (e) instruction in critical citation, so that students not only learn that they must cite sources but also learn how to cite in such a way that the nature of their source use is transparent to the reader; and (f) assignment design in which students participate, so that the project is one in which they feel invested.

j) The use of PDSs casts instructors and students as adversaries and describes writing and reading as mechanical procedures of extracting and citing information. The use of PDSs obscures the intellectual excitement of reading and writing, instead creating a culture of surveillance and fear, encouraging student writers to think first and foremost about not being caught and punished. In this important regard the use of PDSs undermines some of the most basic objectives of education: involving students in the life of the mind and infecting them with intellectual curiosity and a love of learning.

k) If a PDS is ineffective at catching plagiarists who put in any amount of time or effort in pursuing their plagiarist activities, PDSs – and in particular – may in fact encourage plagiarism by giving a plagiarist an imprimatur of credibility when he or she submits a plagiarized work that results in a “100% original” Turnitin originality report. This is a very real problem since there are many reports in the literature and elsewhere of individuals obtaining “clean” originality reports simply by paraphrasing an existing work on the same subject obtained from the Internet.

l) Plagiarists are more likely to use information from the Internet than from other student works, or from paper mills. Other student papers from the same institution may easily “ring a bell” with a professor, especially if the work is of high quality. Compositions from paper mills are typically easy to spot, much easier than something from the Internet, especially a pay site on the Internet.

7) The data or other information considered by me in forming my opinions include the following documents, studies, conference reports, reports in the press, and tests of the effectiveness of the system, and my own personal knowledge obtained by many years of experience in dealing with and teaching the issues related to my opinions:

Austin, Wendy Warren. "The Research Paper in Cyberspace: Source-Based Writing in the Composition Classroom." Diss. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2000.

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.

Bean, John C. "Summary Writing, Rogerian Listening, and Dialectic Thinking." College Composition and Communication 37 (Oct. 1986): 343-45.

Brown, Renee, Brian Fallon, Jessica Lott, Elizabeth Matthews, and Elizabeth Mintie. "Taking on Turnitin: Tutors Advocating Change." The Writing Center Journal 27.1(2007): 7-28.

Carrick, Tracy Hamler. "Spot Keeps Turning Up: E/quality in Authorship(s) and Pedagogy." Authorship in Composition Studies. Ed. Tracy Hamler Carrick and Rebecca Moore Howard. New York: Wadsworth, 2006. 134-45.

"CCCC-IP Caucus Recommendations Regarding Academic Integrity and the Use of Plagiarism Detection Services." 2006. .

Corbett, Edward P.J. "The Theory and Practice of Imitation in Classical Rhetoric." College Composition and Communication 22 (1971): 243-50.

Council of Writing Program Administrators. "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: WPA Statement on Best Policies." Jan. 2003. .

Davis, Allison. "Plagiarism-Detection Web Site Must Not Profit From Students' Work." The Hoya [Georgetown University] 24 Oct. 2006. .

Davis, Robert, and Mark Shadle. "'Building a Mystery': Alternative Research Writing and the Academic Act of Seeking." College Composition and Communication 51.3 (February 2000): 417-446.

Dehnart, Andy. "The Web's Plagiarism Police." Salon 14 June 1999. <>.

Donnelly, Michael, Rebecca Ingalls, Tracy Ann Morse, Joanna Castner, and Anne Meade Stockdell-Giesler. "(Mis)Trusting Technology that Polices Integrity: A Critical Assessment of" Inventio 1.8 (Fall 2006). .

Eodice, Michele, and Cindy Plerard. "Surfing for Scholarship: Promoting More Effective Student Web Research." The National Teaching and Learning Forum 11.3 (2002): 2-7.

Freundberg, Michael S. "Site Violates Property." Letter. Daily Orange [Syracuse University] 27 Sept. 2006. < sourcedomain=""">.

Frey, Nancy, Douglas Fisher, and Ted Hernandez. "'What's the Gist?' Summary Writing for Struggling Adolescent Writers." Voices from the Middle 11.2 (Dec. 2003): 44-50.

Gavin, Christy. "Guiding Students Along the Information Highway: Librarians Collaborating with Composition Instructors." Journal of Teaching Writing 13.1-2 (1994): 225-36.

Grinberg, Emanuella. "Student Wins Battle Against Plagiarism-Detection Requirement." 21 January 2004. .

Herrington, Anne, and Charles Moran. "What Happens When Machines Read Our Students' Writing?" College English 63.4 (March 2001): 480-499.

Kantz, Margaret. "Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively." College English 52 (January 1990): 74-91.

Lowe, Charles, and Ellen Schendel. "What Teachers Should Know about Plagiarism Software." AFT Nov. 2006. .

Maas, David. "Make Your Paraphrasing Plagiarism-Proof with a Coat of E-Prime." et Cetera 59.2 (Summer 2002): 196-205.

Marsh, Bill. Plagiarism: Alchemy and Remedy in Higher Education. Albany: SUNY P, 2007.

Marsh, Bill. " and the Scriptural Enterprise of Plagiarism Detection." Computers and Composition 21 (2004): 427-438.

McCabe, Donald L., and Gary Pavela. "Ten (Updated) Principles of Academic Integrity: How Faculty Can Foster Student Honesty." Change (May/June 2004): 10-15.

"MSVU Bans Anti-Plagiarism Software." Nova Scotia 8 Mar. 2006. <>.

Price, Margaret. "Beyond 'Gotcha!': Situating Plagiarism in Policy and Pedagogy." College Composition and Communication 54.1 (September 2002): 88-115.

Purdy, James P. "Plagiarism Detection Programs: Test Results and Recommendations." Report from the Center for Writing Studies to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Spring 2003.

Ritter, Kelly. "Buying In, Selling Short: A Pedagogy Against the Rhetoric of Online Paper Mills." Pedagogy 6.1 (Jan. 2006): 25-51.

Roy, Alice M. "Whose Words These Are I Think I Know: Plagiarism, the Postmodern, and Faculty Attitudes." Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World. Ed. Lise Buranen and Alice M. Roy. Albany, NY: SUNY P, 1999. 55-62.

Spigelman, Candace. "Lessons from Forrester: Nurturing Student Writing in a Climate of Suspicion." Issues in Writing 13.1 (Fall/Winter 2002): 27-57.

Sterngold, Arthur. "Confronting Plagiarism." Change May/June 2004: 16+.

Strenski, Ellen. "Online Reading between the Lines: Searching for and Evaluating Internet Information." Assembly on Computers in English Journal 1.3 (1998): 56-69.

Thompson, Celia. "'Authority Is Everything': A Study of the Politics of Textual Ownership and Knowledge in the Formation of Student Writer Identities." International Journal for Educational Integrity 1.1 (2005): 12 pp. 27 Jan. 2006 .

Valentine, Kathryn. "Plagiarism as Literacy Practice: Recognizing and Rethinking Ethical Binaries." College Composition and Communication 58.1 (Sept. 2006): 89-109.

Warrener, Mary. "Plagiarism, Mistrust, and the Marketplace." SUNY Conference on Writing, Oswego NY, 8 April 2006.


Luisa said...


I admit that I skimmed your post; however, I agree with those main points upon which my eyes landed. As a teacher it is so important to develop trust between students and teacher and nothing undermines that trust more quickly than setting up an adversarial situation. I like to be a "collaborator" in my students' endeavors or a "cheerleader" if necessary. I tell students up front that I will not use things like Turnitin because I know they are too intelligent to cheat and because I know they are intelligent enough to use their time and money to earn their education. In other words, I give them a pep talk about them and their potential etc.

Anonymous said...

The first thing about writing is thinking. See the new book on "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".

Walter Jacobson said...

I don't believe that Turnitin has ever been offered as a single solution to the plagiarism problem, and anyone who would use it as such is probably as lazy as many of the patchwriters who get caught by it.

You make the purveyors of SDS (sounds remarkably like WMD to me) out to be the villain here, but how could they even prosper if there weren't a need for such software? You created a similar scarecrow by conflating copyright and plagiarism in your book, Standing in the Shoulders of Giants. The infraction of plagiarism is a serious academic concern.

Considering that most in your discipline repeatedly remind us that we need to get (our pedagogy) with it (the digital reality), isn't it only natural that English departments would use computers to check for plagiarism?

Walter Jacobson said...

By the way, I should have been more polite and invited you to check out our class blog, and respond as we are finishing up comments on your book.

Rebecca Moore Howard said...

Maybe I need to make very clear that this is a court document, not a scholarly document. It takes up one side of an issue. It's also an excerpt from a longer document.

As for the critique of my book: It's important to hear the shortcomings of one's work and to remedy them in future work, so I appreciate your pointing them out to me.