By Robyn Doolittle
Whatever administrative hack wrote the university’s policy regarding Turnitin.com forgot a very important point. Telling a professor that their teaching style is flawed is not as simple as firing off an e-mail.
Faculty at Ryerson may believe that they don’t put personal opinions into the marks they give, but most students will be able to draw several examples to the contrary. If a professor likes you — not for your 4.0 GPA, but for you — your mark will reflect this. And that goes the other way too.
If a student raises questions about having their work scanned through a cheating-detector, it’s natural they’d worry professors would hold it against them. If it’s included on the course outline, the prof has already taken a stance that they believe in the program and have weighed in on the risks.
They’ve made a conscious decision to use this service even though it’s a policy that assumes students are guilty until proven innocent. Profs use it even though UC Berkeley, where the database began, canned the service in 2001 over intellectual-property, copyright and privacy concern. And even though the Canadian federal government announced United States-based databases (such as Turnitin) are a “high risk” for Canadian institutions, profs continue to force students to submit essays to this for-profit American organization.
Last November, The Eyeopener broke the story that student essays containing controversial subject matter may be vulnerable to the American Patriot Act, because of Turnitin.com. Our cover showed an eerie photo of George W. Bush, with the headline “This man can read your essays.” The issue had higher readership than The Eyeopener has seen in years.
This should be a message to faculty — even though they may not tell you they’re pissed, students at Ryerson are deeply worried about this.
At least Dave Mason, a computer science professor and president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, gets it. Last week at academic council he brought up the issue, and now Jorgenson bigwigs are launching an investigation into the program. President Sheldon Levy wants to know if Bush is actually sitting in the Oval Office perusing Rye High politics papers.
An investigation into security issues is an important step, but there are so many others issues with the service that need to be considered.
A big reason many students come to this university is because at Ryerson, “you’re not just a number.” The majority of classes aren’t held in towering lecture halls. And many profs have access to teaching assistants. So, whatever happened to getting to know your students and judging their work? It’s not easy to plagiarize midterms. Compare a student’s essay to their tests. If it’s suspicious, how about calling the pupil in for a chat? Like in the good ol’days.
Turnitin.com did not exist 20 years ago, and miraculously society has continued to forge ahead, producing incredible academics who now feel it’s their right to subject students to this breach of privacy and trust.