By Sarah Del Giallo
The program many Ryerson profs use to avoid plagiarism and maintain academic integrity in assignments was knocked offline since March 10.
An update was posted to Blackboard accounts on March 14 stating, “There continues to be problems for some students and staff attempting to use Turnitin.com, due to a problem with their Canadian servers. All Canadian Universities are affected. Turnitin believes the problem should be fixed early this week.”
Turnitin is a digital code that screens a student’s submitted work and relays any information that may have come from another source to the professor. This way, the professor can check if sources were cited properly and that the information has not been plagiarized.
Donna Bell, Ryerson’s academic integrity officer, said the university was notified of the server issue around noon on March 10 and posted an announcement on Blackboard immediately afterwards. They were told the servers would be working by 9 p.m. that night. Turnitin is now saying the issue will be fixed by early this weekend.
Bell said the university’s responsibility is to update the faculty regularly because the servers are Canada wide, therefore the issue isn’t Ryerson’s.
“As long as we communicated, we feel like we’ve done what we could,” she said.
Kaitlyn Arcuri, a second-year child and youth care student, had to submit an assignment via Turnitin while the servers were down. Her professor posted a thread on the class discussion board.
“My impression was that he just chose to ignore it and let us sort it out on our own,” she said. “He acknowledged that it wasn’t working but told us to keep trying to submit it until we got through.”
He had students email assignments to him directly so he’d know which were on time. But he asked students to continue trying Turnitin, hoping the program, which has worked sporadically, might process the assignment.
Students can opt out of using Turnitin if the service is mentioned in the course outline and they speak with their professor in the first two weeks of the course.
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has been trying to advertise that right.
RSU president Toby Whitfield said, “There are concerns that once you submit the documents to Turnitin, it’s no longer your property as a student.”
Their campaign outlines that when you submit your work, it becomes the property of iParadigms, the U.S. company that owns and operates Turnitin.
Four American students filed a lawsuit and lost to iParadigms in March 2008 claiming the service violated copyright.
Whitfield said budget cuts force universities to use these systems because faculty isn’t paid enough for the workload required to check work.
“It’s a machine. It’s not a professor,” he said. “Whether the servers are working or not, it’s still a broken system as far as we’re concerned.”