Web site raises concerns about academic integrity

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    A new Web site that pays students for their class notes, exams and papers has university professors and administrators turning to their own technology to prevent plagiarism issues.

    Knetwit.com, which launched in September, is one of many sites that provides the public access to other students’ study materials. The Web site was created by fraternity brothers Dean “Tyler” Jenks and Benjamin Wald. Both in their early 20s, they have since dropped out of Babson College in Massachusetts to focus on making Knetwit a success.

    The Web site pays users for their contributions. Each time a user’s notes are downloaded, he or she is awarded Koin, Knetwit’s currency, which can be cashed in or used to buy products from the online store.

    Jenks, who came up with the concept of Knetwit while studying abroad in Milan, Itlay, said he wanted to create a site that would provide students and professors with a knowledge-sharing platform to help students in their academic endeavors.

    Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said he has reservations about the site.

    “I am concerned that we might be opening the door to widespread plagiarism,” Donovan wrote in an e-mail. “Plagiarism is the antithesis of creativity and cheapens the integrity of the plagiarizer.”

    Dan Williams, English professor and department chair, said a lot of his colleagues are concerned with the issue of downloading material.

    “I think a lot of them (professors) use turnitin.com,” Williams said, “and some of them just do Google searches with a specific phrase they take from the paper, and they can often find a lot of results.”

    Williams said plagiarism has become more of an issue with the advances in technology.

    “I don’t know how widespread it is, but certainly it is perceived to be a significant problem,” Williams said.

    Kenneth Stevens, history professor and department chair, said he probably has a different perspective than most professors because he has little issue with sites like Knetwit.

    “I’m not against learning things,” Stevens said. “If someone else’s notes will help you learn something, I’m all for that. But I do think, at some point, it just comes down to putting out the individual effort.”

    Stevens also said he sees more of what he considers sloppiness in student work than actual plagiarism.

    “It’s really easy to get sloppy and to be not intentionally dishonest, but to not care so much that you’re not truly original,” Stevens said.

    Although Stevens and Williams said they support their colleagues’ use of Turnitin, neither use it for their own classes.

    Williams said he chooses not to use Turnitin because it promotes a culture of suspicion and exploits student writing.

    “Any time writing is turned in it becomes a part of turnitin.com’s database, and students don’t often realize that they’re contributing to this database,” Williams said.

    Stevens said he was an advocate of getting the program, but after using it found it wasn’t very helpful.

    Turnitin tends to label perfectly innocuous phrases as plagiarized, he said.

    “How many ways can you say that the Civil War broke out in 1861?” Stevens said.

    Although Turnitin may have drawbacks, Williams and Stevens said professors in their departments use it in an effort to prevent students from plagiarizing. They agreed, however, that it’s important for students to be responsible and focus on why they are here – to learn, which requires students to go to class and do their own work.

    “Ideas are always going to be shared, we just want to be sure the use of ideas is acknowledged,” Williams said.