Turnitin as a teaching tool

Turnitin at Langara

Turnitin is a text-matching tool which can be effectively integrated into course activities to help students understand academic expectations and conventions in written assignments.

How does it work?

To use Turnitin, you must enable Turnitin for the submission folder for a Brightspace assignment. Please see instructions for setting up your assignments here: https://iweb.langara.ca/edtech/learning-tools-and-technologies/turnitin/
Students submit electronic files to the submission folder for the assignment in Brightspace. Copies of the students’ submissions are sent to Turnitin for processing. The text in each student’s submission is compared to a large database of other students’ submissions that have been collected through Turnitin from many institutions and to textual material located on the web (for example, websites, electronic documents, and ejournals).

Turnitin creates an “similarity report” for each submission. The assignment can be configured so that only the instructor views the analysis of the submission (the “similarity report”) or so that students can see the analysis of their own work. The similarity report highlights the phrases and series of words that match text already in the Turnitin database, or on the web, and generates an overall similarity index percentage that represents the number of words that the program finds in common with database content and divides that number by the total number of words in the file.

What are the privacy implications?

Because data submitted to Turnitin is stored and accessed on U.S. servers, Langara must ensure all practices comply with B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation. Any instructor who uses Turnitin is required to comply with the following:

  1. State the intention to use Turnitin in the course outline and offer an alternative process to any student who has a serious and principled objection to using the service.
    Suggested text:
    Turnitin.com: Text matching software (Turnitin®) will be used to screen assignments in this course. This is being done to verify that students document all materials and sources in assignments. Student information and assignments may be stored in Turnitin’s database which is housed in the United States. Students who have serious and principled objections to using the service must give adequate notice in order to be offered an alternative.
  2. Inform students of Langara’s policies with respect to academic integrity. See https://langara.ca/student-services/student-conduct-and-judicial-affairs/academic-integrity/index.html and https://langara.ca/registration-and-records/pdf/F1004.pdf
  3. Use Turnitin only for work submitted by a student registered in that instructor’s Langara course.
  4. Instruct students not to include any personal information on their submissions to Turnitin.

How can instructors use this tool most effectively in their course?

Based on the literature and results of a pilot at the School of Accounting and Finance at the University of Waterloo, here are some considerations for the use of Turnitin.

Using Turnitin as a learning activity

  • Turnitin can be used as a formative or low-stakes assessment for paraphrasing or citation that allows students to review their results and resubmit their assignment after they have addressed their own mistakes (Ledwith & Risquez, 2008).
  • If students are going to look at similarity reports of their own submissions as part of a learning activity, make sure that they are taught how to interpret the report; many students have reported that they didn’t understand the report that they received (Whittle & Murdoch-Eaton, 2008).

Using Turnitin as a plagiarism tool

  • To help avoid misconduct, clearly define plagiarism within the context of your discipline and how it relates to the assignment that is being submitted, and explain the extent to which students can work as a group (Goddard & Rudzki, 2005; Johnson & Clerehan, 2005).
  • Taking time in class at the beginning of the semester to discuss academic integrity and providing resources for students who may not fully understand plagiarism can reduce unintentional plagiarism (Ledwith & Risquez, 2008).
  • Scaffold assignments so that students hand in a series of documents that illustrate the construction and evolution of major papers. This approach can help document the development of the ideas in a paper and may deter students from plagiarism (Emerson, Rees, MacKay, 2005). Ask a Curriculum Development Consultant or EdTech Advisor for details about designing these sorts of assignments.
  • Recognize that the use of Turnitin may control plagiarism through the threat of detection rather than by instilling academic values in students (Ledwith & Risquez, 2008).
  • If Turnitin is being used to detect plagiarism, check each paper to judge whether the overall similarity index that has been calculated is due to chance matches, matches to common terms or phrases used for an assignment (e.g. the title of a key document, process, legislation etc.) or copying from a source that has not been cited. You may choose options to generate reports that exclude text in quotations marks and in bibliographies. Similarity reports need to be interpreted on a case-by-case basis and any determinations of plagiarism require human judgement. Depending on the number of students in a course and the length of their papers, this process can be time consuming.

Preparing your students to use Turnitin

  • On the course outline, you must inform students that Turnitin will be used in your course. You should also identify alternatives to Turnitin for students. Alternatives could be one of:
    • an annotated bibliography
    • a draft bibliography identifying an documenting all sources and submitted on a specified date before the due date for the assignment
    • a scaffolded assignment where the student submits an outline of the paper in advance and then at least one draft of the paper with their list of resources before the submission of the final paper with a bibliography
    • a review of available research data on the subject
    • an oral presentation of the topic to demonstrate personal knowledge
    • options the instructor and student have agreed upon
  • Organize a trial submission to the Turnitin assignment in Brightspace so that students have an opportunity to practice accessing and submitting to the Assignment tool well in advance of the assignment due date.
  • Include in assignment instructions reminders to students not to include any personal information on their submissions to Turnitin
  • Provide a rationale for the use of the tool in both the course outline and the assignment instructions.
  • Make students aware of the citation conventions that exist in your discipline (Sutherland-Smith & Carr, 2005). Your subject librarian can help you incorporate resources which will help students learn to use citations appropriately.
  • Discuss the concept of original thought with your students, remembering that scholarly papers are built on the scholarship of others. If you are asking students to be highly original, then you may have higher incidents of plagiarism because students may be reluctant to cite their sources properly (Johnson & Clerehan, 2005).

Practical considerations

  • In the Waterloo pilot study, faculty reported that Turnitin may not be helpful for the review of tables of numbers because it focuses on text. Turnitin will not flag any numbers in a document.
  • Using Turnitin may result in more time required to mark assignments, and you may want to factor the reading of the Turnitin report into the time allowed for marking by you or your teaching assistants (Sutherland-Smith & Carr, 2005; Waterloo Turnitin School of Accounting and Finance Pilot Results, 2008).
  • Expect that students will appeal the plagiarism charges and be prepared to go through the appeal process.

Turnitin Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) tip sheet Encouraging Academic Integrity in Your Course 



This work is a derivative of Using Turnitin in your courses, by the Centre for Teaching Excellence,  University of Waterloo used under CC BY-NC