DIY Alternatives to Turnitin for Written Tests

By Jim Shimabukuro

A memo was circulated today by Maria Bautista, our Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs1, re “Assessment During Remote Delivery of Spring 2020 Courses or Proctored Tests Alternatives and Information Sharing.” In response, Guy Kellogg posted a comment about using Turnitin. In response to Guy’s comment, I posted the following reply:

There are also DIY means to discourage plagiarism as well as ghostwriting2:

1. One is to assign unique topics — as opposed to generic. To make a topic unique, here are some possibilities:

  • Require the inclusion of quotes from specific or nonmainstream readings, videos, or class lectures. The more specific or atypical, the better.
  • Require the inclusion of quotes from classmates in online discussions or from a personal interview.
  • Require the inclusion of a firsthand experience or observation, i.e., a paragraph or more of personal narrative — to support the student’s thesis.
  • Require the application of specific critical thinking tools — e.g., logical fallacies, SMELL, Henry, or Davis Oldham’s “Evidence” (Shoreline CC) — for the purpose of analysis.
  • Other: _______. Once you begin thinking in terms of unconventional writing assignments that are unique to your course, many other possibilities will spring to mind.

2. Acquire a sense of each student’s writing style through online class discussions and email. This isn’t as esoteric as it sounds. You’ll do it naturally as you read their email and discussion posts. It automatically becomes a part of their identity, like their unique names. Even when you don’t “see” them, you’ll develop a sense of their “voice.”3 When this voice is suddenly absent from parts or the whole of a paper, an alarm will sound in your mind, and a simple test is to extract an especially unusual line and google it with quotes. If you don’t get any hits, then do it a couple more times with similar lines. This can be done in a few minutes.

3. If possible and time permits, ask students to submit both a preliminary and final draft. The preliminary draft could include peer feedback with suggestions for improvement. The final draft should show signs of responsiveness to the feedback.

4. Other: __________. I’m sure you and others can think of many more ways to discourage cheating.

Related article: Essays or Projects Instead of Proctored Exams: A COVID-19 Response, 18 March 2020.

1 At the University of Hawai’i – Kapi’olani CC.
2 Re ghostwriting: Most ghostwriters, either paid or sympathetic, are willing to collude if the writing task is generic and doesn’t include considerable time investment on their part. The more unique your prompt or assignment, the less inclined they’ll be to assist.
3 Encourage the use of photos or avatars in discussions to get a better sense of their identities.

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