Increasing learning vs Policing scholarly writing

The effects of the current innovative technological environment for learning have been one of the contemporary academic concerns.  Considering this background, James Lang’s book Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty aims to highlight the deep threatens of our time to promote increasing learning.

Among other current learning tools, Lang underlines the challenges that emerge from the software Turnitin- an online technology that has been used for evaluating student learning. Its enormous database can compare a student’s text against over 45 billion web pages, more than 337 million student papers, and well over 100 million articles from academic books and publications.

Nowadays, as Lang notes, many institutions and faculty members rely on plagiarism detection softwares. However, as theorists of these programs warn,  these softwares do not catch plagiarists.  At this respect,  Sharon Flynn, the Assistant Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the National University of Ireland-Galway, highlights that  Turnitin can only detect “matching text” and will not help teachers with “plagiarism of ideas”.

Lang’s proposal is that faculty members who choose to make use of Turnitin and its software equivalents should think of them in their teaching in order to answer the question: How can this tool help or hinder student learning?

For example, Lang suggests that teachers should:

1) Help students to better incorporate the words of others into their research or scholarly writing after using Turnitin’s originality reports for that purpose;

2) Project for students an unpublished piece of academic writing so as to underline the extent to which scholarship relies on direct quotations from the work of scholars in dialogue with the writer’s original interpretations;

3) Project for students selected originality reports written by them in order to improve the use of bibliographical references and quotations in scholarly writing.

Indeed, Lang’s research points out the relevance of course design and classroom practices so as to better motivate students to learn. For the author, simply improving the use of technological tools to “police” scholarly writing does nothing to actually improve student learning which should be the goal of education.

James Lang’s book Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty was published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. You can check more details on the book and other interesting related links at


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