Turnitin.com Turned Off Again After Brief Return

Foster Cowan, Staff writer

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Mishaps with funding have led to the abrupt loss of one of the most used websites for teachers at Chamblee Charter High School, Turnitin.com.  For about two weeks in October, no one at CCHS had access to the site; access was temporarily regained for most of the rest of the month, but now, the school has been left, once again, without access to Turnitin, which Chamblee has been actively subscribed to for over a decade.

In a nutshell, Turnitin is a website where students can download their work and teachers can easily add comments, allow for peer grading, and most importantly, check for plagiarism. If you do not cite your source, if you quote somebody incorrectly, or if you just straight up copy and paste somebody else’s writing, Turnitin will catch it.

“I like Turnitin because it checks for plagiarism and also because I can grade the assignments quickly and easily and I can put comments on assignments digitally,” said literature teacher Jimmy Demer. “I don’t know if there’s a[nother] platform that does all of those things, especially the checking for plagiarism.”

When access to Turnitin was lost, many rumors started circulating as to what exactly happened.

“I heard that it was suspended because we didn’t pay the bill [for the subscription], but I don’t know for sure,” said Demer.

Literature teacher Amy Branca was there to ease any insecurities.

“The money used to pay for it [Turnitin] used to come from local funds, but [Rebecca] Braaten is using federal money to pay for it this year. This has resulted in the money not being available prior to the expiration of the subscription,” said Branca.

When questioned, Principal Braaten stated that the reason for the temporary Turnitin scare was a “delay in access to federal money” needed to pay the subscription for the site.

Braaten then reported on Monday, October 15, that “the school subscription is back up and running.”

Come a few weeks later, however, the site was back down. According to a teacher who wishes to remain anonymous, the reason being is that the funds that are supposed to go towards Turnitin were not initially part of the Title I budget. Since the funds had always previously come from the school budget, there is now a delay in federal money. Although this delay was, according to Braaten, cleared up on October 15, we are now back to the same place as before.

For literature teacher Kimberley Nesbitt, the loss of Turnitin is particularly vexing.

“I am really frustrated because it affects students directly,” said Nesbitt. “I can’t wait for it to come back up because it not only helps us for plagiarism purposes but it also helps us to give direct feedback to students with a rubric attached to it.”

For Nesbitt, Turnitin is a lot more than just a plagiarism checker.

“It is also a complete portfolio of students’ work,” she said. “Especially with ninth graders, they need a soft place to land and a place to go back to to see their writing.”

Many of Nesbitt’s assignments have relied on Turnitin in years past, including Annotated Book Cards and extended writing assignments. Nesbitt, as well as other literature teachers and staff members who use Turnitin, have struggled to find an alternative that does precisely what it does.

“We have things that we do in the English department to check for plagiarism, so I’m just doing that for now, but it’s not a program in particular where you can keep all of students’ work to be able to keep side by side,” she said.

Not only can Nesbitt no longer use Turnitin, but all of the work her students had previously turned in on the site cannot be reached.

“I have [my students] turn in hard copies as well [as digital ones], but I’ve had a few students who never turned in hard copies so then I’m having to ask them to go back and print their work now,” she said. “I’m not going to stop assigning [Annotated Book Cards] because they are a good practice for them to analyze a book and do independent reading, so I’m going to keep them whether Turnitin.com comes back or not. I’m just going to have to do it a different way.”

As of November 11, Turnitin is still down with no signs of coming back. Until it does, teachers will have to continue on without access to an extremely beneficial tool that they have been using for many years.