Academic integrity and ed-tech

One challenge that higher education faces is the thoughtful and ethical use of a burgeoning array of digital technologies. How do faculty and administrators assess tools developed in an exploding ed tech market, and what should their priorities be in implementing them? For instance, distance learning and research have introduced new considerations for how institutions can protect and foster academic integrity, combat student ignorance of plagiarism, and prevent cheating. For example, many academic programs require students to submit work to a plagiarism detection service such as Turnitin.

Some students have claimed copyright infringement when obliged to submit their work to Turnitin, and a judgment upheld Turnitin’s defense against those claims (Bailey, 2008); however, it appears ironic to detect ethical violations by compromising the rights of those who have little choice but to consent or to concede under protest. Here is what institutions compel students to agree to when they require they submit their work to Turnitin:

You grant Turnitin a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, and otherwise use your Communications on the Site or elsewhere for our business purposes. We are free to use any ideas, concepts, techniques, know-how in your Communications for any purpose, including, but not limited to, the development and use of products and services based on the Communications (Turnitin, 2018).

Not only does Turnitin compel users to share raw data, it reserves the right to use their ideas, their intellectual property, for its own use. We are just beginning to see how corporations profit from their consumers. How can we preserve academic integrity while recognizing the rights of students to their intellectual labor?

While plagiarism is a moral and ethical breech of academic trust, higher education can seek ways to protect students and foster integrity with 1) education of students on why and how to avoid academic dishonesty, 2) prevention by assigning unique and personal assignments that foster individual creativity, 3) vendor sourcing practices that prioritize students’ rights.

  • Education—students can be educated to cultivate academic integrity. Certainly, instructional materials such as Indiana University’s tutorials are helpful (2018). However, even more important is fostering an attitude of inquiry through helping learners to engage respectfully and ethically with source material.
  • Prevention—Educators must work hard to create assignments that stimulate active learning in unique situations. Ask students to identify real challenges in their lives, communities or work places to address, or supervise the work at all stages of development, from research, through successive iterations, to final project.
  • Due Diligence—Administrators and institutions can develop guidelines that query the ethical, educational, and social responsibility of their purchasing decisions.

In an increasingly digital world, we are right to be concerned about plagiarism and cheating, and it can be tempting to assign tasks such as the detection of integrity violations to software; however, colleges and universities must not abdicate their responsibility for fostering a culture of academic integrity or for protecting the rights of their students.


Bailey, J. (2008, March 25). IParadigms Wins Turnitin Lawsuit.

Indiana University. School of Education. (2018, June 11). How to Recognize Plagiarism: Welcome, Indiana University Bloomington.

Turnitin Privacy and Security. (2018, June 28).

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