Some students at a high school just up the road from here (one at which I used to teach) are rebelling. But they’re not upset with the war or world poverty or social injustice.

Their complaint is that the school is subscribing to Turnitin.

Turnitin is a web-based service that takes student writing assignments, compares them to other works on the internet and then tells their teachers if the material is likely to have been plagiarized.

Members of the new Committee for Students’ Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin’s automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights.

“It irked a lot of people because there’s an implication of assumed guilt,” said Ben Donovan, 18, a senior who helped collect 1,190 student signatures on a petition against mandatory use of the service. “It’s like if you searched every car in the parking lot or drug-tested every student.”

They actually make some very good points, especially about intellectual property.

However, they and their teachers completely miss the more important problem underlying the whole issue.

If cheating is so easily done that a mechanical comparison is able to detect it, maybe the assignment wasn’t worth doing to begin with.

One of the teachers is quoted in the article defending Turnitin by saying the service is necessary in a “cut-and-paste world”.

That should be a big clue that the traditional research paper (eight pages long, double-spaced, with bibliography of at least three sources, etc.) needs to be replaced.

Considering the powerful communications tools and access to original sources available to the staff at this school, there must be better ways to have students demonstrate their understanding.

Ways that encourage collaborative work and original thinking.

Update (1 day later): Andy Carvin takes a closer look at the intellectual property aspect of this controversy while Kairosnews notes that Turnitin is not an inexpensive way to combat the problem.

plagiarism, high school, turnitin