Submitting assignments is no longer the experience it used to be. Gone are those days of rushing to a university department and shoving a sheaf of papers into a tutor’s pigeon hole, hoping that he might not notice the weakness of the latter stages of the essay or that the conclusion appeared to be in rather hurried handwriting – and it was always handwriting, typewriters were expensive and demanded a greater degree of dexterity than was possessed by most undergraduates. Submitting an assignment now is an entirely impersonal experience; no longer is there a college porter to look knowingly at those who ask if he has seen a particular lecturer, only for them to sigh with relief when a negative answer means that the academic has not yet come for his post.
Studying for a postgraduate certificate in education with a university in Plymouth to which I am paying £9,250 in fees, despite the fact that I will never set foot in the place, means every communication is electronic. To be fair, even students on the campus are subject to the same regime. The university used an online platform called Moodle to provide a learning space for those who work remotely. It works well, even books on the reading list can be read online. Assignments are submitted through Moodle, and are checked by a programme called TurnItIn.
TurnItIn is a check for plagiarism. It flagged my assignment as green, measuring its similarity with published works as 20%. It was a figure that seemed artificially high, there were few quotes and references were in the appendices. Sometimes the articulation of particular theories or ideas must use similar phraseology, or the concept being outlined would become something altogether different. Perhaps the way to secure a lower percentage would be to construct sentences as they might be spoken by Yoda from Star Wars or by Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.
Driving home from school, the presenter of the teatime programme on the radio played a track by rising young band. The metre of the opening lines had something of Substitute by The Who, the singer sounded like Adele at times, and there was definitely a Motown rhythm to some of the instrumental parts of the song. I wondered if anyone would ever develop a TurnItIn for music recordings? If they did, how many songs would be flagged green? Of course, in music, to cover someone else’s song is not plagiarism but flattery.
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