iParadigims: Turnitin

iParadigims (Turnitin) Cubed

When I think about e-learning technologies and businesses, I tend to think mainly of the delivery, presentation, and access to information aspects of e-learning.  Turnitin is something different; it is a digital information tracking software that protects intellectual property.  Recently, it has started to evolve into a comprehensive online teaching tool, integrating filing management with both teacher and peer assessment.

Market Focus:

Initially, Turnitin focused on post-secondary institutions and is generally used to check the authenticity of student writing.  Today, however, Turnitin, has expanded the utility of its services to include grade-book options and assessment strategies, and, as a result, has expanded its market to include K-12.  Turnitin is especially useful to teachers of the Social Sciences and English where the volume of student written output is greatest.

Types of offerings:


In addition to searching of plagiarism, Turnitin provides a number of additional services and is evolving into complete management and assessment system for teachers.  The online “Write Cycle” system allows students to actively engage in a collaborative writing workshop.  In addition, Turnitin provides grade-book services.


There has been a definite shift in the content delivered by iParadigims which, interestingly enough, has started to morph into more of a learning interface. It seems like this is natural progression and possibly a necessary one given the emerging competition in this area (ie. Google Docs).


iParadigims provides internet-based services designed primarily to protect intellectual property.   It is expanding this service to include online evaluation and assessment tools.

Turnitin also is designed to allow for open integrations with e-learning systems such as WebCT.

Who is the buyer?

Up until recently, the buyer has been post-secondary institutions.  More recently, however, with the addition of online products, the target market has expanded to include K-12 public schools.  Turnitin services are packaged such that they can be purchased by individual teachers—a fairly expensive proposition which works out to about one dollar/assignment.  The most cost effective way to purchase the service is as a school or department.  The flat rate for a medium to large public school (1500-2000 students) is approximately $3500.00 US.  This fee includes unlimited access to all of the services for a one year period.

Global Markets:

Turnitin is current available in 10 different languages and in 110 different countries.  The only real barriers to market would be the lack of internet in developing countries or the lack of language capabilities.  The primary market, however, is post-secondary institutions world-wide.





1 David Vogt { 09.29.09 at 5:58 am }

Nice work, Lorne – although I see you didn’t tackle the CUBE faces about competing solutions for this one. Not that there are other “technologies”, just traditional teaching practices.

This area of learning technologies has always interested me from a marketing perspective. For example, do institutions purchase these services more from a sincere interest in mentoring the integrity of their students or for promoting the integrity of their institutions? I also find it fascinating that the services are positioned as “protecting intellectual property”, which is a convenient marketing euphemism.

From a business perspective, the drift into record keeping and collective assessment is reasonable – it’s low-hanging fruit. From a technology perspective I’m anticipating a strategic move into latent semantic analysis (the analysis of the text of a paper for the structure, logic and meaningfulness of its content, not just its originality). In its current state this technology could deliver lots of sample commentary a teacher could attach to papers, along with prospective grades. At face value, it could “mark” the papers for teachers. I’d love some commentary from any of you about the educational integrity of such a solution if (when) it were offered – would it be a teacher’s aide (as the originality-checking service is) or a blatant dereliction of an educator’s duty?

2 James Richardson { 09.29.09 at 4:32 pm }

ELearning was touted as a solution to increased demand for education by increasing the number of students as a scalable resource. The weak link was that a teacher/professor can only mark so much at a time so while the extensive aspect of e-learning was realized, it was not as expansive as hoped.This has been a historic stumbling block for e-learning, at least in the social sciences. Semantic analysis may well realize the expansive role but at the expense of academic duty as you suggest. What I fear is that the market will more than likely demand this move and I suspect that students may prefer the objective computer tutor to the living breathing evaluation of an expert teacher… Open the pod bay door Hal.

3 Mark Reed { 09.29.09 at 5:00 pm }

The inclusion of student evaluation in any training or public education elearning (sorry havent quite made the jump to non traditional teaching practices) is important. Your comment David regarding where the pursuit of integrity by learning institutions originates certainly raises some issues. I feel that generally teachers exhibit their professionalism in pursuing the best teaching practices. The debate continues what are the best teaching practices. Having come off a workshop on Assessment for Learning (formative)as a opposed to Assessment of Learning (summative) based on the work of Caren Cameron. I was intrigued and reminded of previous discussions on descriptive feedback and the potential for computers to address, at an effective level, this constructive learning process. It seems that when we talk about effective feedback, issues of time management and how to evaluate many pieces of work for many students always comes up. For those of us who use BCESIS for report cards do the comments provide an aide to the teacher while adequately communicating and aiding the student with feedback?

During my MET courses I have felt that the feedback on essays has always been of a high quality because the comments are specific and original, although digital technologies are used to assist in the feedback process. So from my point of view any assistance by computers that could be helpful to save time (even to the point of scanning and evaluating a paper) would always have to be overseen by a human teacher. So as an originality-checking service it is still up to the teacher to evaluate the results of the computer’s analysis. If liberties have been taken regarding intellectual property and how to address the situation. For example, teaching how to properly reference and paraphrase, or decide that the effort was a deliberate cut and paste and not acceptable. If computer marked papers were as effective a learning tool as human evaluation the cost would be more of a determining factor then ethics in determining the use. And it may also be a case of you get what you pay for. Yet I feel that the communication between people is where the learning takes place and human teachers will always be better at sensing how to give appropriate feedback to stimulate learning. Whatever model for feedback is used it is the strategy that is important not the degree to which electronic technologies are utilised.

4 davidp { 09.29.09 at 8:40 pm }

Whose IP is Turnitin collecting and using in its business?

Some US students decided to find out by issuing a lawsuit against Turnitin for collecting their papers electronically and using them as a part of its business proposition without permission.

Read on…


5 Sean McMinn { 09.30.09 at 12:36 am }

I heard about this. The subject came up at my university because someone in our department has been developing an Assignment Management System that detects students copying from each other and off the internet.

6 Bev { 09.30.09 at 9:48 am }

This is my fifth MET course and unlike mark I have had very little useful feedback. In two of the courses I got zero feedback only a final mark. If this system provides more information than what I have been getting I am all for it. I do agree that these systems should be overseen by a live person.

7 Lorne Upton { 09.30.09 at 10:40 am }

I am not too sure that Turnitin will displace instructors of composition any time soon. In the near term, it may help with assessment of mechanics and punctuation; however, it will have to evolve somewhat before it be able to teach other aspects of the writing process: voice, style, creativity etc. Nevertheless, there is potential for misuse–especially if teachers are scrabbling to find ways to reduce marking loads.

8 James Richardson { 09.30.09 at 4:11 pm }

Here are the results of the Turnitin suit. So much for sticking it to the man.


9 davidp { 09.30.09 at 10:39 pm }

Yeah, I should have said I knew they lost the case, but it was more fun this way. Thanks for posting the decision, Jim.

I think they sued the wrong entity.


10 Omar Ramroop { 10.01.09 at 4:38 pm }

Hi Lorne,

Great organization to look at. Furthermore, your analysis brought up some interesting aspects from others surrounding intellectual property and learning technologies.

I found the following to be quite interesting in your analysis:
“Up until recently, the buyer has been post-secondary institutions. More recently, however, with the addition of online products, the target market has expanded to include K-12 public schools.”

I wonder how this is going to work out in the secondary schools with regards to disciplinary actions and financial constraints of school boards.

Once again, thanks for the excellent information and great analysis.

– Omar

11 Annette Smith { 10.01.09 at 7:22 pm }

It sort of saddens me that there is a prospect of removing the live teacher from the equation in marking. For me, education should be about passing knowledge, skills and attitudes from one person to another at some level.

Obviously things like self-marking quizzes and tests are labour saving, but even there a human teacher determines the questions, the correct answers and the feedback. If we go to automatic marking for papers and essays, where students can express more in-depth knowledge and learning, we will lose the human contact that students value and respect.

In my last ETEC course, we talked about the fact that the most effective method for reducing cheating in an online environment was to make the students feel part of a community, and to give them an feeling of ownership in their education. Surely computer marked papers would reduce that.

I dislike turnitin because it removes the responsibility for integrity from the university (or school) and gives the institution a greater ability to further increase the student-teacher ratio. While this may pull in more $$ for the university, I feel it reduces the quality of the education that the students are paying more for.

Yes, I realize that I am on a bit of a soapbox, but I don’t think that technology should be used as an excuse to lower the quality of education. There are so many good ways tech can be used to teach I tend to rant about the bad ones.

12 Barrie Carter { 10.04.09 at 3:02 pm }

Hello Lorne:

I have heard about Turnitin before, but did not pay too much mind to it because nowadays students are paying tutors to write essays, research papers, and proposals, which most often removes plagiarism.

I suspect that students would rather allocate more time to preparing for tests and exams than lose time writing compositions. Here, it is not challenging for tutors to write at the student’s level, which alleviates teacher suspicion (in-class writing samples are useless here).

The best defense is to have students write in class only, using dictionaries, thesauruses, and educational/assistive/computer technologies. However, researching, compiling material, and gathering information can be out-of-class work.



13 Eveline Yu { 10.05.09 at 10:41 pm }

The idea of reducing marking piles and piles of essays is definitely attractive, especially to English teachers, like myself. Anything that would save a lot of time is great.

Currently, as I prepare my students for the provincial exam, I tend to use the rubric provided online, to mark student compositions. Although I use these, I generally add my own comments and suggestions to each students’ paper – guiding them to write a more successful draft #2.

A number with some descriptions can sometimes suffice, but not always as effective. Usually a student just looks at it, and then toss their writing aside. To me, a mark does not mean much if the student does not know how to improve it. The best way is to have feedback – specific to the student, although this is always time consuming.

Saying that though, I see the advantage of using Turnitin to check for the paper’s authenticity. I have once spent 30 minutes searching online to check a student’s 2-page, hand-written, take-home paper, only to find that he has plagiarized bits and pieces of a 12-page thesis paper online. Unfortunately, not all of my students have computer and Internet access at home to submit a paper through Turnitin – and our school does not have this program as well. So running papers through this program is not an option.

The solution that I stick to: in-class essays. I leave the elearning technology to something that would further the students’ critical thinking abilities, develop their creative minds, and reduce my prep time – leaving more time to mark the resulting writing myself. Am still looking for a better answer – but this is working so far.

Thanks, Lorne, for generating a great discussion!

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