Sunday, August 17, 2008


Although the company dominates the plagiarism detection industry with its large database of student papers and its algorithm for matching word strings, it seems to be striving to make inroads into the potentially lucrative courseware industry where industry giants such as Google@School and Blackboard are vying for access to college-age academic consumers. First the company made an appeal to writing faculty in which they offered grant money for attending conferences to present academic papers that tout their products. In response to the offer, Inside Higher Ed has asked if this approach constitutes "Buying Its Way Onto the Program?" Then it went after scholarly publishers and admissions committees and courted these university stakeholders by offering to vet even more of the bulk of prose created for the academic enterprise to encompass the entire life-cycle of student writing from the admissions essay of a potential freshman to the publications of graduate students and faculty. Finally, as Reuters reports, the group will be holding a number of faculty workshops around the country to foster user communities that have been important for other software developers.

Colleagues received the following e-mail:

We would like to invite you -- and your faculty -- to start the new academic year with a small group of instructors at a stimulating half- day, hands-on writing instruction workshop and lunch, sponsored by Turnitin! There's no cost to participate in this valuable professional development event for both high school and college writing instructors. Meals, snacks and parking will be provided.

At the Turnitin Summer Institute, we'll take you beyond just plagiarism prevention and toward a writing pedagogy! You’ll explore practical elements of using the entire Turnitin solution in the instructional process to: encourage original writing; make grading papers more meaningful and efficient; and facilitate peer review. This informative workshop will also help you strengthen your network of professional contacts, including college and high school faculty from your surrounding area.

In the spirit of ethnographic investigation, I am actually sorry that I could not attend these events because I was out of town last week on a family vacation, although I'm much sorrier to have been unable to provide my annual SIGGRAPH report to Virtualpolitik readers.

It's interesting to see how the language choice of the e-mail indicates sensitivity to the buzzwords of composition ("process," "pedagogy," etc.) and to those of the culture of faculty underclasses ("professional development," "network of professional contacts," etc.).

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