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U of T discontinues use of Turnitin, Bb Collaborate

Changes come amid recent increase in academic offences, contract expiration
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SHERENE ALMJAWER/THE VARSITY
SHERENE ALMJAWER/THE VARSITY

U of T recently decided to make some changes to the programs they use for online learning, including terminating their use of Turnitin, a plagiarism detection service, and Blackboard Collaborate (Bb Collaborate), a web conferencing tool.

U of T will now use Ouriginal, a plagiarism detection service similar to Turnitin, which is integrated directly into Quercus. The change follows a report that found an increase in reported academic offences at U of T last year, which the report partially attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to online learning. 

Abandoning of Turnitin

U of T’s switch from Turnitin to Ouriginal took effect on September 1. According to Vice-Provost Academic Programs Susan McCahan, the change occurred following the end of the university’s contract with Turnitin, which meant U of T could explore other options for plagiarism detection. 

“Ouriginal meets our pedagogical, functional, privacy and fiscal requirements,” McCahan stated, explaining that the software is “a similarity detection solution that combines text-matching, with writing-style analysis to promote academic integrity and help prevent plagiarism.”  

Ouriginal can also check for similarities between newly submitted work and previous work from the same academic course. According to an announcement from the Academic & Collaborative Technologies Group, community consultations with instructors indicated that the ability to check submitted work against previously submitted work was important, to prevent what they describe as “hand-me-down assignments.” 

According to the announcement, Ouriginal is able to compare new submissions with large bodies of old work — including, in some cases, work submitted anytime in the past 15 years. 

Since Ouriginal is accessed via Quercus, there will be no major changes to the way that instructors and students interact with assignment submissions. This means that work submitted over Quercus is analyzed by Ouriginal software without the student submitting the work directly through Ouriginal, similar to how Turnitin has worked in the past. 

The changes come amid an increase in reported academic offences committed by students, which, according to last year’s report on academic misconduct, rose by 35 per cent in the 2019–2020 academic year. 

In a report on academic integrity, an advisory group noted that this increase may be related to the pandemic and the associated transition to online learning, which has resulted in U of T having to lean heavily on academic integrity software given the loss of in-person proctoring. 

Termination of Bb Collaborate

Due to another supplier contract expiration, U of T will also stop using the webinar software Bb Collaborate for classes and meetings. Termination of its use took effect on August 31. Professors can still use alternate solutions for virtual courses, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom Education, while the university completes a procurement process.

Since the decision to terminate Bb Collaborate occurred close to the beginning of the fall term, some instructors found the change abrupt. Avi Hyman, U of T’s director of academic technology, sent an email apologizing to previous Bb Collaborate users for any potential miscommunication. 

“We have received some direct feedback about these changes from instructors, ranging from very positive feelings about the changes to some concern,” wrote McCahan. “To mitigate any concerns and to assist with the transition, we have put in place additional support for instructors, including additional staffing, enhanced documentation, and training through the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation and divisional [Educational Technology] offices.”

In an email to The Varsity, Michael Dennison, a sessional instructor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, wrote that he chose to use Bb Collaborate because it was integrated with Quercus, but that it didn’t offer the same features as some other programs. He added that he believes the change will not have much effect on students, since there are other programs available.