Meaningful networking

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Tonight we ran our first Girl Geek Scotland event of 2019, focusing on Meaningful Networking. It’s taken a lot of work to transition the organisation over to a new leadership team and we were delighted to finally be underway with a new programme.

I love the work I’ve done with Girl Geek Scotland because every event is an opportunity to meet many of the amazing women in this city who work or study in tech or related fields. Tonight though, I had a very meaningful networking experience and I don’t feel good about it.

Chatting with a couple of attendees – one a friend who works in learning technology in another institution, and one a final year student at Uni – and the conversation turned to the recent sale of TurnItIn.

The value of the company surprised the student, and we had to explain that it wasn’t valued at that amount because of it’s plagiarism detection algorithm, but because of the size and quality of text corpus they have amassed.

Cue puzzled look.

You know, your essays…? Yes, all your work is there, forever.

There was an assumption on the part of the student that their essays would disappear, perhaps on leaving the Uni. They had no idea they were kept forever. They suggested they might write and ask if their work could be removed. And so we had to explain that no, thanks to a court case in the US a few years ago, that was challenged and found in TurnItIn’s favour. They don’t have to remove anything.

The Turnitin user agreement entitles Turnitin to use the works as part of the plagiarism prevention system under the principles of fair use. Turnitin’s use of student papers under fair use was settled in a United States District Court of Law in 2007 and affirmed upon appeal in 2009. (TurnItIn Privacy and Security)

Then we explained that TurnItIn had been sold to an investment company that owns several publishers.

Then we explained machine generated text, and how large databases of content are used to train such entities and how valuable that is.

Then we felt bad about the work we do.

So that was my meaningful networking moment this evening.

Edit: You might wish to read this paper by my colleagues Jen Ross and Hamish MacLeod: “Surveillance, (dis)trust and teaching with plagiarism detection technology” from Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018

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