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Navigating the Impact of AI Writing Tools: Turnitin's AI Writing Detection

With the omnipresence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in society, are you interested in nurturing original thought leveraging human intelligence while advancing student learning outcomes? Those at Turnitin recognize that for educators, there is a pressing and immediate need to know when and where AI and AI writing tools have been used by students. After years in development, the first iteration of Turnitin's AI writing detection indicator was released. In essence, Turnitin’s solution is good news for instructors wishing to test the new feature and see how it works, and it also presents opportunities for all to consider the larger context. In this vein, communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, including students, is significant to leveraging positive use cases. 

Designed with educators, for educators, AI writing detection complements Turnitin’s existing similarity checking workflow allowing instructors to use the information to inform their next course of action. According to Turnitin’s Chief Product Officer, Annie Chechitelli (2023), “As a company, we believe that more information is always better to help educators, and we trust educators to make the right decisions for their courses and students.  

Because SHSU Online maintains a license to the Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS) via Blackboard (Bb), access to this new feature became available in late Spring. Specifically, an AI writing indicator has been added to the Similarity Report to show an overall percentage of a document that AI writing tools, such as ChatGPT, may have generated. The indicator further links to a report which highlights the text segments that Turnitin’s model predicts were written by AI. Worth noting, only instructors and administrators can see the indicator. 

Tii AI Writing Detection

While Turnitin has confidence in its model, Turnitin does not decide on misconduct. Rather, it provides data that empowers educators to make informed decisions based on their academic and institutional policies. As such, Turnitin emphasizes that the percentage on the AI writing indicator should not be used as the sole basis for action or a definitive grading measure by instructors. As technology continues to evolve Turnitin is committed to adapt and respond to future iterations and innovations in AI writing (Chechitelli, 2023). Dr. Jadwiga Biskupska, Associate Professor of History at Sam Houston State University recently indicated, 

I was impressed with the AI detection and the way it was immediately integrated into Turnitin, which I noticed when grading assignments in the middle of the spring semester. Though I often hesitate in differentiating between weak and repetitive writing and AI, the AI detection software does not - - it makes sense that computers know their own (personal communication, June 14, 2023).  

Further, Dr Biskupska wondered, “Is there a way for students to be warned that their AI use has already been caught before submission, to encourage them to rethink submitting such work?” As we all learn together about the impact of generative AI, Chechitelli invites the community to join the discussion about AI writing on the Turnitin Educator Network. 

Considering the opportunities and threats associated with AI in general, esteemed panelists commented on the impact of AI in key areas during a recent Reimagining Higher Education Through AI/ChatGPT webinar. In addition, they explored strategies to embrace the creative potential of AI, while ensuring academic integrity and student success. Dr. Jim Catanzaro with the Higher Education Research and Development Institute provided foundational information about ChatGPT, specifically, which included: (a) it is an AI built chat bot that interacts with users in a distinctly conversational manner and is driven by the prompt it receives; (b) it launched the last day of November 2022, by December 4th there were over a million users, and by the first week in May 2023 the number of users skyrocketed to over 1.2 billion; and (c) this dramatic increase in users has contributed to the argument that ChatGPT may well prove a direct threat to the enterprise of education itself; specifically, a threat to productive struggle, the struggle which is basic to learning and critical thinking (ACUE, 2023). 

On the other hand, one might consider reframing threats as opportunities. According to Beckie Supiano (2023), a Senior Writer for The Chronicle of Education, 

There’s also a general consensus among learning experts that professors should make a point of talking about the tool, and their expectations for students’ use of it, in their courses, and that the appropriate use of the tool in coursework will probably vary from discipline to discipline. 

According to Olsen & Behringer (2023),  

The most important thing you can do is communicate AI policies to students over and over again. A few simple suggestions: add an AI policy in your syllabus statement (like this one, from Wharton’s Ethan Mollick). Post an announcement on your LMS as a permanent “pinned” note. Add an “AI-Generated Text” statement to every single assignment instruction. And if you meet your students in a classroom, whether in-person or virtually, remind them of your expectations every time you explain a new assignment. 

Ceceilia Parnther, an education scholar whose research focus is academic integrity, describes her interest as “understanding how students know what they know, and how they understand how to learn (Supiano, 2023). 

Parnther’s approach to ChatGPT in her own courses is to look at the questions she poses to students and ask herself what is lost if they feed the question into some kind of bot. From there, says Parnther, an assistant professor of higher-education leadership at St. John’s University (New York), “I have two choices. I can either change that prompt, or I can show students how to critically engage with the prompt such that they understand that they need and deserve more than what’s coming out.” If there’s a prompt that seems important, but too easily completed by AI, it can help to adjust it so that a question will “require someone to use their personal experience, or their passion, or their creativity,” Parnther says. It’s also important, she adds, to help students understand how ChatGPT works and teach them to interrogate the information it provides (Supiano, 2023). 


While those in academia recognize that one becomes a better writer by reading more and writing more, not all college students possess metacognitive awareness. McMurtrie & Supiano (2023), recently shared, 

Janine Holc thinks that students are much too reliant on generative AI, defaulting to it, she wrote, “for even the smallest writing, such as a one sentence response uploaded to a shared document.” As a result, wrote Holc, a professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland, “they have lost confidence in their own writing process. I think the issue of confidence in one’s own voice is something to be addressed as we grapple with this topic.” 

Indeed, it is likely that students could benefit from personal conversations with faculty, and other students, surrounding how they learn best and what incremental gains result from full engagement with the writing process, no matter the word count of a professor’s writing expectation. 

Dr. Julia Staffel, Associate Professor with the University of Colorado whose research area is epistemology, especially philosophy of probability theories of reasoning and rationality, recently advocated for a two-pronged approach: Students need good instruction in how to ethically use these tools, but they also need to first build strong, old-fashioned writing skills as a foundation (ACUE, 2023).   

Considering the rapid technological advances, educators have an opportunity to empower students to understand AI tools and when and how they might leverage them in positive ways. To do this, it is important to understand the accuracy of plagiarism detection tools (ACUE, 2023, 29:23), and that ChatGPT is not the only text generator in existence. In fact, Dr. Staffel shared that AI paraphrasers such as Netus AI will reword, and paraphrase content generated by ChatGPT and during the lag time while detection services like Turnitin are updated, AI detection triggers could fail. Dr. Staffel tested a process using Netus AI to create a writing piece and Turnitin’s results came back indicating 0% AI generated (ACUE, 2023, 31:00).   

Similar to the recommendations of others, to avoid attempts at catching, or staying ahead of the cheaters, Dr. Staffel encourages educators to rethink what kinds of assignments we give students and to teach students to use AI responsibly (ACUE, 2023, 32:33). Consider this, if we develop a student learning outcome that calls for students to demonstrate their own voice by composing their own writing, how might we make that happen? According to Dr. Staffle, we could go back to the Middle Ages leveraging an instructional option she terms, “… going medieval.” In other words, she encourages instructors to leverage reportatio (ACUE, 2023, 33:02) In this context reportatio would be a student transcription of an original lecture by the instructor. Considering varied course modalities, this could be achieved by providing a mixture of lecture and student discussion and following up with expecting students to submit their notes in an organized narrative. 


  • Students need practice taking their own notes 
  • If discussion is an important part of class, this can advance student learning outcomes 
  • Because AI is not in the room to observe, it cannot do the work for the student 
  • Explaining requires students to practice exactly the high-level writing skills we want them to master 


  • May not work well for recorded classes as it could delay activities to allow for useful due dates 
  • Requires teaching a coherent lesson 
  • Reportatio can limit original ideas 
  • If students took very good notes to fed into ChatGPT, AI could help them generate an essay 

 Summing up these ideas, Dr. Staffel shared the following:  

  • We fail our students by not changing how we teach writing in light of ChatGPT. Basic writing competence is not made obsolete by AI text generators. It’s a precondition for using them successfully. 
  • We morally owe our best students that we neither ignore cheating nor spend more time on catching the cheaters than teaching skills. 
  • Relying on plagiarism/AI checking software is a fool’s errand, simply because the creation of AI technology is always going to be ahead of the detection technology (ACUE, 2023, 37:53). 

Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia, President of Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), thinks the future may hold careers in AI prompt engineering. Within the process of developing an e-text for their nursing program a variety of beneficial generative AI options were helpful with boosting efficiencies (ACUE, 2023). Through a grant funded opportunity called Open RN, the e-text has been used broadly across the state of Wisconsin, and across the nation. An important first step in the collaborative effort was being intentional about creating space for their Instructional Designers to learn how to use ChatGPT, to understand the power of the tool, and then share that information with the CVTC community. Their experience proved that picking up and using ChatGPT was not difficult, but mastering the prompts, or getting the information they needed back from it, was the challenge (ACUE, 2023). 


In the past, generating scenarios for an e-text used up the most time. However, when generating text-based conversational scenarios for a very specific type of antibiotic the more specific the prompt the more robust the answer. In contrast, elaborate prompts were found to be most helpful to create rubrics and essays. Further, when using generative AI to develop scenarios with animated characters, the resulting text, images, and video, when combined, created realistic and multicultural patients, complete with animation 

All things considered; subject matter experts tasked with the challenging process of creating real-life scenarios experienced success with the assistance of generative AI tools to create quality content in a record amount of time resulting in decreased expenses producing the end product faster than in the past. Dr. Beaton-Garcia concluded by sharing, “Internally, our Instructional Designers here know that we are constantly learning, we are adapting, and we are innovating (ACUE, 2023, 25:20). 

As put forth by Sal Kahn, founder of the Khan Academy, we are active participants in the decision regarding our approach to AI and we should fight for the positive use cases (TED, 2023). 

For more information and a plethora of valuable resources please refer to another article in this publication, Introducing the Academic Integrity Instructor Resource Platform: Your Guide to Upholding Academic Honesty. 


AI Turnitin Educator Network. (n.d.) AI writing pedagogy [Online forum posts]. Turnitin. 

Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). (2023, May 10). Reimagining higher education through AI/ChatGPT. [Webinar]. YouTube. 

Chechitelli, A. (2023, May 23). AI writing detection update from turnitin’s chief product officer. 

McMurtrie, B., & Supiano, B. (2023, June 14). How professors scrambled to deal with chatGPT. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Olsen, H., & Behringer, K. (2023, May 25). The new rules of AI in the classroom. The EvoLLLution. 

Supiano, B. (2023, April 5). Will chatGPT change how professors assess learning? The Chronicle of Higher Education.  

TED (Director). (2023, May 1). How AI could save (not destroy) education | Sal Khan [Video]. YouTube.