Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Using Turnitin with large classes to support student writing

Back in June I gave a presentation at the 4th International Plagiarism Conference on using Turnitin with large classes to support student writing. The full paper and the powerpoint presentation are now available on the conference website.

The paper describes a pilot study in 2008-2009 involving 3 case studies with large undergraduate student groups, from 120 to 600 students, and addresses the use of Turnitin to support student writing and offer formative feedback, rather than focus purely on plagiarism detection.

Using Turnitin with such large student groups (in 2009-2010 we successfully used it with a class of 950 students) really requires that Turnitin be integrated into the VLE, allowing the students self-submit their work. At NUI Galway, we are using Blackboard, which in turn is integrated with our student records system, thus reducing the administrative overload for staff.

We found that Turnitin can be used to support academic staff in their teaching and assessment. Some of the initial motivation for using Turnitin was that staff were concerned about perceived levels of cut-and-paste plagiarism and collusion within the student groups. With multiple tutorial groups and large numbers of postgraduate tutors, this can be difficult to manage across large cohorts of students. The case studies found that, using Turnitin, tutors were able to identify problems with referencing, to support plagiarism detection, to identify excellent work, and to raise issues generally around student writing. For course co-ordinators there was better visibility into the student group as a whole.

In one (first year) student group, where students were given access to their originality reports for draft submissions and could use them to improve the final versions of submitted work, Turnitin was found to be particularly useful to highlight the importance of originality, and as a way of helping students understand what is expected of them at University level.

The role of the teaching team in each of the case studies was vital to the success of the intervention. Each case-study was academic-driven, brought into the classroom as part of the assessment practice, and not treated as an add-on to teach literacy skills. In each case, teaching teams were brought together to agree a consistent approach to dealing with academic integrity within the discipline. In this way academic honesty became a shared value across the teaching team, giving a consistent message to students.

We found that the best results followed where Turnitin was not being used purely for plagiarism detection. In fact, contrary to our initial expectations, there was little evidence to suggest that its use was a successful deterrent. Rather, it supported the discourse around good writing skills and gave an opportunity to raise awareness of academic writing within the classroom.

I am now interviewing academic staff who used Turnitin in 2009-2010, in the second year of the study. Some of these were involved in the original case studies, and it is interesting to get their perspectives after a second year.

I'm hoping to update the case studies and also describe how Grademark has been used within the discipline of English to facilitate online grading of student work. Cath Ellis has written a very good post of her experiences with Grademark. Her observations certainly match with our experiences here.


Cath Ellis said...

A great post - and fascinating research. As with all good uses of Turnitin, it is not so much the tool itself that is offering the enhancement here, but the work that is going on around it. I'm absolutely convinced that Turnitin is a very powerful weapon, but we need to take great care in its use. Here - using Turnitin to open up the conversation about academic integrity is key. The way it enables this discussion to have a legitimate place (and here I mean legitimate in both the eyes of the students and the teaching staff) within the curriculum is a very useful strategy. I look forward to reading more of the findings from your research.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the comment Cath. I'm not sure about the use of the word "weapon", but agree that the way that Turnitin is used, by staff and students, is key. Turnitin, as we found in the study, can be used as an effective teaching and learning tool.
I'm preparing a follow-up post based on some of my more recent interviews, which will pick up again on this issue.