Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Getting started with Turnitin

Last Friday I gave a workshop on Using Turnitin to Deter Plagiarism for academic staff at St Angela's College, Sligo. St Angela's is a college of NUI Galway and occupies a beautiful site on the shore of Lake Gill, just outside Sligo, and it is always a pleasure to visit there.

The workshop was aimed at teaching staff getting started with using Turnitin. As we went through the practicalities of setting up a Turnitin assignment in their VLE (moodle) and discussed strategies and options, I stressed a few points. These are the take-home messages that I think are key when starting to use Turnitin.

1. Focus on the teaching: the 12 people in the group were concerned teachers. The last thing they want or need to become is "plagiarism police", with a focus on plagiarism detection. Turnitin is best used as a teaching tool, so make sure that the strategy you use, and every option you choose, is based on improving the learning for your students. 

2. Turnitin does not detect plagiarism, it highlights matching text. It is very good at what it does, but it cannot tell you that a student has plagiarised. You, as the teacher, are the one who decides if the matching text indicates a problem, or otherwise.

3. Turnitin can only be used to help detect plagiarism of text, or cut-and-paste copying. It doesn't identify plagiarism of ideas, and won't be of any use with ghost-written materials.

4. Originality reports have to be interpreted. You have to examine a report to understand what the coloured highlighting is telling you. There are many reasons why text might be highlighted: direct quotes, bibliographic references or just writing on a particular topic using the correct language for the discipline. Highlighted text could be an indication that the student has actually performed a good literature survey!

5. The similarity index should never be used as a measure of plagiarism. Do I really need to explain this?

6. You have to follow up, when you find a problem. This could be in the form of general feedback to a class group, where there are common issues across the class; or individual feedback to address a particular piece of writing. Where a serious problem exists, it will be necessary to use formal procedures. Feedback should come first though, see point (1).

7. Giving students access to originality reports can be a great learning tool, when they are learning academic writing. But it has to be in a supported environment, where they can understand how to interpret what they are seeing. See point (4).

For more on strategies for using Turnitin, see my presentation from the E-Assessment Scotland conference in Dundee last August.

Do you have any take-home messages for teachers starting off with Turnitin in the classroom? Please add to the list by writing a comment. Feedback on my list is also welcome.

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