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Turnitin User Group, 21st September 2011, Manchester University

September 22, 2011

I attended a meeting of the Turnitin User Group yesterday – here’s a brief report. I may edit this or add to it in due course, when slides from the day are made available.

a.m.  Turnitin update

Planned developments for Turnitin include

  • ability to grant extensions to students – this would make our module leaders’ lives much simpler, avoiding the need for the creation of additional Turnitin assignments.
  • expandable rubric i.e. able to expand the screen area occupied by the rubric, to make it practical to work with more than 3 or 4 columns.
  • audio comments – not sure if this referred to the ability to upload audio feedback, or if the system will just “read” the tutor’s typed feedback.
    (These three planned for Spring 2012)
  • Improved analytics and reporting – i.e. building into the system the kind of reports which Cath Ellis has generated  to inform her teaching and the support she provides to students – see her presentation.
    (expected Summer 2012)
  • Online grading for iPads and Android devices
    (Winter 2012)

iParadigms Europe, the UK Turnitin support team, are looking at ways of directly supporting individual lecturers using Turnitin / Grademark e.g. by phone, email, webinar. More on this to come, no doubt, but it’s worth flagging up that Turnitin already offer weekly training webinars – see and

p.m. session 1 Technical Q&A – Integrations

Institutions can access Turnitin direct through, or via various forms of VLE integration. Regardless of the VLE, there are two types of integration possible.

Basic framed single-signon integration, where Turnitin is displayed within the VLE. This is what we currently use.

Direct retains the  look and feel of the VLE

The Moodle & Blackboard direct integrations are developed in the UK office. Moodle integration is already available; Blackboard Direct integration is due 1st quarter of 2012, although there’s no commitment to that timescale.

With direct integration Turnitin is directly hosted in the VLE, not just a portal through to Turnitin.

Documents submitted are stored in the VLE as well as in Turnitin (so presumably potentially major storage implications for the institution)

Only features which are available through the Turnitin API are available through direct integration (i.e. not everything you can get through – for example currently PeerMark would not be available).

The Turnitin support staff answering questions thought that with direct integration, Blackboard Grade Centre columns for Turnitin assignments would automatically be hidden from students till the Post Date – that alone could be a reason for switching, as at the moment module leaders have to hide the Grade Centre column for each Turnitin assignment.

There were questions from staff at institutions who are looking at a new VLE e.g. Blackboard users trialling Moodle, who will need to test Turnitin live with students in both Moodle and Blackboard; and if they do switch to a new system they will need to run the two VLEs  side by side for a while. There’s no licensing issue with this, but potential technical problems, especially if users have the same ID in each system. If we find ourselves in this position, the clear message was: talk to Turnitin Support in advance.

p.m. session 2 Implementation at Cardiff: Giving feedback through GradeMark

view Powerpoint presentation

This was a very useful case study.

Use of GradeMark at Cardiff came out of a desire to improve NSS scores relating to feedback and was part of  the “Assessment matters” feedback project. It was rolled out in the Medical School by a dedicated project group, with significant investment of staff time devoted to planning, training and collecting the views of stakeholders.

Key themes: promoting

  • accessibility
  • timeliness
  • consistency & quality

of feedback.

Some points and advice which particularly interested me:

  • Train assessors as close as possible to when they are actually marking – training too far in advance is a waste of time
  • The project learning technologist created Turnitin rubrics. From the screenshot example (slide 9) it’s clear this is a 9 column rubric, with differently weighted criteria. This approach could be used to replicate the theoretical marking grid used in our College of Nursing and elsewhere, although I’m not sure how it easy it would be to navigate a 9 column rubric in the limited amount of screen space currently available.
  • Good student feedback on GradeMark generally. Less so on the rubric – some students simply didn’t realise it was there.
  • Students liked Quick Mark comments where these were constructive – bald good/bad comments served no purpose. So the technology worked well when feedback was of a high quality; does nothing to improve poor quality feedback.
  •  There were some technical problems – although only ever with Internet Explore, never with Firefox
  • Assessors – very sceptical beforehand – now positive

Improvements needed in Turnitin: display the student ID field in the Inbox; like us, as a workaround at Cardiff they currently tell students to enter their student ID as the submission title. (Incidentally, in a conversation at the end of the day with Tom Rees from Turnitin Support, he explained why the user ID does not appear here. It’s related to the way Turnitin integrates with the VLE, and may only be addressed by Direct Integration – although he did invite me to add this to the user wishlist via the Turnitin Forum).

In discussion, Simon Starr, from Canterbury Christchurch University, said that their Health Faculty had decided to drop anonymous marking in Turnitin because of the technical issues it presented. To paraphrase, the Faculty said to students “you can have anonymous marking, or faster feedback”; so far there have been no complaints from students. Important, however, to involve the student body in discussions around changes to assessment practices, and to explain the reasons for dropping anonymous marking – it’s not so that lecturers can start to discriminate against individual students!

p.m. session 3 Will Lowe, Director of Operations & IT, iParadigms

Will talked about technical investments which iParadigms (the company which owns Turnitin) has made e.g. in multiple data centres and fail safe procedures. The procedures now in place should prevent a recurrence of the serious outage experienced by UK users in June – at worst disruption should in future be a matter of minutes, not several hours. Obviously, this is the kind of reassuring statement that any software company likes to come out with, but I have to say that prior to this one occasion, we’ve experienced very few unavailability issues with Turnitin, so I did feel reassured by what I heard.

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