Using Turnitin with large classes to support writing

Flynn, Sharon (2010) Using Turnitin with large classes to support writing. [Conference Proceedings]


This paper describes an initiative at a University in the west of Ireland to use Turnitin formatively with large class sizes to support student writing. The University has approximately sixteen thousand students across five Colleges. The Centre for Learning and Teaching is a central unit within the University, responsible for a wide range of activities including teaching and learning policy, academic staff development, support for teaching related activities and learning technologies. In particular, it provides pedagogical support to academic staff on good practice in the use of technological tools for teaching, learning and assessment. Turnitin has been used within the University since September 2006. Initially part of a pilot study, it was used primarily by plagiarism advisors and other interested members of academic staff to investigate suspected incidences of plagiarism, in line with the University’s code of practice for dealing with plagiarism. Because staff were accessing the Turnitin website directly, the service was not considered suitable for screening submissions in large classes. However, a project within the College of Commerce in 2007 involved the submission to the Turnitin service of more than 600 essays from final year undergraduate students. The purpose of this project was to assess the usefulness of Turnitin in a large group setting. Findings from the report (Maloney and O'Kane, 2007) included that using the service was a factor in deterring plagiarism, but that the administrative burden far outweighed the benefits. It was also recognised that most of the issues highlighted in the originality reports generated by Turnitin involved poor student writing, rather than deliberate attempts to deceive. However the report concluded that “there was insufficient time to use the originality reports in a formative way that would have helped students to develop their writing and referencing skills”. In September 2008, as part of a larger externally funded project From Pilot to Mainstream, Turnitin was integrated with the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Blackboard, using a building block. Since the VLE is also integrated with the university’s student record system, so that course enrolments on Blackboard reflect the registration data, this removed a lot of the administrative burden for those academic staff who wanted to use Turnitin for large classes. In tandem with the technological developments, the culture of the institution regarding academic integrity has also been evolving. From a focus on policy, procedures, detection and penalties, the groups responsible for overseeing aspects of academic integrity have started to consider plagiarism as a pedagogic issue, related to teaching, learning and assessment, and to address aspects of information literacy among students, and staff development to support this. This paper describes a pilot study involving 3 case studies across 3 disciplines in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. These case studies involve large student groups, from 120 to 600 students, and address the use of Turnitin to support student writing and offer formative feedback, rather than focus purely on plagiarism detection.

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