Thursday, 22 July 2010

Beyond plagiarism checking: exploiting the power of Turnitin

I've been spending a lot of time recently talking about Turnitin and it's struck me how so many people think of it as only a plagiarism checking tool. In the first place I find this ironic because it doesn't actually check plagiarism - academics do. Turnitin merely provides another tool, through its originality matching, that academics can use to identify instances of plagiarism. But secondly, the reason I find it striking is because the plagiarism, or originality, checking is such a minor part of my use of it these days.

There's still not a great deal of awareness that Turnitin has two other great tools - a marking tool called Grademark and a peer marking tool called Peermark. I've found Grademark particularly beneficial in that it's made my marking:

1 Quicker: I type faster than I write and the capacity it gives me to automate common comments means that I'm able to offer students much more detailed comments in considerably less time.
2 Better: Because I'm spending less time writing common comments (which are often on the 'surface features' of writing: misplaced apostrophes and the like) I find that the comments I do write for each student are more likely to be on the content (what they're writing about) than on the structure (how they're writing it). This is also more rewarding and feels less laborious making marking feel much less of a chore. I'm also able to offer students better feedforward by pasting in links through to useful online resources that they can use to develop their skills and understanding.
3 Easier: I'm not having to lug heavy piles of essays to and from work, I can erase mistakes I've made in my comments and I find it much easier to type than write with a pen on paper.
4 Retrievable: My dog can't eat their homework! And while I've never actually lost any student work, I have come awfully, awfully close (and spent a lot of time hunting). I also like having a fully annotated copy of students' previous work available for when they come to see me in a tutorial or consultation. It also makes simultaneous marking and moderation possible, and it's a whole heap easier to send work to the external examiner and to archive it at the end of the academic year.

I've found that students also like their work being marked and returned this way. Key reasons they cite are:
1 Privacy: they hate the scrum at the end of class when essays are returned and everyone's comparing their mark - especially if they've not done so well. Being able to log on in the privacy of their own home and take in their mark and concentrate on reading through their feedback without the pressure of friends and student colleagues around them is important to them.
2 Accessibility: Quite simply, they don't have to decipher my handwriting. They also like the transparency of the rubric scorecard - but more on that below.
3 Convenience: they like being able to submit their work online and get it back online. After all, they do everything else online these days, as do we (can you imagine not being able to submit a paper to a journal electronically these days?)

I've also come to appreciate the analytical potential that Grademark offers. I find the rubric scorecard to be a particularly powerful tool to use for criteria-based marking. I design the rubric and publish it to students at the start of term and then use it to arrive at their mark using the scorecard that's built into Grademark. For me it is vital in achieving the transparency in marking to which I believe students are entitled. In other words, the rubric allows me to make it clear to students exactly how I've arrived at their mark. It also identifies where they should concentrate their efforts to improve.

Grademark allows me to export a report for each assessment task that I can then use for diagnostic purposes. This chart is derived from data exported out of Grademark and shows a particular student cohort's achievement against six criteria. It's clear from this in which criteria most students are struggling (the green 2.2 'bulge' on the third criteria from the top for instance). This allows me to target skills development work with that cohort to the area of most need as well as undertaking dedicated work with the previous year group to develop their skills in that particular area. Evidence like this can be compared across and between cohorts and offers a potentially powerful evaluative tool.

I know that many academics don't like the idea of marking online because of the difficulty of reading from a screen. I used to feel that way, but am so accustomed to reading from a screen these days that I actually prefer it. I have no difficulty reading email after all. I think there is further potential that I'm yet to uncover and eagerly anticipate the arrival of Turnitin2 this September which promises a friendlier user interface and more seamless integration between the three main Turnitin tools.