Using Turnitin formatively

Turnitin LogoDr Gregory James is a Lecturer in Economics within the School of Business and Economics. He has been a Turnitin user for several years now and describes here his experience of using it formativly.

My own personal approach to dealing with plagiarism in my teaching practice and strengthening my students’ academic writing skills is focused on: developing a common understanding of what constitutes plagiarism through the formative use of Turnitin; designing out the opportunity to plagiarise through authentic assessment practice; designing in clear guidance on what is expected; and using a systematic approach to detecting and dealing with suspected cases of plagiarism.

For instance, in one of my modules, I ask students to produce a 2,000-word essay on a given topic. The essay is assessed and counts 20% of the overall module mark (with the final two-hour written examination worth 80% of the module mark). Students are asked to submit their assignment to Turnitin through LEARN as a (complete) ‘draft’ (which is not marked) prior to making their final submission (which is marked) as a means of checking and improving their work before submission. Students can see the originality report generated by Turnitin, rewrite their work, and in doing so avoid inadvertent plagiarism. Advice is provided in the module information pack and also displayed on the LEARN assignment submission page.

The module’s coursework task includes specific instructions, which make it more difficult for a student to get someone else to do the work. In a nutshell, the assessment task explicitly requires the application of empirical and theoretical concepts covered in the lectures and readings. Students are, therefore, asked to make direct references in their essays to module-specific materials. In addition, anonymous excerpts from essays submitted in previous years are shown and discussed with students to give them a clearer understanding of what is specifically expected of them. This offers a valuable complement to generic mark descriptors. Students also receive extensive advice pertaining to academic conventions, with a special focus on developing an academic argument using sources. Finally, a systematic approach is employed to process all the information and evidence gathered by Turnitin, an approach in which academic judgment plays a significant role.

The response from my students to date has been very positive. I am pleased to say that coursework marks have also improved considerably over the past three years I have taught the module. I have been very impressed with the quality of the essays I have marked, which suggests that students are less alienated by the assessment task now that it is more explicitly linked to the content of the lectures and reading materials and they can “see the point of it” and that they have made good use of the opportunity to use Turnitin formatively.