Turnitin.com, the Writing Cycle, and Assessment for Learning

Turnitin.com is widely used in our secondary schools as a text-matching tool for written work, but the tool itself is frequently misunderstood, and sometimes misapplied.

This software, in its most basic application, identifies academic integrity issues through its Similarity Reports, which compare student papers with a database of archived content. Turnitin.com checks submitted papers against the instructor’s choice of print and web publications, periodicals, journals and previous Turnitin submissions.

A teacher can do one of two things with these reports. The unoriginal content flagged in a submission can be used as a “gotcha” mechanism to catch plagiarists.

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Alternatively, and what I strongly recommend, is using the content of a Similarity Report as part of the feedback students receive during the assessment for learning phase of the writing cycle.

Turnitin.com Similarity Reports

A Turnitin.com Similarity Report uses text-matching to flag unoriginal phrasing:

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When teachers set up a regular Turnitin.com Paper Assignment, they can allow students to see the Similarity Reports before the due date.

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If Similarity Reports are released on the assignment due date, students only find out if they have academic integrity issues when it is too late to address the concerns and revise their writing. This “gotcha” approach to detecting plagiarism might make students fear plagiarism, but it doesn’t teach them how to avoid committing it.  

The better approach is to immediately release Similarity Reports. Students should be given the opportunity to see which aspects of their papers need to be revised before they are marked. And since resubmissions are allowed in Turnitin.com prior to the due date, a diligent student can upload an assignment, review its Similarity Report, discuss the results with the teacher, and then re-submit the assignment after making the necessary corrections. This workflow largely takes away the “gotcha” application of Turnitin.com.

Revision Assignments

An even better implementation of Turnitin.com is to use “Revision Assignments.” These assignments are essentially duplicates of the “one and done” Paper Assignments, but with different due dates. The intended application of a Revision Assignment is to allow students to submit a work-in-progress version of their paper as part of the writing cycle.

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A teacher might wish to have a Revision Assignment serve as a first or second draft of an essay. The Grademark features within Turnitin.com, which include voice notes, rubrics, drag-and-drop quickmarks and embedded comments, make it easy for teachers to provide the feedback that helps students improve their writing and argumentation by identifying the gaps between the student’s current performance and the intended learning goals.

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The Similarity Reports from Revision Assignments, moreover, can be used as part of the feedback given to students on their use of paraphrasing and citing source material, among other academic integrity issues.

Following one or more drafts of a paper submitted through a Revision Assignment module, a student resubmits their final Paper Assignment and a new Similarity Report is generated. This new report does not erroneously flag content submitted from the Revision Assignment.

Building academic integrity feedback into the assessment for learning process is the most effective way of addressing plagiarism in the classroom. Even more importantly, providing feedback to students during the writing process takes assessment beyond mere judgment. Assessment for learning allows students to identify what was done well and what needs improvement, while providing specific direction on next steps to take to refine and revise their writing.

Turnitin.com is available for secondary school use as a standalone product, and through integrations in D2L and Moodle.

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