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Sept. 19, 2014

The future of Turnitin.com at Blair

by Divya Rajagopal, Managing Editor
Turnitin.com began as a tool to catch cheaters. Indeed, that was the primary reason Blair subscribed to the website back in 2004. However, in the decade since, Turnitin.com has begun to offer versatile tools for teachers to implement in their classrooms.
A snapshot of edits made on Turnitin.com. Courtesy of Turnitin
A snapshot of edits made on Turnitin.com.

There have certainly been drawbacks to the website, which are rooted in Blair's beginnings with it. Head librarian and media specialist Andrea Lamphier speaks on the preliminary issues with tech support. "There were multiple problems with the website at the beginning; tech support was hard to access and it was confusing," she explains. "Initially, it wasn't free either, so we would have to pay money taken from our own reserves to access the website." However, with time, the website became more customer-friendly.

An age of online education: Turnitin's new components

As the technology era dawned, Turnitin began to add other features to help teachers manage their curriculum electronically. The new components included GradeMark, online rubrics, PeerMark, GradeBook and discussion boards.

GradeMark enables teachers to grade papers and projects online. They can incorporate the feature of online rubrics, referring to these rubrics as they grade. Unique features exclusive to GradeMark include voice comments and originality checks. Voice comments enable teachers to directly communicate feedback to students, and originality checks can help prevent plagiarism. The originality check component scans the papers and compares them to the plethora of content stored in the website's database; it then produces a percentage that describes how much of the student's submission matches the scanned content. Ideally, this feature would discourage students from turning in plagiarized material, and indeed, according to the website, Turnitin.com has observed a "33 percent decrease in unoriginal submissions in the last eight years." PeerMark and GradeBook, though used less frequently by teachers, enable students to peer-edit each other's work and teachers to manage grades.

A teacher's perspective

Undoubtedly, Turnitin.com provides eco-friendly ways to educate. However, moving away from the tangible, paper-based form of submission and student-teacher interaction appears to be more difficult than imagined. English teacher Erika Rao professes her opinion on the complications that arose with Turnitin. "Currently we don't have electronic portfolios. We have paper portfolios, so we would have students print [their assignments] out anyways," she says, referring to the manila folders that contain a student's most important works over their high school years.

However, she feels that the website's benefits are also notable. "It's easier from my end because I don't have to carry that many papers. I can write more comments [because] I find typing easier," she explains. Rao also found a correlation between the volume of content in an assignment and the plagiarism rates among her students last year. "Smaller assignments were more useful [to assign] on Turnitin.com, because kids tended to plagiarize on smaller assignments [such as study guides]," she says.

Recent updates

Over the summer, Blair experienced a malfunction with the website. The 10-year subscription ended, leaving all teachers without access to the website. Lamphier clarifies on the confusion that occurred with the people who managed the website subscriptions. "Frankly, we didn't know there was going to be a problem until there was," she says, almost jokingly. "It was initially difficult to get in touch with the vendor, because they are based in California, and the timings were hard to work around, especially after we got back to school. But now we're finally in the process of renewing the subscription and the website is back in the works," she adds.
Turnitin: the electronic way to educate. Courtesy of Turnitin
Turnitin: the electronic way to educate.

So Turnitin.com is back to being a part of Blair. Whether it will slowly gain a larger role in academics is hard to tell. As Rao illustrates, there are old-fashioned paper assignments that can be re-vamped into paper-free electronic ones. The website's abundance of pragmatic tools makes it a definite prospect in revolutionizing teaching methods at Blair.



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