Thursday, 3 April 2014

Using Turnitin- a Student view

Having recently started with the Learning Technologies team in CICS at the University of Sheffield, I have had chance to reflect on my experiences of using Turnitin as a student. Last year I completed my MSc in Multimedia and E-learning, and all our work was submitted using Turnitin. I was returning to formal education after a 17-year gap, and I was a part-time, blended-learning student.

On the course, I completed 6 modules and for all of them, all our work had to be submitted via Turnitin. It never even crossed my mind that this was ‘strange’ or ‘different’ – it was just the way that we were asked to do things and we did it. There were several things that really stood out to me:

1)      I could submit my work from wherever I was working at the point that I was ready. Once complete, I just logged on to the VLE and clicked on the ‘Assignment’ tab and then followed the step-by-step upload process. I got a reassuring email telling me that the work had been submitted . As a working mother, the ability to send work in from home at 1am was a real benefit.

2)      The first piece of work I got back was a bit of a surprise. As I logged on to check my grade, what I found was that the essay had been annotated all the way through with bright comments, suggestions and references to follow up. I felt like the tutor had taken a lot of care to check my work thoroughly and I was genuinely interested in her comments. At the end of the assignment was an audio comment. “Hello Ros, thank you so much for all your hard work in this essay….”it began. I was ‘gobsmacked’! I had a really personal comment with a warm tone of voice and a summary of the main points that were good and what needed addressing in my assignment. Working at a distance and feeling ‘remote’ occasionally, this was a real bonus.

3)      In later pieces of work, as they became more complex, we had the option to ‘pre-submit’. This was the chance to send in a draft of our work to get comments about the direction and what we needed to do to meet the criteria for the assignment. It prevented students from going off on the wrong tangent and provided a basis for any discussion with the tutor.

4)      On most of our assignments, we had the chance to submit work which was ‘multimedia-based’. I did this in the form of videos, blog posts, a website and PowerPoint presentations. In order for these to be part of our assignment, I placed them on the web (or cloud) and linked to them from my assignment. At the time, you could only load Word documents into Turnitin (and that has now changed), but I was still able to submit multimedia work. I really valued the chance to illustrate my ‘essay’ work with more creative evidence and variety in the presentation of my work.

5)     One thing that is interesting for me to note now is that I never looked at the ‘Originality Report’ which detects matching text. Having looked back, I can see that it was made available to me, but there was nothing that needed investigating in it and the tutor never raised it with me, so I hadn’t looked at it at all. If it had been made explicit that we should view it, then I would have done so. In my case, I had several years of writing experience and was already familiar with academic referencing, so developing my writing was not mentioned. I was almost surprised to discover it as a feature when I started planning for training sessions in my new job!

So, in summary, as a student, the main benefits for me were convenience, enhanced contact with my tutor, the chance to receive formative feedback and personalised comments- both written and oral.

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