Bridge Over Troubled Water – Turnitin Summit 19th October

As I arrived in Newcastle, I took a walk around its famous Quayside.

Stepping onto one of the iron bridges to take in the River Tyne, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” started playing through my headphones.

This song couldn’t be more ironic or apt for attending the Turnitin Summit.
I planned ahead with a list of questions I wanted to ask about the problems experienced with Feedback Studio, I suspected other attendees came with a similar agenda of grilling Turnitin.

But this was billed as a conference about Academic Integrity and how Turnitin will be working more closely with UK institutions. Marc Daubach of Turnitin, introducing the agenda of the day, reiterated this at the opening.

The keynote speaker was Kerr Gardiner (https://www.kerrgardiner.co.uk/) who is a consultant in Learning Technology. He talked about his past role as Head of Learning Technology at the University of Glasgow, of how they pulled out of using Turnitin within their Moodle integration.

The anecdote was building up to how in the past, he worked in partnership with Turnitin to try to help meet Glasgow’s demands. That now that partnership has strengthened in his work with HeLF (https://helfuk.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-helf.html). Both HeLF and Turnitin are discussing customer service, future problems in learning & teaching, smoothing out workflows and improving partnerships with UK institutions.

A report developed by HeLF outlined that Turnitin need to work on improving:
• Trust – new features appearing late or not working
• Transparency – if updates and new features are coming, to know in advance
• Relations – better communication and more targeted for the UK

Themes that Turnitin need to be addressing were:
• Reliability of the system, as outage times have had a big impact for a number of institutions.
• Data access has been an issue for a number of years being locked down and not accessible to users.
• Marking – still no double/multiple marking or access for external staff
• Workflows and integration – better support for the variety of different VLE systems, accessibility plans and archiving assignments.

Kerr outlined that Turnitin are looking into the future requirements we might have such as detecting ghost writing, and dealing with other forms of assessment like video. He was strong in saying Turnitin need to deliver and that dialogue will continue with HeLF.

Ron Park of Turnitin then addressed the conference with how Turnitin would meet these problems.
• Turnitin have invested £5.2 million in hardware and software to improve customer relations and dealing with calls.
• Turnitin are improving their cloud server to deal with more assignments and to be more stable.
• The Turnitin website is currently in Beta, which allows users to create folders, and users can drag and drop files onto the website. Still unsure of how these files are used.
• Viewer is being upgraded within Feedback Studio so will be turning on features to improve the magnification of a paper and get around the blurred text issue.
• New API will be available in November 2017

Bill Loller of Turnitin did a talk about the Academic Integrity vision and discussed how it is important for UK institutions, and that there is a need to raise awareness and educate teaching staff.

The conference was then broken up into break out areas called Discovery Sessions, which we signed up in advance of attending. The first was ‘Feedback, marking and moderation’ with Ron Park, which tried to address the issues Kerr Gardiner outlined.

This descended into a Q&A session, issues raised were:
• How were Turnitin going to support the variety of VLE integrations?
• Promises made today (double marking) were promised a few years ago with Feedback Studio and we’re still waiting.
• Other assessment tools are getting better, which allow for double marking, group submissions, other file formats like videos.

Turnitin diverted answers to these issues, threatening that if we moved away from Turnitin to a competitor that we’d be going back 5 years. Customer relations and transparency were questionable here.

After lunch it was the remaining two discovery sessions. I attended Bill Loller’s ‘Ghost Writing’ which was an interesting discussion on how it works. Bill talked about how the service is advertised to students, which type of students it is targeted to, how institutions should deal with students caught and how to educate staff about the issue.

The final session was ran by Gill Powell, ‘Preparing to tackle all elements of academic integrity’. Was a discussion of how different intuitions are educating their staff and students, and the challenges they’ve met. A member of staff from the University of Huddersfield shared his academic integrity report.

The rest of the afternoon was a number of talks around the issue of academic integrity. Simon Bullock from the QAA talked about raising student awareness and using technology to help educate students.

Irene Glendinning from the University of Coventry discussed her Academic Integrity scoring model developed through the IPPHEAE project, which involved scoring a number of universities across the European Union.

Cath Ellis from the University of New South Wales did an interesting talk about the global Academic Integrity picture. She’s been investigating students buying essays from online websites, and looking at student behaviour and how they view cheating.

The final talk was a video presentation by Phil Newton from the University of Swansea, titled ‘Pouring ALE on Contract Cheating’. ALE stands for Assessment Design, Law and Education. He described how the websites work for students wanting to have their essay written by someone else and how institutions can tackle the problem.

As I left the summit and boarded the train home, I plugged myself into music and shuffled back to Simon & Garfunkel. There’s a line at the beginning of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” which says “I’m on your side, Oh when times get rough.”

It seems Turnitin are willing to work more closely with UK institutions to improve support and trust in the system. I feel there are still issues in the current Feedback Studio that need to be addressed such as the app and user issues in Grademark. I felt encouraged there is more effort being made to listen to our concerns with the system and want to see action being taken, to be on our side and resolve them over the next academic year.

Ben McGrae

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