Turnitin: Fighting Plagiarism and Saving Time at Fresno State

The plagiarism prevention software called Turnitin from iParadigms LLC, is known for its ability to detect illicit copying; the company says its site now receives some 120,000 papers for review a day. Less well known are additional features that Turnitin has added to its product set that make paper grading and management far easier.

Turnitin’s GradeMark feature, available as an add-on to the original product, can be used to collect student papers electronically, edit them online by inserting electronic comments into the document, then return them electronically to students, all without ever printing a page.

“It’s just a wonderful way to collect papers,” according to Ray Hall, a physics professor at California State University at Fresno, who also teaches courses in critical thinking that have several writing assignments. “I can’t lose student work; staples don’t come off.” Just the fact that Turnitin date-stamps and alphabetizes the collected papers is a huge time-saver, Hall said.

CSU Fresno has a campus-wide license for Turnitin’s anti-plagiarism tool, which Hall said he finds useful for routinely making sure students are turning in original work. When an instructor is using the product to check for plagiarism, students submit their papers electronically through Turnitin, which compares every paper to a set of databases made up of the contents of the Internet, a collection of original work such as books, and all previous papers submitted in the past to Turnitin. A resulting “originality report” highlights questionable areas in each paper.

In addition, Hall, who has been using Turnitin for several years, pays extra for a feature called GradeMark, which collects papers electronically and helps manage them. Since his students are already required to turn in papers online through Turnitin in order to submit them to the originality checker, it’s a logical addition to the product’s features.

“One thing I like about having students turn in papers online is [that] I get a real date stamp on it automatically that tells me when it was turned in.” Since it’s a university requirement at CSU Fresno that each student have access to a computer, Internet access isn’t an issue.

His students can submit papers to Turnitin in two ways: either directly through the company’s website or through the university’s Blackboard course management system. Hall said he finds the Blackboard interface cumbersome and prefers a standalone Web page he has created that lists assignments and allows students to link to the Turnitin website directly.

Using GradeMark, Hall has gradually moved to a completely electronic grading process that no longer involves paper at all. “I was going to the site, downloading the papers, and printing them out myself [to edit]. But that kills trees and so forth.” Instead, he now uses GradeMark to mark up and assign a grade to papers electronically, then return them to students as an electronic document.

Using GradeMark is straightforward, Hall said: “Clicking on the paper anywhere presents a little balloon where you can type in comments.” Comments can be saved in a list that pops up whenever a new comment is initiated, and can be edited at any time. Turnitin also offers short electronic tags containing common grammar errors, for example, that are linked to an expanded comment.

Once the graded paper is returned, the student can access it through Turnitin and view the comments electronically. Through Turnitin, students can also edit and resubmit the paper.

After Hall assigns the paper a grade, he uses another Turnitin feature called GradeBook to keep track of grades by student. He then transfers the resulting information into an Excel spreadsheet he uses for keeping track of grades.

Using GradeMark and GradeBook, Hall estimated that he is saving at least an hour per class assignment just on the mechanics of grading some 40 papers several times a semester. “Not having to alphabetize the papers and then enter the grades one by one into my spreadsheet” saves significantly, he said, adding up to a several days of work saved per semester.

As well as saving time, the editing ease of GradeMark also frees him to focus more on each paper. “Because I have this fluidity, I spend more time per paper,” Hall said. “I might have gone through it faster if I were using a pen because I know I have this stack of papers [to grade].... Now I can put more effort into creating content. I can go to a deeper level.”

Turnitin pricing is based on a full-time enrolled student model; A single campus license is $850 annually, plus a service fee of $0.87 per student, with an $870 minimum. The GradeMark package is an additional $1.50 per student, with a $1,000 minimum. Contact the company for additional pricing combinations and options.

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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