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Turnitin 'Revises' the Writing Process

Turnitin, a company typically known for catching plagiarism in students’ writing assignments, is refocusing its efforts on the needs of teachers with its newest formative writing tool, Revision Assistant.

Since 1997, much of Turnitin’s focus has been on building academic integrity in students, according to information from the company. Its flagship product, Feedback Studio, for instance, checks to see if students are submitting original or copied work. Teachers can also markup writing assignments with drag-and-drop comments, add voice comments and grade by rubric. It is used in about 80 percent of colleges and universities in the United States, as well as about 100 school districts around the nation.

However, Turnitin found that while it could catch plagiarism, many students would simply write their assignment and make a few quick in-line changes — like grammar, punctuation, quotation marks — and turn that in as a final product. “So there was a missing gap for student writing between what the teacher needed to see and what students needed to do,” said Jennifer Knighton, a Turnitin representative, at the annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference last week.

In other words, the company heard that teachers wanted to see much more of the writing process on the platform — a common complaint amongst Turnitin critics. To bridge the gap, Turnitin recently launched its Revision Assistant, which it debuted at ISTE 2017.

The tool is designed to be a personal writing coach for every student, while giving teachers more insight into the writing process. Teachers can assign writing prompts from a bank available in Revision Assistant. For every writing prompt in the library, Turnitin collected about 500 samples of student writing that are scored against a 16-point rubric — covering a full breadth of writing, from weak to strong writing. Using a machine learning model, the system adapts to each new essay and scores it against a changing rubric, Knighton said.

In addition to the rubric score, students receive the following types of feedback:

  • Graphical “WiFi signals” that measure strengths in areas like analysis, focus, organization and evidence.

  • Holistic feedback that judges qualitative measures like genre awareness, use of evidence, organization, etc. Inside an essay, for instance, Revision Assistant would offer less than four highlighted sentences with two types of holistic feedback. The first part offers the student encouragement and identifies areas that student is strong in, while the other part offers more critical feedback with areas for improvement.

Students can use Revision Assistant as much as they want on their essays and other writing assignments. Middle school students who are already using the tool are writing roughly 11 drafts each, while high school students are averaging eight to nine drafts, according to Knighton.

Teachers in turn get detailed reports back — featuring one essay or multiple essays and revisions over the course of a school year — which allows them to see how students have improved in their writing over time.

At ISTE 2017, teachers who have been using Revision Assistant reported two things: First, they said they are seeing students ask for more help with specific areas of writing, such as use of evidence.

Second, they said the tool has helped increased their feedback output while reducing the amount of time it takes to give feedback to students. “Teachers have said they spend 15-20 hours just to grade, store and give feedback on every essay, but with Revision Assistant they can give more feedback without adding to their workload,” Knighton said.

To learn more about Revision Assistant, watch the video below or visit the Turnitin site.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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