Thursday, April 3, 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.

Turnitin - 3 new mini features!

Turnitin has released a few new features of late, and I have recently got round to testing them out..

So.... I thought I would give you my quick overview of them all in one post!

This will be overview only, but we will also be putting in some more detailed guidance for our Sheffield University users soon. So, if you would like some more “how to” information on these features or similar, then get in touch with us at

Ok, what’s first?….

Grading Forms

This feature sits along side Rubrics (better known to us as marking schemes or criteria). It allows you to set some quick basic criteria to mark against. The real win for this feature over Rubrics, apart from the fact that it is quicky and easy, is that it allows you to write directly into the criteria boxes and even provide a mark for that specific criteria. 

The quickest way to have a look at this feature, is to go into the Turnitin inbox and locate the “libraries” tab; situated next to the Turnitin “inbox “and “edit assignment” tabs. You will need an active Turnitin assignment set up and ready to go inside a MOLE course.

Some notable points about Grading Forms...

  • The Grading Form gives you three default criteria, however you can add as many as you would like.
  • There is a tick box at the bottom left hand side of the screen that allows you to enable scoring, meaning you can assign a numerical value to each particular criteria.
  • Students can see the text you write in the criteria descriptions, together with any numerical score you give.
  • If you do wish to put in a mark against each criteria, Turnitin will also add up the criteria values for you and calculate an overall score.

Up next...

Link comments to Rubrics

This feature, is pretty much as it sounds. You can now easily link any QuickMark commentary, made in the GradeMark document viewer, to a specific Rubric criteria.

For this to work, firstly you need an active Rubric or Grading Form (see above), attached already to your assignment.

You can select any particular QuickMark or free text comment; dragging and dropping them onto the assignment in the usual way. When you have left your comment, you will see at the bottom of it there is a drop down box, this allows you to assign this comment to a particular Rubric criteria.

 When students access their marked assignment, they will be to see the association between the comment you have given and the Rubric criteria. This feature allows students to unpick the feedback that has been given and potentially gives them more insight into the bigger marking picture. It can also show the instructor how many comments have been given against a particular criteria.

Finally...drum roll!

Grade Anything

Arguably the best of the three functions! This again is fairly self explanatory. You can now set up your Turnitin assignment to allow students to submit any file type to Turnitin….

There is a caveat however…

Whilst students can submit any file type, only certain file types will still be able to make use of Turnitin’s text matching abilities. They are the following:

“Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, PostScript, PDF, HTML, RTF, OpenOffice (ODT), Hangul (HWP), Google Docs, and plain text files with at least 20 words of text will be eligible to receive Originality Reports”

So, any file types outside of those above, will not have an Originality Report created.

I tested this with an MP3 file and some of the sample Windows pictures.  Regarding the MP3..You cannot listen to the audio file without downloading it first. However, with the pictures you can view the picture itself in the Grademark viewer.

Of course, you can use all the usual Grademark viewer functions (QuickMarks, free comments, audio feedback) to give students in depth feedback on the file they have submitted.

There is also  one particular interesting file type I haven't mentioned… and that is…. no file at all!

What use is that I hear you cry!

Plenty actually…Particularly for marking a recital or a performance of some kind. Using the “no file type” feature, you can still mark it and return feedback using all the same good old/new GradeMark features!

It is also very simple to make use of. You can set up your Turnitin assignment in the usual way,
but instead of your students submitting a file, you create something called a “Grading Template”.

The “Grading Template” is actually just a piece of (Turnitin) headed paper. It opens up in the GradeMark viewer, allowing you to input your feedback to the student straight onto the blank paper.

In terms of what GradeMark features I would use here to give feedback.. I would probably be tempted go for the “summary”section of the GradeMark viewer (including audio feedback). This is mainly because, as  there is no structure on the paper itself, this could make QuickMarks and free text bubble comments look confusing.  I might use the “T” text function however, which allows you to write directly onto the paper itself.

As with normal submissions, you can also return a grade/mark on the performance.

It would also be important to educate students on how this part of Turnitin will work when using it in regards to a recital or a performance.

Do these features work on the iPad App?

in 2 words, not yet…..

Grading forms: Not at the time of writing
Link Comments to Rubrics: Not at the time of writing
Grade Anything: Not at the time of writing. Turnitin state that an update will be available soon that will enable these features

So that's it for now, hope you find some of those features useful and interesting. I will be back to update you on more e-assessment stuff in the near future!


Monday, March 17, 2014

StarPlus tools for learning - more than a library catalogue!

StarPlus is now established as the University Library resource discovery service and catalogue, providing access to digital and print resources in the Library and beyond. StarPlus also includes a number of tools to support collaborative learning and resource sharing, as well as enabling individuals to organise and personalise content they discover.
This seems to be a good time to be promoting these tools, in the light of the recent NMC Horizon Report 2014 Higher Education which identifies the growing ubiquity of social media as one of the key trends accelerating technology adoption in HE.

Individual learners can add favourite items on StarPlus to their personal e-Shelf. These can then be organised into folders, printed, emailed or added to reference management software. It’s also possible to add notes to individual items or folders.

This functionality can support undergraduates as they begin to develop the key research skills of selecting, evaluating and organising scholarly material for coursework and research projects.

It’s possible to add tags, reviews and ratings to all items on StarPlus. These will be visible to other users, and are a means of enabling collaboration and sharing in resource discovery. Facebook users can use the Like button to tell their followers about something they’ve found on StarPlus.

If you have a look at the popular tags on StarPlus at the moment, you’ll see that some users have started to use module codes as tags. 
at the moment, you’ll see that some users have started to use module codes as tags. 


My colleague Clare Scott and I recently talked to Gary Wood from the School of English, and he is encouraging his students on ELL326 to try tagging, reviews and the e-Shelf.  In addition, Farzana suggested using the text for the tagged records to create a wordcloud and she has been working with Gary to integrate this into MOLE. Hopefully we’ll be able to get feedback from Gary and his students as the semester progresses. 

If you can see potential uses for learning and teaching in your department, please give it a go. You’ll see a link to StarPlus on your Services menu in MUSE, and before you get started, remember that to access these tools, you must sign in to StarPlus by clicking the link marked University members in the top right corner. To find out more about using StarPlus effectively, have a look at the guide in the Information Skills Resource We’d love to hear how you get on!

Life on the front-line with the Learning Technologies Team Support Desk

Spring has sprung
Phew - got through it - the ever busy start of a new semester is behind us (just).
The Spring semester brings different problems than the Autumn. September brings a new influx of students and a number of new staff with no knowledge of MOLE.  By February things have settled down and MOLE newbies are a little more comfortable using the software.  And just when you think the dust has settled….many students decide to stir things up a little and change courses.  No problem - this is an automated affair via the ‘Add/Drop’ process which updates a student’s registration record which in turn fires through the changes to MOLE and gives the students access to their new courses.  Only sometimes things don’t go quite to plan and we have just had one such occasion. Lots of students contacted us to ask why their changes were not reflected in MOLE.  We ended up adding them manually to their new courses and hopefully not many were inconvenienced for very long. Investigations showed that a problem with the computer script designed to run the automated process was causing a blip and this was then quickly rectified.

Removing Students from Courses?
Talking of adding students to courses, we are often asked why Course Instructors can add but not remove them from their courses. The reason is that removing a student from a course also removes the students’ submitted work from that course and this is irreversible. Simply re-adding the student does not retrieve their work and so deleting a student in error could be potentially disastrous. To avoid this situation, the facility to remove students has been disabled to Course Instructors. Instead, they should either change the status of the student to 'Unavailable' or send a request to us to remove the student on their behalf - but only if it’s absolutely certain no work has been submitted or that any submitted work is no longer required. This situation also applies where Course Instructors have accidentally added other staff members as students rather than an intended teaching role.

Internet Explorer 11
If you use IE11 to access MOLE, you may have been experiencing problems just recently where a message appears on screen saying IE11 is no longer working and you come to a crashing halt.  This has been caused by a Microsoft update issued in the middle of February which MOLE doesn't seem to like.  Earlier versions of Internet Explorer are not affected. Blackboard are aware of this and are working on a fix but in the meantime it may be better to use a different web browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox when accessing MOLE.

Other known issues
MOLE Performance
Following some hardware changes, the problems we experienced for several weeks at the end of 2013 have so far not resurfaced on the same scale in 2014.  However we are not complacent and ask that if you do encounter any MOLE slowness, please let us know immediately and remember to tell us which MOLE server you are connected to (this is displayed on the top of every MOLE page)  as this will help us to identify the cause of the problem.  Contact us at

Friday, March 14, 2014

GALT: Collating Learning Materials with Google Forms for Student Self-Assessment Workshop

Exchange of Ideas (CC0 Public Domain image)

As mentioned in the initial post about GALT Sheffield, the afternoon was split into a set of parallel workshops. I attended the "Collating Learning Materials with Google Forms for Student Self-Assessment Workshop" facilitated by Mel Lindley from Sheffield Hallam University. This was a complete workshop, whereas some of the others were split down into mutli-workshops which involved a series of topics facilitated by different people.

Mel introduce the workshop by presenting some of her background and how her interest had developed in using technology enhanced learning within her own practice.

A module that she delivered was primarily based on workbooks produced in Microsoft Word. The topic covered cardio-respiratory physiotherapy. This was the area in which students received the least clinical experience. Focus groups were run to canvass student opinion. The results showed that students wanted learning materials that they could return to and they wanted it to be more visual.

Mel worked on the concept of producing content as videos rather than as a workbook. She applied the functionality of TED-Ed to enable this.


TED-Ed Website

Aside End]

TED-Ed videos were created using the help of enthusiastic student volunteers. So there was a mixture of videos, ones in which Mel herself appeared and ones with just students. And in order to pull all the content together, Mel used Google Sites to provide the structure.

At the end of the first year of running the module using this new format, an evaluation took place. The outcome was that students really like the approach. They were able to watch the material anywhere, for example during journey time when they were on clinical placement. Of the videos, the students tended to prefered the student based ones. So more of these were produced.

Mel published the materials so that it was openly viewable. This had a real benefit because within 24 hours of going live, a major multinational company was in contact wanting to collaborate.

Using Google Sites meant that it was easy to edit and change the information without technical support. It is great for collating resources and it delivers content in a mobile device friendly format, which is important for students on placement. The site was linked into the VLE, but students could also get to it without going via the VLE.

To give an idea of the time commitment involved, Mel produced 12 TED-Eds and two Google Sites in one long working day.

Students like to collaborate, and it is an important skill for them to develop. With the TED-Ed service only the person who is logged in is able to input and save answers, so that collaboration functionality isn’t really there yet. However, this is something that TED-Ed has been made aware of and they are looking to develop this functionality.

This work received a formal commendation from the national professional body for its content and delivery. Also, from an enhanced employability perspective, students were able to demonstrate their involvement in the production of learning materials.

Mel would like to develop the concept further to a point where students could edit content in a Google Site. Currently they just had collaboration options via Google Docs.

A separate area where Mel developed a similar approach was for a Distance Learning (DL) course. There were certain misconceptions about the course held by students in some other countries. Consequently, a Google Site was used to create a taster event.  Videos of patients were hosted on YouTube with appropriate consent forms saying that they would be publicly viewable. Students were required to fill in Google Docs to explain the gait of the patient subject on the video. This proved to very successful.

Perspectives on the Workshop

There was a range of abilities of participants within the workshop. Mel negotiated with the capacity audience to identify what people wanted covering within the session. There were several Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) staff in the workshop, so Mel said that it would be useful for people to jump in if they had extra knowledge to contribute. As a result people felt free to contribute and interact with the whole group and also help out the people sitting alongside with less Google Apps knowledge. It was a really nice atmosphere in the workshop and it showed the potential of such a shared institutional event.

Mel started out looking at creating a Google Doc, which some people in the workshop didn’t know how to do. She then went on to demonstrating how to create a Google Form. Emphasise was placed upon thinking about the purpose of the form before getting started creating. It can be important to think about even whether to ask for a Name in the form as this could lead to a reduced number of responses over an anonymous form. She ran through the process of creating a series of questions, explaining the different types and when you might use them. She explained how it was possible to set up a likert scale, using columns to make the scale and, therefore, not having to type in Strongly Agree, Agree, etc. every time. [Tip: Google Chrome auto spell-checks on form creation, other browsers might not.]

A limitation of the form is if you make an error and go in and change it then the question drops to the bottom. You can re-order the questions, but these won’t correspond to the order in the spreadsheet. To get around this you need to make a copy of the form and then create a new spreadsheet to realign everything.

There was a test form for the group to complete. And a set of graphs resulted from the inputs to shows the responses. The file can be downloaded as a spreadsheet with all the responses in.

Session time was getting on so we moved onto a demo of how to create a Google Sites. [Tip: Look at different templates and click the edit button to see how things are put together to give you some ideas.]

There was a lot of useful information exchanged, and good discussion and sharing took place throughout the workshop session. 

Mel suggested some really useful general advice during the session. Two which I felt to be good lines to take away were:

  • “Don’t take risks on your own; work with others within and external to the university.”
  • “Roll your sleeves up, have a play and get your hands dirty actually using the technology.”

Related GALT blogposts:

Google Apps for Learning and Teaching (GALT): Sheffield One Day Conference 
Google Apps for Learning and Teaching (GALT): Morning Session 2

GALT Website link

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