Tag Archives: TurnItIn

Essay mills turning out high-quality essays undetected

Know your students & their writing styles

I’m not usually one to moan or highlight something that annoys me, but when I read this article this morning I had that sinking feeling and face-palm moment!

What this article totally missed, and what I’ve been saying to academics (and anyone who’ll listen) is that these online plagiarism detection systems are only as good as the people looking at the results.

The TurnItIn ‘score’ is no measure of originality, despite being called an ‘originality report’. It is a measure of what percentage of the submitted text is matched against known sources (student papers, journals, books, Internet sources, etc.). So, a paper that gets a 50% score means that 50% of the text has been used or can be found in other submitted papers to the system. It is not saying 50% is copied/plagiarised from other sources. These matches could be down to poorly referenced work, badly quoted and or badly cited work, and even popular quotes. The 50% is only an indication to the academic that further investigation is required, that they need to

This annoyed me most:

“It is clear that this type of cheating is virtually undetectable by academics when students take precautions against being caught,”

If you rely solely on something like TurnItIn then yes, I agree, it is virtually impossible to detect cheating. But these submitted papers by the student should never be viewed in isolation – the academic(s) should have other opportunities for the students to submitted written assessment, along with email evidence and even forum/online comments, so the writing style of the student can be seen. Then, when the online paper comes in the academic can see quite easily that the style, language, grammar, punctuation, etc. is different, sometimes wildly so. From here the different pieces of work can be compared and an informed opinion can be made.

“But [Dr Lisa Lines] argues that much more radical steps will be needed to combat the use of essay mills, including greater use of exams and requiring students to give oral presentations on the topic of completed essays.”

Again, no. You don’t need to add more exams or more ‘radical steps’, you just need to be more prepared to get to get to know your students, their writing styles, their use of grammar and language. I’m sure, once you know this, it’ll be far easier to spot work that is out of the ordinary, for that student, even without the reliance on TurnItIn.

TurnItIn and other systems like this are to be used as part of a wider assessment strategy. The main focus of that strategy though should be the relationship between academic/teacher and student.

The scary part of this reliance on TurnItIn [other plagiarism detection tools are available] is this – I worked with one academic (a few years ago now) who actually based the student’s grade on the TurnItIn score. Yes! They even admitted they didn’t even look at the details or report or the paper itself. Anything with 50% matched or over got 50% grade or less (but never a fail). Anything between 20-50% match got a 50-60% score, and anything less than 20% of text matched got a better/higher score over 60%.

One another related topic, this article on the Guardian website – An essay I bought online was so bad I want a refund – but the firm won’t pay up – was also worrying. But at least the piece did answer the bigger picture here. It’s not about the ethics of a refund for the paper, it’s about the integrity of the student in trying to subvert the system. And from a law student too?!

“The use of these types of websites not only raises serious questions about whether an individual is meeting the standards required, but also whether somebody has the right character to enter a profession where honesty and integrity is crucial.”

Image source: Dom Pates (CC BY 2.0)

Turnitin iPad App

Turnitin & GradeMark App

Turnitin iPad AppTurnitin (iPad): Many have asked about an iPad App for Turnitin, and we have waited a while for it. But now it’s here, let’s see if it’s any good!

“Everything you love about grading with Turnitin® is now available on iPad, allowing educators to Grade Anywhere™. Teachers using Turnitin’s grading tools save time grading student papers while offering more meaningful feedback and ensuring their originality.”

Turnitin (free): https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/turnitin/id657602524

The App offers the same functionality we use and enjoy through a browser but in an App-environment. It does take a while to get used to, especially the subtlety when including and adding QuickMarks or comments to the text.

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Sources in Student Writing

Sources in Student Writing

Turnitin have produced two infographics on the sources in student writing:

“Turnitin’s annual study examines the sources students use in their written work and the implications of their choices. This study was conducted for both Higher Ed and Secondary Education.”

The below is an extract from the Higher Education Infographic – those of you interested in Secondary Education can click the link to view that version.

Click the link below to view the full graphic, but I’ve highlighted some key points from it:

Sources in Student Writing
Sources in Student Writing Infographic

Turnitin and GradeMark Support Materials

Attendees at workshops can often find it difficult to know what information to take away with them. I have often found that the notes I make in these situations are inadequate to help me remember content as I tend to spent my time listening and working through the set examples or scenarios as opposed to making notes.

This is why I developed a series of postcards and videos to support the recent (and ongoing) workshops for College of Social Science on aspects of online marking and feedback using Turnitin and GradeMark. Intended to be used as a take-away resource to help remind the academic or administrative staff member of the workshop topic, if not the content. The postcards have been well received and provided the spark I hoped for for further discussion and individual specific training needs.

Case study postcards

The postcards were designed for full-colour double-sided printing: helpful tool-based hints on one side and a case study on the reverse, from someone in the College who is leading the utilisation of the features of Turnitin and GradeMark. The QR Codes (and short URL) proved a useful way to link to the supporting video to be watched at the users convenience, which are enough to be watched as stand-alone resources without either the postcard or workshop attendance.

So far the feedback from colleagues and delegates are the postcards are an excellent idea, well presented, and a welcome ‘reminder’ to take away and file (desktop, pin board, bin, etc).

YouTube: Heidi Botting, Department of Politics & International Relations

YouTube: Dr Matthew Higgins, School of Management

The QR Codes on the postcards were produced using Delivr, each postcard had it’s own unique code linking to the appropriate YouTube video (above), with associated tracking and statistics (see here for more). Important is also the URL beneath the QR Code that enables anyone who doesn not scan the code (or can’t) to type the address into their browser and still view the linked material!

I’ve also developed the postcards to have an ‘Aura’ using Aurasma, but I’ll write about that later.

Update: Turnitin have just released this video “Why Instructors Love GradeMark“:

Freshers 2012

Freshers: 1992 vs 2012

Freshers 2012

OK, so I’ll own up … in 1992 I became a fresher at Kingston University, which is why, after walking around campus this week, ‘freshers week’ at the University of Leicester, I feel compelled to write this.

I know this will sound like I’m an old fart (which I probably am now), but in ‘my day’ my parents left me at the hall of residence, and that was me for the next 2 or 3 months, on my own with hardly any contact with friends or family, left with 10 other complete strangers  in my hall ‘house’ who would grow become a second family. We were all in the same boat. We were all away from home for the first time, all 18/19 years old, and all feeling slightly nervous about these strangers we had to get on and live with. There was a public phone I could use to call friends and family but it was expensive and I couldn’t be bothered to queue for it. And anyway, who would I call – we didn’t find out about the number until we turned up? My old school friends were in the same boat, at their own university, with an equally busy and expensive public phone … and I wasn’t about to call home. I had no choice but to find out who I was living with, I had no choice but to engage and socialise and to make friends. I had no choice but to suck it up and get on with it – no moaning to old school friends about this or that: my new support network was there and I had to find out the hard way who I could trust, or not as it turned out.

I don’t think students are having, or about to have, the ‘university experience’ they think, and it’s certainly not the experience I had. Here’s why.

  • 1992 – my hall of residence housed about 500+students in some 50 ‘houses’, and had less than 50 parking spaces – which were for the most part empty, as students didn’t have or need cars, or afford them either. And those that did have a car had a beat-up old Renault 5 or Ford Fiesta or Mini that their mum let them have.
  • 2012 – so many students have cars, and nearly all I saw today (and in previous years) are no older than 3 or 4 years old, and look like a branch of Halfords loaded in the boot. There is clearly more money in the students pocket (or their parents pockets). The number driving fairly upmarket executive cars is also very high, as it was when I looked around the car park at Bournemouth University over previous years.


  • 1992 – I took a shoe box with 25 or so cassettes and a cassette stereo with me to Uni in my first year, that’s all I had room for in the car along with everything else I had to take. I had to leave my record player and 400+ vinyl albums behind, I just didn’t know what it was going to be like enough to take them. The next year I’d saved and got a portable CD stereo (still quite new even then) so had the same shoebox but stuffed full of CDs, which was still only about 30. I had to be very selective about what music to take for the term, and it was a careful choice that changed often in the weeks and days leading up to leaving home.
  • 2012 – with iPod and iPhone, and probably iPad too (or Blackberry’s, or Android, or cloud storage), in their pockets they’re taking hundreds of albums and thousands of MP3s. It’s too easy. Where are the ‘mix tapes’ and the careful soul searching about which tunes will be good for the next few months? It’s not all about playlists you know!


  • 1992 – even when we tried to be smart, we were still quite scruffy. It wasn’t just about fashion, it was more about money to live vs money to dress well with, and we preferred to eat. In fact one house mate in my first year survived off spaghetti rings and sausages he got on offer from Iceland for the whole of his first term while he waited for cheques to clear (cheques .. .remember them?)
  • 2012 – when the new students are smart, they are very smart with heavily branded (and expensive) clothes and, when they’re scruffy they are very scruffy. But this year the students are, at the moment, extremely well dressed – all no doubt showing off in the first week. Let’s see what it’s like by next May?


  • 1992 – Our assignments were based around what was in the the course materials that we had to buy (yes, buy!) from the office, or in the library; books, journals, and some old newspapers. It was relatively easier for my tutors to know the sources we’d use in their assignments, or at least recognise an un-quoted piece. We had no access to other students at other Universities and what they’d been writing.
  • 2012 – With the Internet in their back pockets its harder for the University to know what is or isn’t copied, or indeed what is in the library and what isn’t. Is this why we are becoming so reliant on tools like Turnitin, or is  that the tutors don’t know their subject as well as they used to?


  • 1992 – there was nothing mobile – phones, computing, etc. I knew only one person with a personal computer (PC) and that was the size of his suitcase and had basic word processor and spreadsheet capabilities, and that was it. In my final year I rented a PC for £25 a month, and it was old and slow even by the standards at that time (remember Radio Rentals). There was barely something you’d recognise as the Internet – I had an email but it was internal to the university only. It wasn’t until my final year in 1996 that I could find work related to my course (Geology) and even then it was extremely limited to the larger US universities who had websites not only for brand but also for research activities.
  • 2012 – everything is mobile, everything is in their pockets, everything is available. While this is good, it’s very good, but it makes it easy to escape from the experience of engaging with new people and places. With Facebook and Twitter and IM and other online tools it’s easy for new students to forget it’s all new and just continue their old lives at a distance, while not putting as much effort in to their new environment and people.

While some aspects (mobile phones, cars, Intenet, opportunities, etc) I wish I’d had 20 years ago, I think I had a better experience at becoming self-sufficient and learning about life.

This is why students are getting, for me, a diluted university experience: they never really shake off their bounds to home and friends enough to explore their new environment, new people, new scenes, new everything. It’s too easy when it gets tough or lonely to snap back to their old life and ‘not try’. I’m not saying this isn’t needed, clearly some need this safety net for a good many reasons, but there are some who just need to try harder where they are now and get on with it. How are they going to graduate as mature capable adults if it’s been easy to avoid conflict or hard decisions?

Come on, one and all … what are your observations about freshers when you were one and the current cream of the crop? Have you noticed the changes and how do you think they impact on the ‘university experience’ – good or bad? You notice I haven’t mentioned the tuition fess .. oh damn, I just did!

Image Source

Top 5 Turnitin Features #eAssessment

Turnitin Comment
What are the ‘top 5’ features or functions of Turnitin? Do you agree with this list produced by the Learning Technologies blog? I have added my own little extra after a choice quote from the post, to highlight why I agree (or disagree) with it:

  1. Audio feedback – “This cheeky little addition to GradeMark has given us the ability to add up to 3 minutes … to assignment submissions in GradeMark, which students can then access via the GradeMark report.” What this gives us is the ability to record (and provided in written format as well – let’s keep thinking about accessibility here!) a three minute overview to the submitted assignment as a whole, whilst giving instructions to the student that they ought to re-read their assignment in connection with the overview and more detailed comments contained in the GradeMark report.
  2. Quickmark & general comments – “Turnitin has a standard set of QuickMarks in GradeMark that include: Awk(awkward), C/S(Comma splice), Citation (improper and needed) and P/V (Passive voice). There is also a ‘comment’ QuickMark which allows you to type in your own free text comment. All of these QuickMarks can be drag and dropped onto the student submission.” Not easy to try this out unless you have live submissions to play with but worth the effort it takes to create your own set of ‘common’ comments – create them and leave them open to change once placed in the students’ work so you can personalise with their name.
  3. PeerMark – “When you set up the Peermark assignment you decide what criteria students will use to perform their evaluation. The criteria can be created in the form of free response questions, Likert scales (1-5), or questions from libraries already in PeerMark (you can also create your own).” I have not heard of anyone using this and I think it is an overlooked part of the Turnitin package – enabling students to take a
  4. Rubrics – “Both Percentage and Custom Rubrics are interactive. This means that when you come to mark a piece of work in GradeMark your Rubric can be used to calculate and input the resulting grade.” Not something I have much experience of at the moment but everyone I speak to is really keen on using it so I know this will change.
  5. Blackboard (VLE) integration – “Grades posted in GradeMark will feed through to the Grade Centre automatically  in Blackboard.” There are many benefits to having Turnitin talk to your VLE and/or student management system but one of the more noticeable is the ability to have marks transferred quickly and automatically as well as links to the Originality Report and GradeMark comments. Comments I have heard so far name this as one of the biggest reasons students like Turnitin and GradeMark.

What would I have added to the list? I would have added the Originality Report (OR) – it’s still of huge use and beneficial when reading the students’ work (best looked at after you’ve read the work on it’s own first). If you decide to let the students see their own OR then be sure to provide adequate (and detailed) instructions on how they should read them – it’s not only about the percentage match but what each match is, why it’s been matched, and what the student can do to improve their work to (legitimately) reduce the matched ‘score’. Remember, help the students to help themselves.

Formative or Summative Assessment – what’s the difference?

These definitiona were originally posted on the CME.edu website – I’ve reproduced it here for all those (like me) who need to keep looking back on things to check they’re doing it right, or advising the right approach for the Intended Learning Outcome (ILO). I found it when searching for some Turnitin resources, and have found it useful in relation to on-going discussions with colleagues about assessment strategies.

Formative Assessment – The goal of Formative Assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback [feed-forward?] that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

Summative Assessment – The goal of Summative Assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a paper
  • a senior recital

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent courses.

Other resources worthy of your attention are:

What are your preferred or tried-and tested methods of assessment, and for what purpose (learning outcome)?

Colored Highlights in Turnitin / GradeMark #edtech

Newly updated feature of GradeMark is the ability to set a colour for your highlight/comments:

YouTube: Turnitin: Colored Highlights in GradeMark

Just having the ability to use a different colour is not important. What will be important is that you use this consistently across all your student feedback. Choose a colour for a certain type of comment (language, grammar, composition, etc) and make sure you use it for only that – if in doubt, write it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor to remind you. Turnitin says that:

“One great way to use these various highlights is to colour-code your feedback – for example, blue may be constructive feedback, green can be positive reinforcement, yellow can be be comments on composition, pink may be comments on format, and purple can be comments on grammar.”

Is this going to make a difference in how you use GradeMark? Are you already using the coloured highlight option, and if so what is your impression of it: has it made a positive/negative difference on how you comment and feedback to the student? All comments welcome.


Turnitin: 10 types of unoriginal work

Turnitin: 10 types of unoriginal work #turnitin #edtech

How about this infographic from Turnitin to start the week? From a survey of nearly 900 educators (Plagiarism Today) Turnitin are trying to “understand what kinds of plagiarism were the most common in academia and, equally importantly, which were viewed as being the most problematic”.

The results showed, once classified, that the type of plagiarism can be identified as one of the following:

  1. Clone: Verbatim copying without additions/subtractions.
  2. CTRL+C: Largely verbatim copying from a single source with minor changes.
  3. Find-Replace: Verbatim copying with key words/phrases changed, often automatically.
  4. Remix: Paraphrasing content so that it flows seamlessly with other work.
  5. Recycle: Plagiarizing from older works of your own (self plagiarism).
  6. Hybrid: Combining correctly cited material with non-cited material in the same passage.
  7. Mashup: A mix of copied and original content from various sources without attribution.
  8. 404 Error: Including citations that do not exist or are inaccurate.
  9. Aggregator: Properly cited material that contains little original content.
  10. Re-Tweet: Includes proper citation but uses too much of the original wording, content that should have been quoted but was paraphrased.

[Click to enlarge]

The interesting points for me are the frequency results, with the ‘clone’ (direct copy, word for word) and the ‘mashup’ (mixed copies, multiple sources) coming out as the most frequent offences, whilst the clone and Ctrl-C (which are basically the same?) as the most problematic or cause the most concern – but the ‘re-tweet’ and ‘remix’ as the least problematic.

The article linked to above (click the image) has a good summary of the categories as well as the full infographic. The survey also concludes with the advice that students should be included and encouraged to review their Institution’s plagiarism policy, with the following recommendations;

  • Inform: “Share the plagiarism spectrum with the students and use it as a guide to inform them of the ways in which plagiarism can take form.”
  • Intent: “The plagiarism spectrum emphasises the range of intent behind the student plagiarism. use the spectrum to guide decisions about appropriate responses to plagiarism.”
  • Originality Checking: “Give students access to their Originality Reports so that they can see how they may have inappropriately used or referenced source material.”
Turnitin Infographic

Plagiarism: Web sources for unoriginal content

If you’re interested in Turnitin and it’s use with student learning them the facts and figures in this infographic produced by Turnitin might interest you.

While the figures cover the US side of Turnitin submissions only (between June 2010 and June 2011), you can get a lot from this:

  • 128m matches were found from 25m submissions,
  • 20% of matches  in Higher Education uses came from ‘cheat sites’ (compared to only 14% for Secondary Education),
  • 26% of matches in HE uses came from social or shared content (compared to much higher 31% in SE),
  • Slideshare is a popular source for students to cut-and-paste work from, un-referenced, but not as popular as Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers.

Click to view full Infographic