The role of Turnitin within the formative process of academic writing: a tool for learning and unlearning?

  • The role of Turnitin within the formative process of academic writing: a tool for learning and unlearning?

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    Mary Davis, ICELS

    (Research undertaken for ASKe on Turnitin)

    The topic of the paper

    This study comes from an attempt to respond to the Brookes student feedback surveys on the Extended Writing Project module of the pre-Master’s diploma for international students.

    Why it is of concern

    The module is considered the most important of the course because it has the longest assignment (a 3,000 word mini-dissertation) which both motivates and challenges students, particularly since they are required to assimilate UK academic conventions and “unlearn” old ones. In 2005, at the end of the module, students stated that if they took the module again, they would want to try to improve their writing more between drafts and learn more about using sources.

    What was done (methods)

    The experiential use of Turnitin was proposed for the 2006 run of the same module, principally to assist tutors in plagiarism detection with assessment, but the innovative approach of using it with first drafts, before assessment, offered potentially a greater benefit for learning about the effective use of sources and the opportunity to improve drafts as students requested.

    Student work was uploaded to Turnitin, then the originality reports generated were discussed as part of tutorial feedback with the first draft. This enabled students to examine the visual evidence on the computer screen of their own use of other authors’ words, and be given tutor guidance before assessment, which they could then use during redrafting.

    What are the main outcomes

    This was viewed favourably in the modular feedback; students were especially content with the individual support and found the process of examining their use of sources with Turnitin directly relevant to their future study. The positive results encouraged a more integrated use of Turnitin as a tool for developing academic literacy on the module in 2007. A checklist was established covering desired areas of improvement to be observed, such as: correct in-text citation, effective paraphrasing, avoidance of patch writing etc; these points were discussed in the tutorial session and improvements in final drafts noted. Further evaluation was gathered in the form of a student questionnaire and focus group on Turnitin, to be used for the following year.