Last week I finally completed marking and grading the assessments from the previous semester courses that I manage. In total I read more that 1.2 million words across a range of assignments from level 4 (first year undergraduates) to level 7 (Masters students. This bi-annual assessment hell was this year eased slightly be the use of a new tool – Turnitin for iPad.
Marking and grading of student assignments and coursework may be seen as one of the necessary evils of teaching at all levels – not least in higher education institutions. Judging by the outpouring of despair that takes place on this subject on twitter at the traditional end of semester grading frenzy, many tutors find the bi-annual event stressful and difficult. There is nothing worse than being faced with a huge pile (real or virtual) of assessments to grade, all within a relatively short deadline driven by the need to provide timely feedback – a metric included in the National Student Survey (NSS) in the UK as an indicator of course quality and student satisfaction – and exam board dates. This year I have personally assessed close to 200 students across a wide range of levels and assessment types. I have marked fist year undergraduate essays, final year dissertations and a selection of Masters Thesis which in total adds up to more that 1.2 million words. And this year my workload is slightly reduced….
Now despite how it may sound, I am not complaining about this – it is a necessary and expected part of the job at the moment and I have to admit that it can be fantastic when you mark work from students who have clearly fully understood the point of the course and grasped all of the key concepts. It provides a feeling of pride and satisfaction. However it is a difficult job reading what is essentially the same assessment, 100 times over, from 100 different students.
This year I have a new tool in my bag of tricks which has made the job much simpler and enjoyable whilst ensuring students get the detailed formative feedback they require in order to continue to improve their understanding and academic work – Turnitin for iPad.
I am guessing that many who read this will be familiar with Turnitin, but for those who are not, the company provides a service for originality checking (anti-plagerism), online grading and peer review. According to the Turnitin website, the service is used by 10,000 institutions in 126 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of student papers online. Most educators I have spoken with view Turnitin simply as a plagiarism detection tool, and in the past that is how it has been applied in my institution, however for me the real power of Turnitin is in its use as an assessment management, marking and grading tool.
I have always preferred that my assessments be submitted online rather than as physical papers in the school office, and this is the method in which my institution, and I suspect many others are moving towards. I think that it is more convenient for the students who can submit their work from anywhere in the world (or in bed/student union) rather than queuing up outside the school office 5 minutes before closing. It is more convenient for me as I don’t have to wait for the work to be bundled up and signed in by the admin team before going and collecting it physically and trying to stuff it all into my bag for the long heavy cycle home (and lets face it, many of us grade papers at home – the only place we can guarantee some degree of undisturbed time). So I have been using the Turnitin service since I began my academic teaching career. The submissions would come in, and I would grade them on my computer. This works very well, however there was always one problem with this – I had to be sat at my computer. As anyone who reads and writes for a living (which is essentially what academics do) will tell you, it is not always comfortable, or healthy, to be sat reading a computer screen for hours on end. This is where the iPad comes in.
Turnitin for Ipad
Ever since I first got an iPad three years ago, my workflow has been revolutionised. I use the iPad like I would paper. I read and mark up academic papers on it. I read books on it (both academic and non-fiction). I use it to keep up to date with blog posts and news. I use it to take meeting notes. Now I use it to grade papers. The Turnitin iPad tool was realised towards the end of last year and is excellent. This fact in itself surprised me – the education technology industry is full of sub standard, poorly designed apps from some of the big players (see the Blackboard App for example). Turnitin seems to have got this app spot on though.
In order to use the free app your institution must be a Turnitin user (and it would seem that most are). Then it is as simple as downloading the free app and adding your courses to it. Once you have done this you have a page which shows the courses or modules you are grading through Turnitin.
Once you click on any of the courses you wish to assess, the app can download all of the submissions to your iPad so that you can work offline if need be. The app automatically syncs back to the server one you are online again. There you have it – several hundred student assessments in your hand. In case anyone is worried about the security of this, the app includes a passcode so only you can access the work. Next you can retire to the
bar coffee shop, library, office, bed, beach – wherever you wish to begin grading and feedback free from your desktop.
Grading and feedback works in exactly the same way as in the desktop version of the tool. You can comment on the paper itself, highlight passages of text – anything really – and best of all assign ‘Quickmarks’ to the paper. Quickmarks are pre-configured comments that are used over and over – the comments we find ourselves repeating on every paper. These can be edited and stored to develop a bespoke set of grading tools.
This works alongside the ‘General Comments’ page. Here you can write, or even record an audio narrative to sum up your impression of the paper. Here you add in the overall grade and assign positions on a pre-configured rubric if you so wish. Once grading is complete, you move to the next paper and your grades and comments are saved and synced.
Of course, Turnitn is also an anti-plagerism tool and the app includes the same level of information as you receive on the desktop versions. You can check originality, investigate any potential issues and identify the original sources.
The bottom line
In use I have found the app to be flawless. It is fast, stable and user-friendly. It has sped up the process of grading and providing feedback to students enormously, and (almost) made the process fun again. The result was that I perhaps provided an increased amount of feedback to students and the process was so much easier that physically writing out every statement and marking up every paper by hand. Feedback from students has been very good. They found the level of feedback that I gave to be useful, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they engaged with the feedback to a higher degree than when it was proved in written format.
I encourage those who have not tried Turnitin to give it a go if it is available to you, and for those who also own an iPad, download the app and let me know what you think.