Teaching & Learning

Improving Student Writing: Feedback, Peer Review & Proper Citation

Students taking computerized exam, CC BY-SA 2.0 Michael Surran

Improving Student Writing at MSU

Writing is a craft that takes years of practice and refinement to develop competence and master. Some instructors at MSU teach writing and composition itself, while others use writing to develop and assess other skills and concepts. To better respond to the needs of instructors, and to provide a rich web-based medium for student-to-student and instructor-to-student feedback, Michigan State University has adopted two powerful tools: Turnitin and Eli.

Selected and employed properly, these tools may help promote better student writing practices and feedback on performance in many forms of writing. By utilizing the Turnitin and Eli platforms, students are being taught to problem solve, collaborate, review peer writing and think more deeply about the formative process of writing.

Neither program is a quick fix or fully automated solution to feedback, but instead these programs are designed to offer flexible platforms to assist instructors in making clear writing goals, aid students in creating writing strategies for improvement and give students the tools to learn to recognize quality writing before final submission.

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Background

The University purchased a three-year license on a trial basis (beginning in Fall 2012) for Turnitin, a cloud-based learning environment for development and assessment of writing skills featuring five components:

  • Originality Check (an aide that can be used most effectively to assist students in deepening their understanding of how and when to appropriately attribute work to others)
  • GradeMark (web-based review and markup of documents and rubrics)
  • PeerMark (peer-review via web-based reader)
  • ETS E-Rater (computer assisted assessment of written work)
  • iThenticate (originality checking for scholarly publications)

The primary use of any plagiarism prevention software ought to be educational. Anti-plagiarism technology can not prove plagiarism or acquit an author suspected of plagiarizing. Only the individual assessment of the instructor can make such a judgment.

Use of the tools provided by Turnitin, in addition to the originality reports, may enable rich and rapid feedback to student authors. To preserve legal precautions the university has taken to protect student’s educational privacy and our fair-use of student’s work product, instructors should abide by the best-practice guidelines outlined by the university.

Eli meanwhile has steadily grown in popularity with writing instructors, and pilot activities at MSU have gradually expanded. Instructors providing multiple formative assignments or relying extensively on peer-review may prefer Eli to the toolset provided by Turnitin. For now, instructors adopting this cloud-based tool must pass the cost along to students, who sign up directly with Eli. Instructors should take care to assign an additional required textbook/materials, and make this fact known through MSU’s procedures for disclosing assigned texts and materials in advance of enrollment.

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Platforms for Formative Feedback

Turnitin 

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Why use it?

Turnitin is a helpful tool for instructors to see what kind of resources students are using in their writing. It can help reveal where the content is coming from so that the student and the instructor can assess if it is properly cited. While the program will not be able to highlight if something is properly cited, it will highlight all matched source material for a quick visual overview.

Instructors are able to get a quick look at the submitted material for how much of the information comes from source material. This allows instructors and students to more efficiently evaluate the extent of source material being used in a draft by highlighting the content instead of having to manually hunt for each item through the paper.

Turnitin is also a platform designed for giving feedback on writing from the instructor and from peers. Criteria and outcomes can be compared with the writing itself so that the student can elaborate, revise and enhance the writing as needed or to get reinforcement on aspects of the writing they are unsure of.

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What is it not good for?

Although this is dubbed a plagiarism detector, Turnitin does not discern properly cited material. Just because there is a high report number of unoriginal content does not necessarily mean that plagiarism has occurred.

When looking at the originality report the colors act as a guide. For example, a research paper that requires outside sources should expect a report ranging green to orange to yellow. A report that had blue could mean that not enough sources were used. Red could indicate that too many source materials were used. The interpretation of these color codes should shift depending on the expected originality of the work in question, with variation across different forms of written expression. Compare for instance expository or creative writing with mostly unique passages with a persuasive or scientific essay which may build extensively on the ideas and words of prior authors and publications.

Nonetheless, these colors provide a visual for instructors and students to get a quick source material overview. It allows both students and instructors to keep track of source material used and allows for easier identification in the paper so that they may check to the author has properly cited prior work.

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What are benefits?

Turnitin is a great tool because it allows instructors to look at trends amongst their students and address citation needs. It also tends to be a good deterrent for those few students who might copy and paste a lot.

Turnitin also allows for a quick visual guide for improper citations by too heavily relying on them or unattributed copy and paste source material. This helps both students and instructors to gauge content without having to focusing on whether or not source material is used. It helps create teachable moments for instructors: the use of source material, how much to use, when to use it and best practices in drawing from experts in a designated field of study.

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What are good types of assignments to use with this tool?

Turnitin is best used for written assignments in any discipline that requires the use of resources.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to ELI?

These are two very different programs with discrete criteria being emphasized. Eli is a peer-based review platform that allows students and instructors to give feedback based on a set of criteria to pieces of writing. Turnitin has similar functionality, but also has the originality report feature for more easily identifying source material. You can see a full list of functions and resources for each listed below.

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How to decide

Eli

Turnitin

Collaboratively review “chunks” of student writing for content and quality improvement.

Check a whole written assignment as it relates to citation, originality, and proper attribution.

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How does one best manage this product to not get overwhelmed?

Remember, this is a tool. The numbers of highlighted source materials are not absolute, so they can’t be relied upon as a final evaluation of the work. The numbers are just a guide. Too low or too high of number generally mean that sources are not being used correctly. A mid-range of numbers should be expected for any paper that requires outside sources. Use the numbers, the source listing and remember that students are still learning how to properly cite. If there is a high trend of incorrect citation, this is a good time to review in class how to properly cite the work.

The tool will take some getting used to and has many capabilities. Support is available for troubleshooting, questions that arise or consolation on best practices.

This tool was not entirely meant to be a policing tool to hunt down and catch cheaters. Instead, consider using this system more as a guide to help encourage students to review their work for validity. Instructors can use the tool as a quick guide to make sure citations are being properly recorded.

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Retention of Student Papers

Please note, based on MSU’s configuration of Turnitin, instructors have a choice about retention of student papers in the Turnitin database. Papers retained in Turnitin’s database will be used in future comparisons of submitted work, and may appear as references in future originality reports. Instructors can choose from three possible settings for each assignment:

  • Standard Repository (Global) for all future comparisons by users of Turnitin at any institution
  • Institutional Repository (Local) only accessible to future MSU comparisons and originality reports
  • No Retention A comparison between the student’s paper and both the global and MSU databases generate the originality report, then the paper is disposed of, and not retained for future comparisons. Using this option, future submissions of identical papers will go undetected.
  • Student Chooses Presents the above three choices to each student when they submit the assignment

With all submissions a comparison is made between the student’s paper and both the global and MSU databases to generate the originality report. This means that if a student submits material from a paper that was already submitted earlier by the same or a different student, the material will be identified as already submitted. Instructors may want to choose the option to not submit for retention when multiple drafts of the paper are submitted for assessment or review during the term. This will allow for review and changes to be made to the final product before being added to the larger repositories.

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How to Opt-In to use Turnitin

MSU has obtained a site-license for Turnitin for all instructors. Instructors wishing to use Turnitin can activate the service by following these instructions for D2L or these for Angel.

Sponsors of the site-license wish to encourage effective use, balancing formative feedback to students with academic integrity concerns. When an instructor chooses to opt-in to use Turnitin, they will be asked to confirm their understanding of five basic principles of use expected of MSU instructors.

I will use Turnitin as part of a balanced approach to encourage academic integrity and foster student success

  • by providing clear instructions and guidance for assignments
  • encouraging students to manage time and make progress prior to deadlines for submission of graded assignments
  • making other resources known to students (e.g. writing center)
  • applied as a deterrent, not as a “caught you” enforcement tool

I will openly disclose use of Turnitin in this course on the syllabus and at the time assignments are announced

  • including clarifying the choices I’ve made about retention of student work (Global, Local, or No-Retention)

For a given assignment, I will use Turnitin for all papers

  • I will not submit papers arbitrarily to Turnitin, such as by only reviewing originality reports for papers deemed “suspicious”
  • I will consider exceptions for specific students, who may object to the retention of their work by Turnitin, working with the University Ombudsman to resolve any conflict

I will make the final determination of originality and integrity

  • The originality reports, and the machine judgement that generates them, provide a set of useful resources for comparison. However, there is no substitute for human judgement and assessment prior to generating feedback for students or making a determination about honesty and integrity.

To ensure privacy, I will ask students to remove identification (e.g. names & student numbers) from submissions

  • Turnitin will automatically add student’s names to assignments when instructors are viewing, downloading or printing
  • Removing the identifying information from the document allows it to be preserved in the repository without affecting the student’s educational privacy

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Turnitin Syllabus Statement

The following statement must appear on a course syllabus or assignment instructions if Turnitin is used in the course. This paragraph may supplement existing statements about academic integrity included on the syllabus. Please consider highlighting this statement with your students when clarifying expectations for assignments using Turnitin.

Consistent with MSU’s efforts to enhance student learning, foster honesty, and maintain integrity in our academic processes, instructors may use a tool called Turnitin to compare a student’s work with multiple sources. The tool compares each student’s work with an extensive database of prior publications and papers, providing links to possible matches and a ‘similarity score’. The tool does not determine whether plagiarism has occurred or not. Instead, the instructor must make a complete assessment and judge the originality of the student’s work. All submissions to this course may be checked using this tool.

Students should submit papers to Turnitin Dropboxes without identifying information included in the paper (e.g. name or student number), the system will automatically show this info to faculty in your course when viewing the submission, but the information will not be retained by Turnitin.

[Optional statements: “Student submissions will be retained in the global Turnitin repository” or “Student submissions will be retained only in the MSU repository hosted by Turnitin” or “Student submissions will not be retained beyond the initial comparison”.]

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Other Relevant Policies

Turnitin Documentation & Online Training

  1. Turnitin Suite for Educators
  2. OriginalityCheck
    1. Viewing Originality Reports
  3. GradeMark
  4. PeerMark
    1. Creating a PeerMark Assignment
    2. Writing a Review of a Student Paper
    3. Reading Peer Reviews
  5. Using Dropbox with Turnitin in D2L
  6. Using the ANGEL integration
    1. Training Videos
      1. Creating an Assignment(03:52)
      2. Accessing the Inbox (00:52)
      3. Submitting a Paper (03:08)
  7. Course Management:
    1. Instructor Dashboard and Class Activity Stream
    2. Tracking Grades in the Grade Book
    3. Get Organized with the Class Calendar
    4. Engage Students with Discussion Boards
    5. Managing Instructor Libraries
    6. Managing Multiple Class Sections
    7. Spot Check Essays with Quick Submit
    8. Setting Preferences for Users and Classes
    9. Using Statistics to Track Performance

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ELI

Eli is a peer-review and web-based platform for improving student writing.

What are the Benefits of ELI?

  • collaboration
  • skill training
  • conversations between users
  • freedom to create
  • revision strategies

Why use it?

People learn best in a social context with thoughtful feedback provided and negotiated. It is hard to see one’s own errors when conceptualizing ideas in the context of another’s perspective unless good interaction takes place. Reviewing others work is a universal and time-tested way to train our brains to identify gaps and continually improve.

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What is it not good for?

Eli is not a plagiarism detector. This program is best used as a space for reviewing drafts, creating revision criteria and communicating best practices in revising.

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Samples of Review Response Criteria

Sample #1

The following is based on a writing assignment where the review was based on a counter argument paragraph in an essay. The paragraph was between 6 - 8 sentences long and the assignment was slotted for 20 minutes of class time.

Contextual Comments: Students give inline comments about the coherency of the paragraphs, the word choices and whether or not key topics were fully explained.

  • Trait Identification: Here the students identified whether the fullow traits were met in the paragraph
  • Trait Identification: Set clear and concise key topic statements
  • Trait Identification: Organization of proof materials and counter materials
  • Trait Identification: Proper use of in-text citations - APA format
  • Trait Identification: Clearly show how the refute interacts with the thesis statement.
  • Trait Identification: Length 6 - 8 sentences
  • Trait Identification: Proper word choices and definitions for new terms

Rating Scales: Students use a star rating scale for quick peer feedback. These were used to show what was done well. The 5 star rating was used (it ranges between 4 - 20 stars).

  • Rating Scale: Transition Statements
  • Rating Scale: Overall coherency
  • Rating Scale: APA format
  • Rating Scale: Clear Mechanics (in this case meaning no editing errors)

Final Comments: This area is for a final comprehensive comment about the entire work that was read and reviewed. A lot of times, it is suggested that students not only give feedback but they also should think about posting reader based questions for clarification for the author, to indicate where items need further explanation and definition.

Sample #2

This was based on a weekly report for an Engineering student. The reports then needed to be compiled for an annual review.

Contextual Comments: this area is used for inline feedback anchored to specific sentences in the report.

Trait Identification: Here the students identified whether the follow traits were met in the report.

  • Trait Identification: Concise summary of weekly activities
  • Trait Identification: Annotated list of sources reviewed.
  • Trait Identification: Proper use of in-text citations - APA format
  • Trait Identification: Is it clear if weekly goals have been met?

Rating Scales: Students use a likert scale for quick peer feedback. These were used to show how effective the language and organization of the report was. They ranged from unsatisfactory to satisfactory

  • Rating Scale: Appropriate language used (in this case key terms for the Engineering discipline)
  • Rating Scale: Overall coherence and usability of the report
  • Rating Scale: APA format
  • Rating Scale: Clear Mechanics (in this case meaning no editing errors)

What are good types of assignments to use with this tool?

Any written assignment could be continually improved within Eli.

What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to Turnitin?

Eli is better used as a small-step program by checking pieces of the work for content and quality. Turnitin is better used for a whole written assignment, but can also be used collaboratively to help students create a higher quality paper. One of the best advantages is that Eli is a social and collaborative program geared exclusively for improving writing.

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How to decide

Eli

Turnitin

Collaboratively review “chunks” of student writing for content and quality improvement.

Check a whole written assignment as it relates to citation, originality, and proper attribution.

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How does one best manage this product to not get overwhelmed?

Play with it! Join one of the training sessions! Practice with it and start to think of how your assignments are designed. Consider setting aside a few times to explore this platform. Thirty minutes for a few days a week will give you a better feel for what the program can and cannot do.

Some great places to start are:

  1. Create an Assignment: This will allow you to think about what the assignment can help the student learn. Remember these do not have to be huge steps or assignments. Work with the learning goals you would like to see created. For example, an assignment could be to have students upload a thesis statement. The learning goal could question if the thesis clearly shows the students topic and position on the topic.
  2. Create a Review: This will help you to formulate the critical thinking skill set steps you will want your students to observe. Using a thesis as an example; you may want the students to focus on word choice, length of thesis, active vs. passive voice. Choose which rating system would work best for your assignment.

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Eli Resources

Eli has a very comprehensive guide to help you set up your first course.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Eli doesn't have to be used for only big assignments.

Many writing instructors have found using Eli for small assignments - such as a thesis statement review or an annotated bibliography review - works better than a whole paper review. This is because, smaller assignments make it easier to focus on one specific set of criteria and smaller goals, rather than to fix the whole paper. Students stay more engaged with the small task and can move forward in an assignment when the core elements are properly set up.

  • Another thing to consider is that Eli is an online platform.

Students do not have to be in class to use the program. This allows for the freedom to assign reviews any time. Eli has a feature to accept or decline late work, so students are responsible for the online homework just as much as in class homework.

  • Things Coming to Eli Soon:

Check out all of the upgrades made to Eli this summer to make your experience much easier and better for use.

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