Tantalising Turnitin toolset for assessment

As is usual at this time of year I’m ‘spring cleaning’ and ‘renovating’ the course(s) that I will be teaching in Semester 1 (begins 2 March). I’ve been working on the assessment for EDP4130 and hope to say more about that soon but, in the process, I was thinking about submission, marking, and managing results using our new systems. That’s my subject here.

For the past several years most of the work I have had submitted for marking has come in the form of Word files submitted through EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment). When EASE was introduced in 2008 for use in conjunction with our LMS (Moodle) it was an advance on the previous arrangements using WebCT Vista or Moodle. EASE provided for allocation of items to markers (originally manual by selection from a list) and for bulk download of submissions in a zip archive that expanded to a set of folders, one per submission. It lacked any automated way of allocating to markers and had no facility for bulk uploading of marked work with marks and feedback. With a bit of AppleScript and JavaScript in combination I was able to build a method for allocating items to markers according to a list in a spreadsheet and to automatically upload marked work from a suitably configured folder. The latter is something I would not give up lightly if the alternative is uploading marks and feedback individually for up to 100 or more students at a time.

In the interests of giving students a more consistent experience EASE is to be abandoned and replaced with the Moodle assignment system which has been modified at USQ to replicate the most valued features of EASE. My problem is that I’m not sure that I can easily, or at all, build a comparable system for bulk upload of marks and feedback. Exploring that possibility or finding an alternative was high on my list of things to do.

We have had an institutional subscription to Turnitin for several years. Initially one section had signed up with direct access for staff and later there was a central subscription with access via the Moodle plugin. That was always a little awkward and reliable but did mostly work. More recently we had direct access too if we bothered to arrange that (most didn’t) but then the plugin was not working for a period. We had never had the full Turnitin toolset with GradeMark and PeerMark and, despite some attempts, I could never raise much interest from the ‘authorities’ in considering it. They were concerned about the possible confusion for academics (simple minded as we are) having to deal with 3 or more grade books – EASE/Moodle, Peoplesoft, and Turnitin. It did not seem to bother them that, despite a mandate for electronic submission of assignments using systems procured or built at significant cost, there was no institutionally supported tool for actually marking or grading the submitted work.

Sometime during 2014 Turnitin changed their licence arrangements so that the option to have just the originality checking without GradeMark or PeerMark no longer exists. It was either pay a little more and have access to those tools for everybody or dump Turnitin in favour or some other originality checking solution or none. I think the latter was seriously considered but the outcome was to ‘trial’ the full Turnitin solution for a year.

Yesterday I spent some time playing around in the new Moodle environment and testing, as best I could without a genuine student account, the Turnitin integration. I created a Moodle assignment and set it to use Turnitin with the standard repository. The QuickMark tool was active and showed me the standard comment codes though there was no indication of how I could use them. The Rubric tool was also active and I could create a rubric and attach it to the assignment though it promptly detached and persisted in doing that through multiple attempts despite anything I could do.

Having set up my assignment I switched to student mode and submitted an assignment (a stray Word file from my desktop). I switched back to instructor mode and was able to see that an originality report had been generated. My submission did not appear in the Moodle grade book listing but I assume that one from a real student might. I connected to Turnitin where, to my surprise, the course and its assignment were already associated with my instructor account – presumably via the magic of having the same email address in the two systems. I was able to bring up the file in GradeMark without issues. I downloaded the Turnitin app to my iPad and, with a bit of fiddling, was able to login there and access the course and assignment. I was able to open the assignment on the iPad, look at the originality report, add canned, fresh and voice comments, and apply the rubric to ‘mark’ my work. That all synched back to the web version of Turnitin smoothly.

Neither the marks nor access to the feedback made it back to Moodle. I’m not sure if that resulted from something in the way I set it up or some bug or inconsistency in the integration. The Turnitin documentation seems to suggest that it ought to work using the LTI (Tin Can) protocols.

After I had finished my trial I called somebody I thought might know where we are heading with Turnitin integration. It seems that we might be looking to make it work in both directions. I hope that happens. It would be a significant advance on the way that our systems have worked (or not) in the past.

Apparently there are solutions in place for bulk upload into the Moodle assignment system but that would not solve the marking issue for those who do not yet have satisfactory tools. Full Turnitin integration would do that and, depending on how well PeerMark meets needs, more besides.