Audrey Wick, the higher-ed MVP in the 2014 Turnitin All-Stars award program, discusses how she went from piloting Turnitin to organically growing its use to all four campuses at Blinn College.
Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series, I’m Ray Huang. I’m joined today by Audrey Wick, English Professor at Blinn College, and the winner of the MVP award in the Turnitin All-Stars award program. Audrey, could you tell me a bit about yourself?
A.W.: Sure. I'm a full-time English professor for Blinn College, which is a community college in central Texas that has four campuses and a combined enrollment of around 18,000 students. I've been teaching full time since 2003 and been using Turnitin.com since 2004.
I had a sense a lot of people were using Turnitin at my school, but I had no idea the extent to which it was such a part of what instructors do in the classroom and in so many different disciplines.
Turnitin: So, pretty much since you’ve been teaching, you’ve been using Turnitin.
A.W.: I have. My department chairman came to me the year after I started and introduced me to the concept of Turnitin.com. And he asked me, along with another instructor, to work together to see how we liked the program. So, he and the two of us were the first ones in our college to have access to Turnitin.com. And, we grew from three users to eventually getting an institutional site license three years later. And from those three users, we now have--this year--114 different instructors using Turnitin.com. So, the fact that we've grown from three to 114 speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the product and instructor enthusiasm for the product.
Turnitin: Well, we certainly love enthusiastic users. And just to give you a sense of the reach, in the last year, Blinn College had over 50,000 submissions to Turnitin, which is amazing.
A.W.: Yeah, and in anticipation of this call I checked with our IT dean to ask him about statistics for the fall, and I actually had to go back to him after he provided me with some of that data and say, "Is this real?" Because I normally don't get excited about data, but I got really excited when he told me these big numbers. Because I had a sense a lot of people were using Turnitin at my school, but I had no idea the extent to which it was such a part of what instructors do in the classroom and in so many different disciplines. So yeah, we are really powering through with use.
Turnitin: These are big numbers, 70% growth in submissions over the last 5 years--that’s huge.
A.W.: And, students come to us now kind of expecting it. It's part of our college culture.
Turnitin: So, you were and continue to be a key person getting others to use Turnitin. Tell us a bit about what you’ve done to promote the use of Turnitin?
A.W.: I've always been one to be interested in technology, but I'm also an instructor who doesn't like technology for the sake of technology. So, I'm not one to jump on the boat just because there are bells and whistles associated with something. So initially, I was a little skeptical of Turnitin.com on the instructor side of things. I could see how it could be implemented with my classes, but I didn't see why I truly, truly need it. So, I had some healthy skepticism going into using the product. But once I started using it with my students—I tried just the originality check initially because I wanted to get my feet wet, and I knew I was having a problem with plagiarism--but I had no idea the extent that my students were plagiarizing. And initially that’s how I approached other instructors. I told them, “If you don't think you have a problem with plagiarism you're just not aware of it.”
Turnitin.com's originality check actually helped me catch a student who plagiarized a personal narrative story about the birth of her son, and I thought I had created an assignment that was plagiarism proof by having them recall something from their personal life. And, I would never have thought that that would have been something a student plagiarized. It amazed me, and it still continues to, the extent that our students will try to get around doing the work. So I thought I had a handle on my students, but the originality check showed that there were things that were falling through the cracks. So, I knew that the system was working in that component. And then once I started using the system, and Turnitin has started adding some new features over the years, it has really become part of my classroom climate.
And I have told my academic services dean that if Turnitin.com's site license ever goes away from this college I will personally pay to have my own. Because it's so engrained in my class, everything from GradeMark to PeerMark to using rubrics--this is all that I do in the writing classroom.
So in order to talk to other instructors, I’ve usually just talked piecemeal. When I’ve heard them say a concern about something they have--whether it's getting students to participate such as in peer reviews or helping catch plagiarism—that's usually been my in, that this is a great tech solution for that. And then I was asked by our department several years ago—we have four campuses, as I mentioned—so I came to one of our other campuses and helped those instructors understand Turnitin.com—full time and adjunct instructors. Because, when a new instructor comes on board, it takes an instructor awhile just to figure out what services are available and what technology options they have. And so, this was about an hour-long workshop on “Here is what Turnitin can do for you and here is how it can benefit students.” But it's really been more grassroots.
Turnitin: Do you have a central support place that supports Turnitin--like a helpdesk or anything like that?
A.W.: No, not officially. We have instructional designers, who help teachers teach but those have changed throughout the years. So for instance, our latest one has come on, and I helped her understand Turnitin.com because she came from the K-12 system and kind of knew of it but didn't know how to use it. So the instructional designer that I trained is now able to help new instructors understand the program better. But we don't have our own support desk for Turnitin. I mean, I can speak for myself when there is an issue I just call up tech support, and I love that I get a live person. But other than that, it really is it up to the instructors at my college to use the software effectively. But it's so easy to use that it's not a big issue.
Turnitin: How do you guys access Turnitin? Do you use a learning management system?
A.W.: Our college just adopted a new learning management system. I've used Turnitin with WebCT, which is now owned by Blackboard, and ANGEL, and we've just moved to the Desire2Learn system. And, I created an interactive document within the program where students can watch some of the short videos that are on Turnitin.com, but I've integrated them into our online class with instructions and everything is kind of a one-stop shop for them. So when they go to Turnitin.com, they know what they're doing.
Turnitin: So it sounds like Turnitin is pretty well ingrained in your practice, something you use everyday.
A.W.: It is central to how I teach, and it is something that students--at least at my college--are expecting. They don't just expect a grade anymore. They expect this robust feedback and comments and a rubric, and I'm happy to give it to them. Because honestly, it takes me less time to use the system and offer richer feedback because of all of the explanations that are built into the GradeMarks and the ability that I have to save things to libraries. So I'm giving my students much greater feedback than I ever was grading things by hand, but I'm spending less time doing it. So it's a win-win for both of us.
Turnitin: Have you done anything outside of the walls, or virtual walls in some cases, of Blinn College around Turnitin?
A.W.: A few years ago, I was asked by one of the local high school teachers to come in and talk to her students in order to help them prep for college. Because--as so many college instructors see--there is a gap between high school education and expectations and college-level demands. So she asked me to come in.
And one way that I could help bridge the demands of high school and college is to say, "Look, your high school actually has you using Turnitin.com." And, they did. "They care about making sure that you know research skills and you know citation." And I told them, this does not go away. “We build on this in college, so you are going to be using a Turnitin.com account again. You are going to have to do scholarly research. You will have to cite.” And for some of them, just hearing it from an outside source, the instructor told me, was just really beneficial. And, I felt like it was too. So Turnitin wasn't the only part of our talk, but it was one way I was able to bridge and say this is an important skill and what you're doing within this site is something you will continue to do.
Turnitin: What types of assignments do you use with Turnitin?
A.W.: I've used GradeMark to grade formal assignments, but I've also used it on everything from an outline to reflection pieces and final drafts. And GradeMark is the tool--even though I may not comment on grammar or spelling on a particular assignment--I still use the feature. I save QuickMarks, and I made my own palette. I shared that palette with other instructors. I do create QuickMarks that are assignment specific, so whenever I have an assignment that requires the use of third person or requires the use of first person, I have certain QuickMarks that I created to help save myself time in making those marks on student papers.
Turnitin: You mentioned sharing some of those QuickMark sets and rubrics. Do you have standardized rubrics in the English Department?
A.W.: Yes, we don't have a standardized rubric that we are required to use, but when other instructors have been curious and when some of us have very similar assignments. For instance, in our freshman comp course there is a major research paper that students have to do, so I’ve shared my rubric and had instructors upload it just to get a sense of how I created a rubric. And I transferred one--I had an award document anyway--to the format in Turnitin.com.
There was one thing in talking to instructors about this product. I am quick to say, “You don't have to re-create anything.” Because a lot of instructors who have been grading by hand for instance have documents created in Microsoft Word that they're very proud of and that look beautiful and they think, “I don't want to change this.” And, I was the same way too. But once I found that I really can transfer the math and the columns and the rows and my text into a Turnitin rubric and then save that and use it for all of my sections from semester to semester, it really's been such an easy transition.
Turnitin: Well, its no wonder that you’ve been an MVP at Blinn College for years now, and we’re excited to formally crown you as the 2014 Higher-ed MVP and a Turnitin All-Star.
A.W.: Well, I feel like at my institution I've championed it from the ground up. Being one of the initial users ten years ago to having the growth institutionally at so many different campuses that we've had, I feel like I've been a real integral part of that. And I feel like I continue to champion it with students and instructors so that we can all get the maximum benefit from it.
Turnitin: Well Audrey, thanks so much for chatting with me today.
A.W.: Yeah, Ray, I appreciated it very much.
Turnitin: I’ve been speaking with Audrey Wick, English Professor at Blinn College, and the winner of the MVP award in the Turnitin All-Stars award program.