Farris, a full-time professor, creates online training webinars to tutor students and offer professional development opportunities for staff and faculty on how to use Turnitin effectively.
Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series, I’m Ray Huang. I’m joined today by Dr. Shannon Farris, Assistant Professor of Psychology at St. Leo University and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program. Dr. Farris let’s start by telling us a bit about yourself.
S.F.: I am an assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo [University]. I’m now located in our Savannah, Georgia center, and I’ve been with Saint Leo for nearly eight years.
What happened that was absolutely amazing and unanticipated, is that students were feeling really connected for about an hour with material that was very stressful, usually anxiety-provoking to both traditional and non-traditional students, and they wanted more.
Turnitin: Now, you started the eCoach Online Learning series at St. Leo. Give us some background on the genesis of that, and how it’s evolved.
S.F.: I started building a program that was live online. Less than a year later, I realized that students could really have a connection very similar to physical classrooms, and that’s where I thought I could help them with some challenges that they were having with certain subject matter. Turnitin was one of them, but also APA writing style, researching online, and those types of things.
I proposed to run a pilot program using that live online format, and what happened--that was absolutely amazing and unanticipated--is that students were feeling really connected for about an hour with material that was very stressful, usually anxiety-provoking to both traditional and non-traditional students, and they wanted more. And so, I initially started out with four basic webcasts helping students all across the world— because we have military students also on other continents doing this—and then it gradually evolved to adding advanced webcasts, and then it advanced further with professional development webcasts for our staff and faculty.
Then again with Turnitin, more students, more faculty wanted more, and so I started out with just “This is how you use Turnitin”—which is kind of funny in that sense, because when I first started using Turnitin there were no videos. I had to read the PDF’s and figure it out for myself, because when I asked other people, “Well how do you use Turnitin?” they were like, “Oh, well I’m supposed to be using it but I haven’t used it yet.”
So I kept running into that, and during that time that I built this program I also went to a user event and got absolutely blown away by the folks there--both the participants and the employees with Turnitin. There’s so much more that we can do with it to streamline the education process and help students write better-- but also how it can help me serve my students better. And so, that got me even more excited to rev up what I was doing with my students and faculty at Saint Leo. And Saint Leo saw that huge dramatic change with more energy, more enthusiasm.
And then—I heard this yesterday—I was interviewed by a writer for one of our blogs, she called me a “Turnitin Expert” which I find hilarious, because I think I’m just a perpetual learner. But, I do have a certain amount of skillset when it comes to Turnitin and helping people understand that it is way easier than what they think it is, and this is how it can help you, and these are the best practices for both students and faculty, and this is how you work it in your LMS--the Learning Management System--and then what if we incorporate this with tutoring.
And then I started working with the Learning Resource Center, and I helped them develop their online subject tutoring that now they cater to all locations through all teaching modalities that we have at Saint Leo. So now, they are worldwide--which is really awesome that I got to do that...training the tutors for instance how to use the originality report in Turnitin, and how than can build rapport with the student. And of course they’re live online. And so this all started organically really.
Turnitin: How has all this extended now, beyond the eCoach Online Learning series and into other arenas?
S.F.: I became the person, the go-to person for Turnitin university-wide, and then that developed into some conferences and presentations that I’ve done with Turnitin. And, I have an international conference that I’m going to in May in which I’ll be using Turnitin there with tutoring and how tutors can use Turnitin to help the students that need more help with writing and those types of things.
And so you’re right, I did quite a bit and that was a mouthful. But I continue to evolve here, and Turnitin is the hub of part of my evolution, because it works well and it helps my students well, and it’s very convenient and accessible, and thankfully Turnitin is continuing to evolve as well too so that I can use more features as we go along.
Turnitin: You mentioned something earlier that was really interesting. You started out your eCoach series as a way to tutor students and then it expanded to faculty professional development. Are these separately-targeted webcasts, and how frequently do you do these?
S.F.: The webinars are each week, and we always have the basic webcasts going, and then the advanced will be one or two times during that same term, and then the professional development is thrown in there as well. And so even those of the Turnitin piece, for instance, students, staff and faculty are getting that at least one to three times every term. So, it’s about every other week that it’s specifically on Turnitin in addition to follow-up comment from faculty and staff or students in how to do this or how to do that. And then I get special requests from either departments or schools within Saint Leo, if I can give a presentation on Turnitin, and it’s more geared toward either faculty or it’s geared towards a specific class that they want to start using peer reviews--for instance how does that work, those types of things.
So literally to add a number to it, in the past two and a half years, I’ve given over 300 webcasts, so you can do the math. So, I’ve done quite a few. In my first year that I went university-wide with it--because I started out as a pilot and so it was just with a targeted audience--but my first year that it went university-wide I helped over 2,000 students, staff and faculty. That was just insane.
Turnitin: That is a lot of sessions! Do you have help with these?
S.F.: I’m only a party of one, although I’ve added tutors here and there for follow-up sessions and those types of things. But still, I’m the main person. I do have guest speakers here and there, which can be fun and then it adds another perspective, another dimension that maybe staff, faculty and students haven’t thought about, and it may come from a popular instructor instead of someone they’ve seen hundreds of times; they’re ready for something new.
Turnitin: Now, you’re doing all this on top of being a full-time professor right?
S.F.: Oh yeah, I’m teaching full-time. But it’s one of those things that--while it’s incredibly busy--it makes teaching easier that I’m covering those basics on the webcasts. And what I also get from other faculty--because I am covering basic and advanced skill-sets--they’re not having to do that or not having to do it as much. And so they’re getting, they’re receiving a little bit more time to focus in on content. And so that’s very motivating for me, even though I have an incredibly busy schedule and teaching full-time as I do, but the students and the faculty get so much out of it as well, and it’s very gratifying. But again, it would be nice to have more than one person doing these things, but I created it knowing full well that I might be getting myself into a ton of work. And they’re only an hour at a time, although I do have to say with faculty they tend to go well over an hour.
Turnitin: Well Dr. Farris, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today.
S.F.: Thank you very much.
Turnitin: That was Dr. Shannon Farris, Assistant Professor of Psychology at St. Leo University and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program.