GOAL! Raise the Bar for Winning Writing Assignments

FIU Women's Soccer Player #2

As your favorite soccer team kicks in a winning goal during the last minute of the game, you might jump up from the couch with your fists triumphantly raised. Reading an excellently crafted writing assignment from one of your students, may elicit the same celebratory response. To obtain better, award-winning results sports coaches occasionally change their team’s training program. Instructors can aid students with their writing craft by providing structured writing assignments with multiple opportunities for feedback to improve their “training program.”

Previous “Raise the Bar” articles identified the value of assigning writing activities and one proposed breaking up a large project into smaller assignment tasks. It was also suggested to encourage students to utilize university resources such as the FIU Library and Center for Excellence in Writing. In addition, the practice of including annotated writing samples and setting expectations through the use of rubrics were introduced. Let’s now dive into how TurnItIn technology can assist students in preparing better writing.

A Place for Peer Reviews

Peer reviewing has several benefits, such as giving students multiple feedback perspectives. It may save you time with grading by potentially identifying low-level issues which students can revise before you assess the writing. It increases the time the students spend thinking about the assignment and its requirements. Peer review allows students to clarify their ideas and practice communicating them to others. It may also foster normalcy with the process of receiving critique, an important skill for graduates and those seeking to contribute to scholarly publications. Considering that peer reviewing requires at least two drafts, its use may also discourage last minute or “midnight hour” writing of the final draft [1].

An initial thought for many is that TurnItIn is simply an online tool that allows students to submit writing assignments, checks for originality and allows for instructors to be able to grade the student’s submission. However, TurnItIn is a platform with a robust set of educational tools which also includes PeerMark.  PeerMark is a peer review solution for your course’s writing assignments. Peer reviewers can be automatically selected by TurnItIn, assigned by the instructor, and self-selected by the students- or a combination of these choices. Reviewers can be anonymous or have their identity known. Also, a student who doesn’t submit an assignment can be set to review their classmate’s submissions. These settings within PeerMark makes integrating peer review in an online course easy.

The DOs of Peer Review

  • DO have students review 2-4 of their peers
  • DO provide students at least one week to review
  • DO allot students at least one week for revision after initial review
  • DO incentivize students to complete their peer reviews

One might question if fellow students have the skills to constructively assess their peer’s work. Daphne Koller in her TEDGlobal2012 talk “What We’re Learning from Online Education,” shared that studies revealed student-assigned grades from peer reviews correlated positively to those assigned by instructors. Help students in your classes to effectively evaluate each other’s work by providing detailed rubrics and elaborate on acceptable feedback. This will assist students in identifying what aspects to consider of importance when drafting their submission and reviewing peer submissions. PeerMark rubric-oriented questions can be formatted in a free-response format or using a Likert scale response.

Read More About PeerMark (TurnItIn Instructor Manual)

Originality: Winners Don’t Cheat

A primary concern for many instructors is academic integrity. TurnItIn provides a Similarity Report that compares a student’s submission to text within their databases. TurnItIn databases include over 60 billion webpages, over 600 million student papers, and over 154 million journal articles/periodicals/books. There are a couple of settings with TurnItIn as far as allowing students to view their similarity report (or not) and overwrite their initial similarity report after resubmission.

Specify that you will be checking the originality of student submissions as some students may not be familiar with TurnItIn. State in the assignment instructions if you do not want students to reuse their own writing. Many students may consider using what they have already written for another class as acceptable.

Best practices suggests to allow students to view the report, resubmit and replace their initial similarity report score. If you do allow students to view their similarity report, you should specify acceptable levels of similarity. This percentage may vary for your assignments based on the assignment parameters. For example, a scientific lab report in which students document the completion of identical tasks may yield a higher similarity report than an essay on a student-chosen topic. In addition the use of excessive quotations and references, poorly paraphrased text, or students reusing their own work may result in high percentages of similarity. Allowing students to view their similarity reports provides them with the opportunity to remedy issues with their paraphrasing of which they may not be aware. Providing resources that discuss plagiarism and how to avoid it are sometimes helpful to students.

Plagiarism Resources

Collectively the three “Raise the Bar” articles supply several strategies and best practices for designing winning writing assignments. This segment briefly skims over tools available and suggested within TurnItIn. Learn more about its capabilities by visiting the TurnItIn website, participating in FIU Online’s On Demand training, or reaching out to your instructional designer. Instructional Designers can assist in developing assignments that garner student writing that makes you want to cheer!

About Sky V. King

Instructional Designer at FIU Online.

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