Monday, November 28, 2011

Online Tutoring

Two online tutoring services are available to both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in distance education programs at Texas Woman's University (TWU).

  • The Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is sponsored by TWU's Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Language, and,
  • SmartThinking, a service purchased by the Office of Distance Education.

It is good to know that online students can improve their writing skills with these services.  Don't forget to encourage students to use one of them before submitting their writing essays or projects.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teaching with TurnItIn

Guest Blogger:  Jessica Gullion, PhD, Assistant Visiting Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Texas Woman's University

Most Friday mornings you can find me over at Jupiter House grading memos. My memo assignment has become notorious among my graduate students. They are required to synthesize their weekly readings into a one-page synopsis to be used in class to guide discussion. While many of my undergrads would be thrilled to only write one page, the graduate students have to cover a significant amount of material in that space, and they often struggle with brevity.

One particular morning I sat sipping my chai, a pile of papers on the table in front of me. I picked up one of the memos and started to read. The first paragraph was fantastic. Well written, concise. I knew this would be an easy memo to grade.

The second paragraph was also well written. And it sounded awfully familiar. I recognized each of the sentences. Because I had written them. The entire paragraph was copied verbatim from a paper I’d published a couple of years ago. At the end of the paragraph, I saw my last name in a citation, but there were no quote marks anywhere in the paragraph.

Nor in the paper at all. The third paragraph read the same way. Not ripped off from my work, but from one of the assigned readings. The student included a citation at the end of this paragraph as well, but no notation that the paragraph in full was a direct quote.

The next week, I called the student into my office.

“We have to talk about plagiarism,” I said.

The student looked confused and didn’t say anything.

“When grading your paper, I discovered that you copied entire paragraphs from articles you were assigned to read. You also copied a paragraph from one of my articles.”

The student smiled. “Yeah, I thought it was cool that I found your article.”

Now I was confused. “But you plagiarized it.”

“No I didn’t! I cited everything!” Tears welled in the student’s eyes.

And then we had a lesson on plagiarism.

TWU has policies on how to handle academic dishonesty. I could have given the student a zero on the assignment. I could have reported the student to Student Life. The trouble is, I do not believe this student meant to do anything wrong. In fact, this student thought I would be flattered by the use of my own work.

After that incident, I started using a program through Blackboard called Turnitin to check papers for plagiarism. I’m not on a witch hunt. I use it to help students understand what constitutes plagiarism.

Turnitin generates an Originality Report that both the student and faculty member can view. This report identifies any string of words known by the system to be nonoriginal work. Algorithms are built into the system to account for very short strings and to discount words in quotations. Student work is compared both to internet sites and to work previously submitted to the system. As more instructors use the system, more papers are added to its reference bank. The Originality Report highlights nonoriginal strings and includes a link to the original source. It also generates a percentage of the paper that is not original. I have seen this percentage range from zero to ninety percent (ok, 90% student got an F).

Due to the ease of information collection over the internet, students can cut and paste work together from all sorts of sources. Some cheat knowingly; but some cheat and don’t realize what they are doing is wrong. For them, Turnitin is a good teaching tool.

Turnitin is not foolproof. But it can be used to help students – particularly those who have grown up in a data-rich environment – to understand intellectual property and the proper use of citations and sources.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

QM Implementation Plan for Online Programs

As we come to the end of this month-long series, Allison Peterson, Instructional Designer III, closes with a discussion on TWU's Quality Matters Implementation Plan.

Programs which have made a commitment to implement the Quality Matters Rubric across the online/hybrid curriculum over an extended period of time, are eligible to apply for Quality Matters Recognition of an implementation plan.

In order to qualify, the program must submit for approval by the Quality Matters Academic Advisory Council, a multi-year written plan for QM implementation. There is no cost to the subscriber for submitting a plan.  The plan:

  • Should be a reflection of the specific goals and objectives of the program.
  • Must be approved by a senior academic officer of the institution: Dean, Provost or President.
  • Should include formal QM course reviews.
  • May include informal reviews, faculty self-assessments, faculty development workshops, other QM training, and other components that are unique to the program.
  • Must establish benchmarks over a three-year period
  • Must include the specific language the program will use to publicize Quality Matters Recognition.
  • Requires a brief written report to the QMAAC each year.
 The new program-level designation will include permission to display an approved QM seal and an accompanying statement on Internet and print materials.