Turnitin User Group, 16 June 2014

You could do worse than abbrieviate the Turnitin User Group meeting to the TUG meeting, suggesting a slow boat that is finally pulling in the right direction. Whilst some might say some of these changes are overdue, I did leave this session with the impression that Turnitin are truely trying to answer the issues that have been raised over recent times, in a more positive way than just sales speak giving lip service to change, and to introduce the kind of functionality that users are actually asking for.  I guess the proof of the pudding, as they say , will be in the size of my waistband once the promised changes have taken effect.

It opened with the standard set of apologies for the biannual set of malfunctions and down time around the major submission periods at Christmas and Easter. Full explanations were given as to the why’s and wherefores of the faults behind the aforementioned, much of which seemed to reside with Turnitin’s partners who produce the integrations that plug into the system. The alleged miscreants are currently being rapped over the knuckles for having Legacy code that is causing issues by, amongst other things, generating a high amount of duplicate submissions. The main factor in Easter’s disruption apparently occured when turnitin was queing submissions. The partner software was treating them as unsubmitted and trying again. This led to the submission rate increasing from an anticipated 10,000 submissions an hour to 45,000.  This in turn caused congestion with in their Local Area Network at the point where it joins JANET, the education sector’s computing network for the UK.
Turnitin are in discussion with all their partners and are adopting a hardline policy to ensure that all integrations match up to their current expectations.  They are also working with JANET to ensure as smooth a transition of all network traffic form JANET into their servers.

Will Murray, Mr Turnitin UK, was at pains to point out that at no point in the Easter submission period did the system actually fail, “It just slowed down to a point at which it was impossible to login from the outside world”… Make of that what you will, it was still nigh on impossible to get a submission in at this time, let alone get a report of any kind back from the system.

We were then introduced to a raft of new top dogs, I believe 8 in all, who had been drafted in to manage new teams in various areas of resilience and product development, including an Integrations Manager, responsible to working with folk from outside partner  agencies, and a communications manager to disemminate product changes and updates to users around the country.

Various improvements to the current system and services were announced. These included;

  • Improved timeout handling, which should answer the problems that some Grademark markers were experiencing here in Swansea, with the service appearing to stop and throw out the frame sessions error messages.
  • The introduction of Splunk on the server end of the system, no, yes, I did say Splunk! This dubiously named product helps monitor traffic flow and problems in real time and reports issues to Turnitin as they arise.  This should help them become more proactive in responding to problems, as rather than waiting for issues to be reported by users they should spot them starting and hopefully nip them in the bud before they become a bigger problem.
  • Direct service Communications to institutions, rather than being purely reliant upon Twitter feed for sending out notifications, especially when there were issues of note to be broadcast. this should include notification of product updates and improvements, as well as ringing alarm bells if the service appears at risk in any way.
  • User Voice function now to be available to all.  This is a place where Turnitin users can make suggestions for improvement/additional functionality and get the chance to vote for suggestions that they like on the forum (in effect this is akin to a facebook like), or query things that are happening. Previously available to “native “users (users who login directly to Turnitin, as opposed to via an integration such as our blackboard / turnitin deployment). Those suggestions  that attract larger numbers of votes are likely to be put into the mix for future development.
  • By the end of this year the maximum file size for submissions will be doubling from 20Mb to 40Mb.
  • The introduction of the ability to associate an individual comment on the script to a rubric. The current rubrics just allow you to click on a cell to show which level has been achieved overall for an assignment. 
  • The ability to import a rubric into Turnitin which has been built in Excel.  Presently you would have to build the rubric directly into the rubric tool in Turnitin, which can be little inflexible. This development will provide an Excel template which will enable far more manipulation for the rubric.
  • Video/images.  At the moment the system has been widened to accept any file type and allow it to be marked through the grademark system, even if only on a blank sheet, as opposed to using the full Grademark functionality.  They are looking to introduce a time line function for marking video, so that comments can still be directly linked to the point of relevance in a clip by attaching it to that point on the timeline.  Still images will be able to be annotated in the same way that script marking has allowed, so you will be able to drag and drop comments directly onto an image at the point where you wish to comment.
  • In 2015 Turnitin are expecting to widen the use of voice comments.  Students have expressed very positive views on the use of voice comments.  At the moment the system allows for a 3 minute voice message to be left with the overall comments at the end of a marked script.  The additional function will be in line comments that can be left in the script as a playable file in the place of a quickmark onscript comment,  The student would just click on the comment and it will play it back.
  • 2015 should see the release of the Android version of the Grademark mobile app. If this is anything like as good as the I-pad app it should prove popular.  I have had nothing other than good comments regarding the use of the Ipad app from on campus in Swansea, other than one query regarding some marks (but not comments) that seemed to go awry when sync’d back u to the main data base

The Biggest news to come out of the meeting was the announcement of what Turnitin are calling “The Next Generation”.  This is a completely reworked Turnitin service, to be released as an opt in Beta version this autumn and with a view to having a stepped roll out until it becomes the Turnitin service in 2016. This comes with the promise that Next Generation improvements will be quicker to get released in Integrated deployments

The Next Generation product purports to be very much a new product.
Judging from the screenshots we were shown in the presentation (no live demo of any of this was provided) the look and feel if the new system is a lot cleaner and user friendly.
Firstly, within the Traditional use of Turnitin, we are promised improvements to the use of the Originality checker, including better control over such things as excluding bibliographic references, which has always been there, but has always been somewhat hit and miss in terms of efficacy.
The user interface will look more like the I-Pad app version, using pop up facilities for the comment functions, so no large chunk of screen lost to the Comment bar. The script appears in a far more open environment than the current document viewer, looking more like a standard web type display.
It should have improved admin functionality, with more control over enrolments, searchable student lists and the addition of a button which sends e-mail to non submitters without de-anonymising .  This will hopefully remove most of the problems that we have seen with Admin teams constantly wanting to uncover the identities of students, as  usually the stated reason for this has been to enable them to chase up late/non-submissions.
Students will also see benefits of the improvements on the admin side, with the ability to search for assignments and resources, along with a calendar view for assessments being added.

Groups have been tricky to deal with properly when marking in Turnitin. There has been some limited group functionality available, but this has only been by virtue of the integration we use between Blackboard and Turnitin.  Turnitin has been able to use the Blackboard groups designated within an assessment, but has had limited functionality. The new system will have Turnitin groups functionality inbuilt.  It will then be possible to assign each of the designated groups to a specific instructor.

Mobile use will become more wide ranging in the next generation, with the introduction of Android applications.

The long awaited separate views for 1st/2ndmarker & moderators are due to be in the Next Gen release too. The plan is to allow the markers control over whether the markers see each other’s comments and whether or not the students can see the full set of the multiple markers views.  There will also be a choice available as to whether  the final mark is made by averaging an amalgamated score from more than one marker, or whether there is a consensual discussed score displayed. 
the ability to utilise letter grades or decimalised Numbers will also be newly incorporated.

Very briefly, some of the attributes  hoped for in the not too distant future, but not yet fully developed;

Stylus type marking for tablet apps, allowing marker to annotate by writing or drawing onto assignments.
Portfilios within Turnitin, including credentialing… (this may ultimately be developed in house, or a bought in product)
A method of funnelling students through feedback area enroute to the grade, thus improving the likely hood that they will actually read their comments.
Integration with Google docs.
The reinstated ability to download the original paper in its native format prior to Post Dates.

So much promise of good things to come in Turnitinland….. we live in hope!

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