Turnitin updates

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I recently attended the International Turnitin User Group meeting on Monday 16th July at the Sage in Gateshead (see picture). This was held just before the start of the 5th International Plagiarism Conference, so there was a healthy attendance. This was quite a unique event, in which the whole iParadigms management team were present, to answer a whole raft of questions posed prior to, and during the session.
Given the recent UK outages, the Q&A sessions were quite civilised, with some very useful questions being posed about the direction of the company and its suite of products.  On that note, Lucy Cave a Phd researcher here at Aston – gave a presentation on her latest findings. Lucy’s presentation was reported in their local paper, which covered student’s attitudes/understanding towards plagiarism and collusion. This raises further questions about student use and support of the WriteCheck tool.

Dr Christian Storm, Chief Technology Officer and last remaining founder of Turnitin covered their current research projects. These include;

  •  Improving the audio feedback length of time (from the current 3 minutes), and the ability to embed the audio feedback into a pdf download,
  • Continual refinement of their algorithms to ensure fewer noisy matches and false positives, as a result of the growing paper database of papers and indexed internet matches,
  • Tackling translated paraphrasing as a form of plagiarism,
  • Support for right to left languages (e.g. Arabic),
  • Advanced phrase exclusion, so that particular phrases or “boilerplate” text  can be excluded from reports by assignment or all assignments.
  • Stylometrics, which can identify changes in writing style, which will help address the problem of identifying students employing ghost writers. This was mentioned in relation to the new e-rater tool which is still in the testing phase, and requires further refinement,
  • New “role types are to be developed, i.e. reviewers and viewers.
  • And finally he mentioned developments into extracting text from “scanned” pdf files using new OCR methods.

In my view, the statement that had the most impact by Dr Storm was his reinforcement that the underlying purpose of Turnitin is as a teaching and learning tool, used to improve student academic writing skills. NOT just as a “checking” tool. This was reassuring to hear from a founder member – and underpins my ethos of this tool.

Will Murray then talked through the roadmap of integrations with VLEs/LMS’, reassuring us that the new Direct integration for Blackboard, was developed using bang up to date SDK’s.  They will be releasing a video to illustrate future developments. The intention is to move everyone from the flawed Basic integration ASAP. The IMS Global  LTI integration was also mentioned in the development plans.

The very informative Q&A session continued unabated and covered plans for;

  • Adding more languages (there was a plea for Welsh inclusion here);
  • Legal defensibility of decisions arising from originality reports;
  • Support for a wider list of supported file types (i.e. xlsx, pptx)  and also varied assessment types (the new Direct integration has a multipart type);
  • PeerMark lite (and PeerMark included with the Direct integration), allowing peer review earlier in the workflow;
  • Improved communication with customers about new product features – which caused a huge debate about whether Google groups and/or twitter feeds -(https://twitter.com/turnitinstatus ) was adequate for administrators.
  • Greater customer involvement in beta testing and focus groups (which did occur earlier that morning);
  • Improved workflow for anonymous marking – this could be useful for all,
  • Bulk (institutional) download of originality reports for archival purposes,
  • Opening up the product for the younger market (schools),
  • Wider integration with new VLE’s and mobile devices, and a nod towards the growing popularity of MOOCs, and importance of social networks!


During this part of the session, a question was posed about “spinning” articles as a form of plagiarism – and how Turnitin can cope.  I must admit that’s the first time I’d heard of this method. We were reassured by the iParadigms team that this was not a major threat to academic integrity.
The Turnitin Product Roadmap

Steve Golik (Product Management) then ran through some updates on the product roadmap, again reinforcing the product  mantra of providing a suite of tools to improve student academic writing.

The roadmap covered;


  • Common core rubrics, which will make the sharing of rubrics easier. This comment was really aimed squarely at the USA market – so I see little use for it in the UK?
  • Digital receipts (available in August 2013)will be accessible within the assignment inbox , by both instructors and students. I’ve tested this and it returns an email containing the uploaded paper submission! This development is also aimed at improving traceability,
  • Improved grading (using GradeMark) and marking, including support for letter grades and decimal points,
  • A “free” text entry box in GradeMark,
  • Improve the rubric workflow by making the whole process much easier to use


They saved the wow factor for the end by running a demo’ of the  iPad app, due for release in January 2013. The app looked exactly like the document viewer as seen in the internet via our Blackboard integration. This means that it will prove to be an easy transition for current users. An instructor can also grade offline! The app will synchronise back to the web when the iPad has established a net connection. It was stressed that it is an instructor focussed app. I guess because they’ve already released WriteCheck aimed squarely at students?

We have summarised new features available at Aston using the recently agreed Direct integration on the TLC web page : http://tlc.aston.ac.uk/turnitin/new-features-and-releases .

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