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Adding a tool for better writing

Starting this winter session, Queen’s will be running a pilot program for the writing assessment service Turnitin.

The test run of the online service will involve approximately 15 courses, says Peter Wolf, Associate Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) and Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning, before the program is made available university-wide in September 2017.

The strength of the program, Mr. Wolf points out, may be as an academic integrity education tool, helping guide users into becoming better writers.

“We really see Turnitin as a tool for students, for staff, faculty, that has tremendous potential to enhance writing and help us be more assured of reflecting disciplinary and scholarly approaches to building on existing knowledge,” he says “That’s what this is all about – respecting what came before and building upon that.”

Turnitin is currently used by numerous post-secondary institutions across North America, with more than 25 million users – instructors and students – globally.

Ahead of the pilot a transition group, chaired by Mr. Wolf and Susan Korba, Director, Student Academic Success Services (SASS), was formed to look at the supports and resources that are available and to determine the settings for the program at the university.

Turnitin is a database that stores written submissions and compares them within and across institutions. For the upcoming pilot phase, however, the transition group has decided that submissions at Queen’s will not be made accessible to any other institution.

“As well, every course outline will make sure students are fully aware of the use of Turnitin and everyone will be informed that we are going to be collecting data on the pilot that will inform future use,” Mr. Wolf says.

This will include piloting how SASS can best support students in meeting the standards of scholarly writing via in-class workshops.

“The use of Turnitin can reinforce the support that we already provide when we go into a classroom and work with a professor to address student writing needs,” Ms. Korba says, adding that the program may broaden the scope of these efforts. “This is something that we address already – how to paraphrase, how much quoting is too much, how much originality should there be from a writer’s voice in a particular paper and so on.”

Once a paper is submitted to Turnitin, the program provides a report on how closely it compares to previously written material through an analysis of word patterns. The writer can then address the issues before making a final submission.

The Centre for Teaching and Learning is also piloting instructor and TA supports to help make the use of Turnitin effective and efficient. They are also exploring other ways to use Turnitin in the wider Queen’s community.

“It is seen primarily for use in-course but it can also be used by faculty, staff and students to review their scholarly writing outside of courses,” Mr. Wolf says.

For more information regarding the introduction of Turnitin at Queen’s contact Peter Wolf.